Acharya Satyendra Das is the head priest of the makeshift Ram Janmabhoomi temple at Ayodhya. Photo: Kanchan Srivastava
Acharya Satyendra Das is the head priest of the makeshift Ram Janmabhoomi temple at Ayodhya. Photo: Kanchan Srivastava

On December 6, 1992, a mob led by senior BJP leaders demolished the Babri Mosque, in Ayodhya, in Uttar Pradesh. The BJP and other Hindutva leaders claimed the mosque was built by the first Mughal emperor, Babur, on the site of the birth place of the Hindu deity, Lord Ram. The mosque’s demolition led to wide-spread violence and led to a polarization of the Indian electorate along religious lines – and to the inexorable rise of the BJP as a political party.

With the BJP in power both federally and in UP, Hindu fundamentalists are hopeful that a temple will finally be built at the disputed site. Indeed, the BJP’s election manifesto has consistently promised to build a temple there.

Acharya Satyendra Das is head priest of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple, a makeshift construction built where the Babri mosque stood.  Das performs a basic puja (prayer) twice a day under heavy police security, and in accordance with the Allahabad High Court’s detailed instructions in this regard. As India’s Supreme Court began hearing the Ram Janmbhoomi case on Tuesday – on the anniversary of the mosque’s demolition – Das spoke to Kanchan Srivastava about the issues at stake.

The supreme court has started hearing the Ram Janmbhoomi (Birthplace of Lord Ram) case from today. What are your expectations from this long pending matter?

I just hope all parties trust and accept the apex court’s verdict. The Supreme Court’s (SC) decision would be based on evidences that the land title belonged to a mosque or not. The matter has been dragged on for years. Only the SC can help to resolve it.

Of late, there have been attempts to resolve the issue out of court. Last month, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar also attempted. Do you think the matter could have been resolved by consensus?

An out-of-court solution is impossible. So far, no competent person has come forward to resolve the matter, the person who can effectively convince all stakeholders. Even Sankaracharya had tried that but failed. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar (a religious leader who is considered close to the BJP) can’t do that. The issue is stuck only because of political greed and obstinacy. Politicians grab the power by milking the issue. Hindu and Muslim organizations collect money by fanning the sentiments. So, all of them keep the issue alive. Only the SC can offer a solution.

What could have the BJP done to address the issue?

If the party is so serious about the issue, it should table a Bill in the Lok Sabha (the Lower House of India’s Parliament) where it enjoys the majority. We all will get to know who supported, and who opposed it. They will never do that. Even the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee (in power from 1998-2004) didn’t do that despite several requests by us. If the Vajpayee government was brought down on the same issue, the entire political discourse of the country would have been different today. The BJP is in power at the Center and State both. The Chief Minister and the Prime Minister could have appointed a competent interlocutor for out-of-court settlement. Neither of them has done anything so far.

What were you doing on December, 6, 1992, when the Babri mosque was demolished?

That day, after prayers, I had closed the doors of the temple at around 11am. Some Vishwa Hindu Parishad (a fundamentalist Hindutva organization) activists came rushing to me and asked for Gangajal (water from the Ganga river, considered holy by Hindus) to perform prayers at the chabutara (a makeshift temple). Meanwhile, we heard other activists saying that the structure should be demolished. And it happened really fast before anyone could do anything. The organizers of Kar Seva (an invocation of voluntary religious service) had gathered the crowd but they didn’t know how to control it.

That incident has done great damage to the Hindu society and to the Temple’s cause as well. Though it benefited the politicians who capitalized on the issue to grab power. The groups and organizations behind the demolition also benefited as they collected huge donations from across the world in the name of the temple.

How did the demolition of Babri Mosque cause damage to the Hindu community?

There was no mosque here in the first place. The structure was constructed after a controversy had broken out long ago but namaaz wasn’t offered there. The structure neither had a well, nor an Imam had been appointed there ever. The Babri mosque was a not a functional mosque, as per Sharia. The demolition suggested otherwise.

After the demolition, riots spread killing several innocent people. Many temples were brought down in Bangladesh and Pakistan. But we could do little. Ayodhya suffered a lot. The central government had acquired 77 acres of the land in Ayodhya in January 1993 to avoid communal tension. But nothing was being done on that land.

Earlier, the state government led by then Chief Minister, Kalyan Singh, had also acquired 2.77 acres of land in Ayodhya for construction of a Sheshavtar temple. A chabutara was built peacefully before the Babri mosque demolition. But that project was left midway and VHP, RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and BJP announced Kar Sewa. Had the mosque not been brought down then, we could have at least one grand Sheshavatar temple in Ayodhya today.