Nearly 37 years ago, a district court allowed Ram Janmabhoomi temple complex gates to open where Babri mosque once stood.
History repeated itself this week. A district court in Varanasi allowed Hindu devotees to worship inside the sealed cellar of the contentious Gyanvapi mosque. The court has Kashi Vishwanath temple’s permitted priests to conduct prayers in the restricted area.
History shows that the Babri Masjid was built in 1528 by Mir Baqi, a general of the Mughal emperor Babur. The India Today, giving a detailed account, notes that the mosque was built upon the birthplace of Lord Ram or Ram Janmabhoomi as it’s called.
The Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site divided communities, with the Hindus trying to conduct their rituals there. In 1858, Nihang Sikhs entered the Babri mosque and performed hawan and puja. The India Today report mentions that the incident led to the filing of the first FIR in the case.
A railing was built outside the mosque following the incident. This was Ram Chabutra, a site of Hindu worship. It’s held it was Lord Ram’s birthplace.
Mahant Raghubir Das, the chief priest of the Ram Chabutra, filed a lawsuit in 1885 in an attempt to develop a temple on the property next to the mosque. Though the court dismissed his argument, Hindus persisted in their worship at the Chabutra.
A district court declared the Babri mosque complex closed for worship for both parties in 1949. This happened after an idol of Lord Ram appeared inside the complex inexplicably; the Allahabad High Court subsequently determined that this was a Hindu priest’s intentional action.
And so for decades, as the report elaborates, the Babri mosque remained closed, even though Hindus and Muslims filed title suits to claim possession of the site.
Let’s fast forward to 1984, when the Rajiv Gandhi government assumed power.
The Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) organised a movement to unshackle the Janmasthan.
Shriram Janmabhoomi Mukti Yajna Samiti started a rath yatra from Sitamarhi, Sita’s birthplace, to Ayodhya in 1984, making the first call to liberate Ram Janmabhoomi.
The VHP used the Rajiv Gandhi government’s defiance of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Shah Bano case as leverage to put the government under pressure over the Janmabhoomi issue.
How is the Shah Bano case relevant here?
For context, Shah Bano, a Muslim woman who sought maintenance from her ex-husband under Section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code—which applies to all Indian citizens regardless of their religion—won her case at the Supreme Court in 1985. However, conservative Muslim leaders fiercely disagreed with the ruling, claiming it went against Islamic law. The Rajiv Gandhi-led administration introduced an ordinance to weaken the Supreme Court’s ruling in reaction to the criticism, The India Today report adds.
However, the Hindu community did not approve of this action, seeing it as caving into the prejudices of the minority at the expense of the majority. The Congress administration sought a resolution to the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute to offset the unhappiness and win back the support of the Hindu electorate.
A district judge issued an order on February 1, 1986, opening the mosque’s gates so that Hindus could pray inside the “disputed structure.” Many people saw the Congress administration’s unlocking the Babri Masjid as a balancing act, both in Uttar Pradesh and at the national level.
The court order caused the shrine’s gates to open for Hindus, who offered prayers for the first time in 37 years. Because extensive security was already in place, the Muslim side claimed that the decision had been pre-planned.
The VHP and other Hindu organisations saw a chance to advance their cause following the opening of the Ram Janmabhoomi gate. The VHP held a shilanyas, or foundation-laying ceremony, for a Ram temple next to the site of the disputed mosque on November 9, 1989.
The decision to permit the Shilanyas was made by the Congress government led by Rajiv Gandhi, and it was officially conveyed to Ashok Singhal, the leader of the VHP, by Buta Singh, the Home Minister at the time.
Only a few days before the general elections started, there was a shilanyas ceremony.
It was perceived as a tactical move by the Congress to win back the Hindu votes without considering the potential consequences. The events are linked to the eventual demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.
The BJP’s fortunes also changed due to the Ram Mandir movement; in the 1990 Lok Sabha elections, the party went from having just two MPs to 85 seats.