Hindu zealots demolish the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on Dec. 6, 1992. (Photo: YouTube)
In every democratic country, politicians' freedom and power are defined by the constitution and, of course, their ability to be credible. After a special court ordered the acquittal of hardline Hindu leaders from a conspiracy charge of bringing down a 16th-century mosque in 1992, most opposition leaders went silent or were guarded in their reactions.
In India, a multi-faith and multi-language country, secularism took a beating on Dec. 6, 1992, when Hindu zealots demolished the Babri Masjid. They argued they were undoing the act of 16th-century Muslim ruler Baber, who built it after razing a temple at the spot in Ayodhya town, the birthplace of their Lord Ram in present-day Uttar Pradesh state.
Starting in the 19th century, there were several conflicts and court disputes between Hindus and Muslims over the mosque. The disputes came to a flashpoint in 1992 when L.K. Advani of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) began a roadshow demanding the mosque's demolition and the building of a temple at Ayodhya.
Following the demolition, Hindu-Muslim riots followed in which some 3,000 people died. Advani, as leader of the opposition in India's parliament (Lok Sabha), took the moral high ground and resigned. The Congress party, which was running the government in New Delhi then, dismissed BJP governments in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Fast forward to Sept. 30, 2020: Advani and a host of other hardline BJP politicians were acquitted by a special court that heard the conspiracy case.
Call it the irony of history, but this time the BJP runs the government in New Delhi. On Nov. 9, 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that Lord Ram was born in Ayodhya and that a grand Ram temple should be built at the very spot where the disputed structure stood.
However, the court said the demolition of the mosque was an "egregious violation of the rule of law". The word "egregious" means outstandingly bad and shocking.
But on Sept. 30, 2020, another court in Lucknow ordered the acquittal of all 32 accused, including Advani. This was so despite a 2009 government commission headed by former judge M.S. Liberhan holding the BJP leaders responsible for the demolition.
With the Supreme Court verdict in November 2019 favoring the Hindus and now the acquittal of all accused, the dispute has perhaps come to an end.
Of course, some Muslims are definitely not happy. Vocal Muslim leader and lawmaker Asaduddin Owaisi based in Hyderabad said: "All these leaders … and others got fame in politics due to this Ayodhya temple movement. Our masjid was sacrificed ... You destroyed me and this helped your politics, and today you are being given a clean chit."
"What lesson are you giving to those who believe in the rule of law?" he asked.
Meanwhile, Hindu leaders have openly claimed they demolished the mosque. In a 2019 video that went viral, BJP parliamentarian Pragya Singh from Bhopal openly admitted being part of the crowd that brought down the mosque.
"I do not deny it. I demolished the structure. I will go there and help in the construction of the Ram temple. Nobody can stop us from doing that. Lord Ram is the nation, and the nation is Lord Ram himself," she said while answering a question in the run-up to the 2019 general election.
In 1992 itself, the late Bal Thackeray, then chief of the regional Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena party, said: "I am proud of my partymen if they brought down the mosque."
For religious minorities, Christians and Muslims, the BJP's second term in New Delhi that began in 2019 with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the steering wheel meant a definite turning point in India's political history. The road to making India a Hindu nation has become wide and straight.
The Catholic Church, Protestants and other Christian groups are dead silent on the development. More than a year ago, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India withdrew its spokesperson from its headquarters in New Delhi in what was described as a strategy to avoid media misquoting the Church's mind. Understandably, the Church does not want to make a comment that may offend the government.
Many BJP leaders now view the dispute over Babri Masjid should end as all issues have been settled.
"This [the latest court verdict] should bring to an end all controversies and such an old historical dispute. The court order endorses our stand. The BJP leaders and millions of workers were never part of any conspiracy," said Virendra Sachdeva from the BJP's good governance cell.
In a Hindu-majority nation, it is unwise for any political party to offend Hindu sentiments. While most opposition parties are playing it safe with guarded words, the communists were open in their criticism.
"A complete travesty of justice. All charged with criminal conspiracy to demolish Babri Masjid acquitted. Is it self-imploded? The Constitution Bench … had said that demolition was an 'egregious' violation of the law. Now this verdict! Shame," said Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury in a tweet.
Another Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader, Mohammed Salim, even attributed a motive to the court verdict and said: "When will the judge get a promotion?"
But other opposition parties seem baffled.
"It is a court judgment, so we cannot just say we oppose or support it. The verdict has come after 28 years — few people are unhappy with it," said Saugata Roy, a parliamentarian of the opposition Trinamool Congress.
Trinamool Congress, a regional outfit in West Bengal led by mercurial Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, faces a tough fight from the BJP in state polls in April-May 2021.
Many of Banerjee's party cadres and workers are reportedly switching sides as they are unhappy with the party's overboard policies to cater only to issues concerning Muslims.
Surprisingly, there was no tweet from Banerjee, something she does not usually miss on such occasions. There was also no tweet or formal reaction from principal opposition Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who often projects himself as a chief rival to Modi.
Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala said: "The decision of the special court runs counter to the decision of the Supreme Court judgment and also the constitutional spirit."
Will someone miss the helplessness in their tone?
The constitution is robbed of its meaning, democracy is misinterpreted as the clamor of majority, the opposition is clipped, and religious minorities remain frightened to express their feelings.
For India, hailed as the world's largest democracy, the ongoing march toward Hindu majoritarianism has been accelerated. The court order was a decisive encouragement to that march, to put it mildly.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.