By Nandita Haksar
Even before the adoption of the Constitution, in November 1949 India had embarked upon the stupendous task of preparing the electoral rolls on the basis of universal adult franchise. The exercise turned adult Indians into voters even before they had become citizens. Some authors have called this exercise the ‘greatest experiment in democratic human history’.
One writer has said: ‘By late 1949 India pushed through the frontiers of the world’s democratic imagination and gave birth to the largest democracy.’
Right back in 1928 Nehru in a report had stated: ‘any artificial restriction on the right to vote in a democratic constitution is an unwarranted restriction on democracy itself and the colonial notion of keeping the numbers within reasonable bound for practical reasons has to be faced.’
During the colonial rule, electoral institutions were largely a means to co-opting the ruling elite and strengthen the colonial state. The Hindu Mahasabha was established in part as a response to the British India government's creation of a separate Muslim electorate under the Morley-Minto reforms of 1909.
And now 173 million Indians were on the electoral roles and 85 per cent of them had never voted. The first elections took place on October 25 1951 and February 21 1952.
At the very moment a group of dedicated bureaucrats had started getting ready to prepare the electoral roll, in November 1949, the Hindu Mahasabha was preparing its diabolic plan of converting the Babri mosque into a temple in Ayodhya.
The British had left behind a legacy of divide and rule which was in large part responsible for the bloody and violent partition of the country; and now many right wing nationalists’ worldview was influenced by the colonial discourse revolving around Hindu/Muslim dichotomy. And this discourse is reflected in the very first paragraph of the Supreme Court judgement on the Babri Masjid where they see the dispute as being between Hindus and Muslims; not a conspiracy by a Hindu nationalist organization involved in the murder of Gandhi.
The thousand-plus page judgement by the Supreme Court of India on the dispute over the Babri Masjid dispute begins with this paragraph:
‘These first appeals centre around a dispute between two religious communities both of whom claim ownership over a piece of land measuring 1500 square yards in the town of Ayodhya. The disputed property is of immense significance to Hindus and Muslims. The Hindu community claims it as the birthplace of Lord Ram, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The Muslim community claims it as the site of the historic Babri Masjid built by the first Mughal Emperor, Babur.
‘The lands of our country have witnessed invasions and dissensions. Yet they have assimilated into the idea of India everyone who sought their providence, whether they came as merchants, travellers or as conquerors. The history and culture of this country have been home to quests for truth, through the material, the political, and the spiritual. This Court is called upon to fulfill its adjudicatory function where it is claimed that two quests for the truth impinge on the freedoms of the other or violate the rule of law.’
Although the Supreme Court judgement mentions Hindu Mahasabha by name in several places and the Defendant no 10 was the president of the organization at the relevant time; it continues to conflate the Hindu Mahasabha with Hindus in general.
The Hindu Mahasabha denied that there was any incident in December 1949 in which some Sadhus broke the mosque locks and installed idols of Rama under the dome. According to the written statement of the President of the Hindu Mahasabha, ‘the idols were in existence at the time immemorial. According to the written statement the site is the birthplace of Lord Rama and no mosque could have been constructed at the birthplace’. (Page 43 of the judgement).
This statement contradicts the stand of the Hindu Mahasabha that Ram’s idols appeared at the mosque in 1949 miraculously.
Ayodhya has been associated with the birth of Ram in various texts but nowhere is the exact place actually mentioned. A shot in Anand Patwardhan’s famous documentary Ram Ke Naam shows clearly that many temples in Ayodhya claim to have been built at the site of Ram’s birthplace. Many Sanskrit inscriptions mention Ayodhya as a holy city but are silent on the birthplace of Ram.
A mosque was constructed in 1528 which later became famous as the Babri Masjid; next to it was a raised platform on which Hindus worshipped Ram. The two communities had continued to worship side by side. But the British were threatened by Hindu-Muslim unity and spread a rumour that Babar, the first Mughal, had built the mosque at the site of a Ram temple. That is the origin of the claims that Babri Masjid was built by destroying the Ram temple – a claim that the Supreme Court says has no basis in archaeological evidence.
Conversion of Babri Mosque into a Temple
The statement of the Hindu Mahasabha that the idols of Ram were present from times immemorial is belied by the FIR filed in December 1949 at Ayodhya Police Station. The FIR was filed by Pandit Ramdeo Dubey, the officer in charge, Ayodhya Police Station, Faizabad at 9 a.m. on December 23, 1949.
