The year was 1949. Independent India was two years old. While Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was grappling with an ideal called India, his deputy, Sardar Vallabhai Patel, was defining its frontiers. As the people of a free, yet divided nation were still recovering from the partition – which ripped apart our social fabric – somewhere in Uttar Pradesh, the ground was being prepared for a confrontation in Ayodhya on the night of 22 December 1949.
At 3 am, a flash of light was seen and Sri Ram appeared at the Babri Masjid. This supposed divine occurrence was the first turning point in the “centuries long” struggle of the Hindus to “liberate Ram Janmbhoomi”, ie, the Babri Masjid, which was commissioned by Babur’s commander Mir Baqi in 1528. It is also claimed that he did so after destroying a temple which marked the exact spot where Lord Ram was born.
“The Place Where Angels Descend”
But a more earthly explanation exists in the FIR lodged on 23 December 1949, in which the officer-in-charge of the Ayodhya Police Station, Pandit Ramdeo Dubey, named three individuals – Abhiram Das, Ram Sakal Das and Sudarshan Das – and charged them with sections related to rioting, trespassing, and defiling a place of worship. The same charges were also levelled against another 50 to 60 unknown persons.
[…] a group of 50 to 60 persons have entered the Babri Masjid by breaking open the locks of the compound and also by scaling the walls and staircases and placed an idol of Shri Bhagwan in it and scribbled sketches of Sita, Ramji etc in saffron and yellow colours on the inner and outer walls of it [...] Committers of crime have desecrated (naapak kiya) the mosque by trespassing through rioting.
A six-foot tall priest with a quick temper, Abhiram Das, began to be hailed as the “liberator” or “Uddharak Baba”. But could this elaborate plan to convert a masjid into a mandir have been possible without the local administration’s help?
No Miracle, This
Guru Dutt Singh was the City Magistrate at the time – and according to his grandson, Shakti Singh, a BJP leader in Faizabad, he a “pakka Hinduvadi.” Vegetarian and a teetotaller, Guru Singh was a Ram bhakt.
His son, 86-year-old Guru Basant Singh, needed some coaxing, but recalled vivid details, while speaking to The Quint, about the secret meetings held at his house ‘Ram Bhavan.’
He was 15-years-old then and would often eavesdrop while serving tea and water to the visitors, which included District Magistrate KK Nayar, Superintendent of Police Kripal Singh, and Judge Thakur Bir Singh.
The city’s top four administrators were adamant on executing the plan to place Ram’s idols inside the Babri. Who was going to object and to what end? On the face of it, they behaved like vigilant officials, but in reality they allowed devotees to pour in and perform kar seva.Guru Basant Singh, son of Guru Dutt Singh
But why did they feel the need to conjure up a miracle, instead of owning up to their actions?
Guru Basant Singh explains that the demand for a Ram Mandir had to be chanelled into a people’s movement, and what better way to whip up religious fervour than by claiming Ram Lalla himself appeared at his birthplace.
Guru Dutt Singh’s senior, Faizabad District Magistrate KK Nayar, was a soft-spoken Malayali who was known to be sympathetic to the Hindu Mahasabha – the oldest Hindu nationalist political party. Incidentally, he had taken official leave on the day when people forced entry into the Babri, but he did not leave Faizabad.
Nayar’s complicity in the entire ordeal is further confirmed by the fact that despite arriving at the scene at 4 am, he did not inform his seniors in Lucknow till 10.30 am.
A few Hindus entered Babri Masjid at night when the masjid was deserted and installed a deity there. The District Magistrate and the Superintendent of Police and force at spot. Situation under control. Police picket of 15 persons was on duty at night but did not apparently act.KK Nayar’s radio message to the Chief Minister of the United Provinces, Gobind Ballabh Pant
In the nearly five hours that he was present at the Babri Masjid, Nayar made no attempts to remove the idols and have the mosque vacated. He later joined the Jan Sangh and was also elected Member of Parliament.
What Was PM Nehru Doing?
On 26 December 1949, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wrote a telegram to Gobind Ballabh Pant, expressing his distress over the “dangerous example being set there which will have bad consequences.” He followed up on 5 February 1950 with a letter asking Pant if he should visit Ayodhya.
But Nehru Would Never Make That Visit
That the 22 December 1949 incident was a “well-planned conspiracy involving national, provincial and local level leaders” is up for debate even 66 years after the idols were placed inside the Babri Masjid.
But on the ground, it continued to be treated as a localised communal incident by the administration and the media. The events that unfolded on 22 December 1949 destroyed the status quo set by the British in allowing Hindus and Muslims to worship at the mosque.
But it took another four decades for the VHP, the BJP, and the Congress to act in an unintended concert that led to LK Advani to launch the Rath Yatra, sparking a mass movement that ended with the demolition of the Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992.
The Babri Masjid premises were locked down for all under Section 145 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Interim orders in civil suits, filed soon after, put restrictions on the removal of the idols, and interfering with their worship. Till 6 December 1992, the gates of the mosque remained practically shut, only allowing for the entry and exit of priests who performed daily rituals.
Cameraperson: Siddharth Safaya
Video Editor: Kunal Mehra, Hitesh Singh, Rahul Sanpui
Graphics: Hardeep Singh
Producer: Esha Paul
Reporter: Aviral Virk