When Kar Sewaks shamed the country
The much delayed submission of the Liberhan’s commission brought back memories of that fateful day when the disputed structure of Babri Masjid was brought down by Kar Sewaks belonging to the Sangh Parivar in the presence of some leading BJP leaders on December 6,1992.
I had rejoined the Times of India as the Metropolitan Editor barely three weeks earlier after a six and half years stint at The Hindu where I had the opportunity to cover the Ayodhya developments very closely as also the BJP which was very proud of its hindutva agenda at that time. I had thought that the threat by the Sanghis was very superficial and there would be no harm to the historic structure. But when I came into the office a little after 11 am some disturbing news had started coming in. With a couple of hours it was clear that the Babri Masjid was no longer standing at its original place and the Kar Sewaks had carried out their threat. It was one of the darkest days in Indian history.
I remember Dileep Padgaonkar, the Editor of the paper, Badshah Sen, the RE and late Arvind Das, senior editor all very perturbed. There was total silence on the editorial floor and no one could believe that such a thing had happened. A feeling of uncertainty was all over and there were apprehensions that the incident would cause a huge communal divide and riots may break out. Fortunately, Mukund Kaushal, the then Delhi Police Commissioner who had the reputation of being an excellent manager of men was personally supervising the situation. He had overseen the deployment at the walled city in the capital and had passed strict instructions to his team to come down heavily on anyone who tried to create mischief.
Kaushal’s plan succeeded in most parts of the city except in North East Delhi where clashes took place between the police and a Muslim mob and at least seven persons died in police firing. Deepak Mishra, the DCP and his additional DCP Ajay Kashyap were accused of ordering firing on a retreating mob. However, the silver lining was that Delhi was totally under control unlike some other cities where the fall out was much more severe. Mumbai for one saw one of the worst riots.
It was Kaushal’s victory in the capital and he would have been happier like all of us if the police firing had not taken place near the Qabootar Market in the vicinity of Seelampur and Chauhan Bangar. The incident there was covered extremely well by both Chandrika Mago (now with the Mint) and Yashwant Raj (now RE of HT’s Delhi edition). Both of them were TOI’s crime reporters at that point of time.
There was a lot happening at the center and knives were out for PV Narasimha Rao who was the Prime Minister. There was strong speculation that Rao maybe forced to quit but he somehow survived since most of his Cabinet ministers lacked the courage of conviction. Makhan Lal Fotedar was perhaps the only one who tendered his resignation from the Cabinet. Arjun Singh who all along kept threatening to resign stayed in the government.
Many political observers till this day believe that had Arjun Singh resigned on that day, he would have been Prime Minister of the country subsequently. But history is a narration of many ifs and buts. Arjun Singh lost his only chance and now of course after the 2009 verdict is sitting on the sidelines and watching new things unfold.
But the demolitions had left an emotional divide and top BJP leaders LK Advani and Murali Manohar Joshi amongst others were cited as accused in the FIR that was registered in connection with the Babri demolition.
I recall that one fine winter morning not too long after the demolition, I got a call from Badshah Sen, my immediate Boss. Badshah was very excited as he told me that Padgaonkar had been tipped off by Arun Shourie that Advani was going to be arrested. I rushed to Advani’s house at Pandara Park and saw that the entire place had been cordoned off. There were police personnel in the entire VIP area. I managed to reach the house and was able to go on the first floor where a nervous Advani was talking to some of his party colleagues surrounded by his immediate family members. There were police officers waiting to take him away but the arrest was delayed because o0f conferencing amongst the top BJP top brass.
Finally, Advani came down and I followed him closely till he sat in a police car to be whisked away to an unknown destination. I remember, the BBC, throughout the day kept on showing clips of his final arrest and I could also see myself in my blue jacket in those clips. The India Today later also published the photograph of Advani being arrested on its cover. I still have the issue since I too figured in the picture walking besides him.
The politics of this country could never be the same again. The matter continues to haunt the political scenario till this day. But one thing became very clear that the BJP did not have much support amongst the masses. When Advani and Joshi were ultimately released many weeks later, they reached the New Delhi railway station in the early hours of the morning. I was amongst those who went to the station to cover their arrival. I can tell you that there were only five to six hundred people to receive them. Maybe the Sangh too realized that it was a shameful deed done by the Kar Sewaks on that fateful day and the deed did not get endorsement from the people of the capital.