The FIR was filed against Abhiram Das, Ram Sakal Das, Sudarshan Das and 50 to 60 other persons, whose names were not known, under Sections 147 (rioting), 448 (trespassing) and 295 (defiling a place of worship) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC):
‘That at about 7 in the morning when I (Ramdeo Dubey) reached the Janmabhoomi, I came to know from Mata Prasad [Constable No. 7, Ayodhya Police Station] that 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. That Hans Raj [Constable No. 70, who was on duty at the time when 50-60 persons entered] stopped them [from doing so] but they did not care. The PAC [Provincial Armed Constabulary] guards present there were called for help. But by then the people had already entered the mosque. Senior district officials visited the site and got into action. Later on, a mob of five to six thousand people gathered and tried to enter into the mosque raising religious slogans and singing kirtans. But due to proper arrangement, nothing happened. Committers of crime [Abhi] Ram Das, [Ram] Sakal Das, Sudarshan Das with 50 to 60 persons, names not known, have desecrated [naapaak kiya hai] the mosque by trespassing the mosque through rioting and placing idol[s] in it. Officers on duty and many other people have seen it. So the case has been checked. It is found correct.’
The story of how the Ram idols were placed inside the Babri Masjid on the night of December 23 1949 has been well researched and documented by Krishna Jha and Dhirendra K Jha in their book entitled Ayodhya: The Dark Night - The Secret History of Rama’s Appearance in Babri Masjid (2012). They have documented the facts leading to the installation of the idol and described the characters involved in the conspiracy.
From the accounts of that day it is clear from a legal point of view it is a criminal trespass committed by a group of Sadhus or ascetics affiliated to a particular religious sect but members of a political organization called the Akhil Bhārat Hindū Mahāsabhā, a right wing Hindu nationalist political party in India.
Role of the District Administration
The Supreme Court judgement acknowledges that, ‘Officials of the state refused to thereafter remove the surreptitiously installed idols despite orders from the State Government, further confirming their alliance with the miscreants who desecrated the mosque’.
The District Magistrate was one KK Nair who had links with the Hindu Mahasabha and he refused to remove the idols despite being told to do so by the State Government. His wife, Shakuntala Nair, organized an akhand kirtan to keep militant sadhus from leaving the compound of the Babri Masjid. And in the meantime the Hindu Mahasabha and its affiliates spread the rumour that Ram’s idols had appeared at the mosque miraculously.
Both KK Nair and his wife got seats in the Parliament on tickets from Hindu nationalist parties.
Barely two days after the idols of Ram were installed in the mosque, India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to the Chief Minister of the United Provinces (now UP) to ensure that the idols were removed.
Akshay Brahmachari, a Congress-man wrote a series of letters to Lal Bahadur Shashtri, went on fasts and recorded what was happening in Ayodhya. But other Hindu leaders such as Baba Raghav Das supported the move.
Jawaharlal Nehru wrote to Pant, the Chief Minister, on December 26, just two days later:
‘I am disturbed at developments at Ayodhya. Earnestly hope you will personally interest yourself in this matter. Dangerous example being set there which will have bad consequences.’
Nehru wrote to Pant again on February 5, 1950:
‘I shall be glad if you will keep me informed of the Ayodhya situation. As you know, I attach great importance to its repercussions on an all India affairs especially Kashmir. I suggested to you when you were here last that, if necessary I would go to Ayodhya.’
Pant discouraged him and used the communal atmosphere to defeat a socialist candidate. And by then KK Nair had got an order from the court to attach disputed under section 145 of the CRPC with the help of Babu Priyadatta Ram, the Chairman of Faizabad-Ayodhya Municipal Board. He became the receiver of the property. This was in violation of the Section 145 which states that if a party has been forcibly and wrongfully been disposed then the property should be restored to the rightful owner.
A case of criminal trespass which could have been dealt with by the ordinary criminal law became a national issue which even the Supreme Court of India did not dare settle in accordance to principles of the law and the Constitution.
This injustice will further divide Indian citizens along religious lines and will have consequences that will touch the entire region.
By Rasna Warah
Usually it is writers who have a fan following, but in the case of Ali Zaidi, it was writers who were fans of the much-loved editor, as I discovered when I attended the many garden parties which he held in his home in Loresho, one of the greener suburbs of Nairobi. There, people like Binyavanga Wainaina (who passed away three months before Ali died and whose death had really shaken Ali), Yvonne Owuor, Parselelo Kantai, Judy Kibinge, Muthoni Wanyeki, Tom Maliti, the late Susan Linee, Zarina Patel, Zahid Rajan, Dana Seidenberg, among many, many others, would gather, often in small circles around a fire or under a tree. Occasionally, international celebrities like John Githongo and the British author Michela Wrong would make an appearance.
Ali would mingle with this motley crowd of journalists, writers, scholars, activists, and filmmakers while his partner Irene cooked a pilau for the gatherings that seemed to get bigger with each invitation. It is these parties that spawned a generation of writers and journalists who got their tutelage under Ali either when they worked under him at The Executive or at The East African, or both. As the Ugandan writer David Kaiza wrote, ‘By convening and hosting a circle of writers who would have an impact on the arts and culture on the continent, Ali Zaidi was also outdoing his predecessors. As with all editors of note, you wrote primarily for Ali Zaidi, and only secondarily for the paper.’