On 18th April, the Supreme Court restored criminal conspiracy charges against BJP leaders L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi and several other ‘kar-sevaks’ who had earlier been acquitted in the Babri Masjid demolition case. The 16th century mosque was demolished on 6 December 1992, and the fringe Hindutva organization the Bajrang Dal played a huge role in mobilizing the kar-sevaks who demolished the structure. In this extract from Bajrang Dal: Muscle Power and Militant Youth, journalist Dhirendra Jha recounts how the Bajrang Dal was set up to increase Hindu mobilization for the Ayodhya movement, and how it laid the ground for the eventual demolition:
When the Bajrang Dal was set up in 1984 by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad as its ‘militant youth wing’, its original objective was to increase Hindu mobilization for the Ayodhya movement, which the VHP had adopted as its central campaign barely a few months earlier. The epithet ‘bajrang’ (meaning strong and sturdy), which is associated with the name of Hanuman, the monkey god who led Lord Rama’s armies into battle, was chosen to emphasize the muscle power of the members of this organization.
‘Since the Bajrang Dal was dedicated solely to the construction of the Rama temple at the site of the Babri Masjid, Ayodhya’s Vinay Katiyar [who had been an RSS pracharak since 1980] was chosen as its first national convener,’ says Yugal Kishore Sharan Shastri, an Ayodhya-based sadhu who, as district convener of the VHP in Faizabad, was part of the deliberations that led to the formation of its youth wing…
Shastri did not survive in the VHP for long. In 1986, he snapped all ties with the Sangh Parivar as he felt that ‘the VHP and the Bajrang Dal were not interested in the Rama temple per se, but only in diverting its political benefits to the BJP’. He has since been travelling extensively to different parts of the country, talking about the significance of communal harmony and attacking the politics of communalism. ‘I was not alone in realizing this,’ he says. ‘Many sadhus of Ayodhya who had joined the VHP and the Bajrang Dal thinking that a temple for Lord Rama would be constructed fell inactive as soon as their real motive started becoming clear.’
That was perhaps the reason why the Bajrang Dal – despite its main objective being the construction of the Rama temple at Ayodhya and its national convener being a resident of Ayodhya – did not receive any significant response from local sadhus in the beginning. This was evident, as noted by Dutch anthropologist Peter van der Veer, by the indifferent way in which they greeted a VHP–Bajrang Dal procession arriving with much fanfare from Sitamarhi in Bihar with the mission of ‘liberating the temple of Ayodhya’.
The procession – called the Ram–Janaki Rath Yatra – was the first big event organized to link the formation of the Bajrang Dal with the mobilization of Hindus for the Ramjanmabhoomi issue. It reached Ayodhya on the evening of 6 October 1984. A public meeting was organized the next day in its honour but local sadhus remained largely indifferent. Van der Veer writes: ‘As far as I could see only some five to seven thousand people had come to listen to the speeches. This seemed a disappointing number… The Hindi press…inflated it to fifty thousand and in some papers even to a hundred thousand, numbers which were taken [up] by the national press.’ The next day, after halting at Ayodhya, the procession started for Lucknow to present a petition to the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh. ‘Some of Ayodhya’s sadhus had accompanied the procession to Lucknow,’ according to Van der Veer, ‘and told, after their return, that it had had a far greater success in Lucknow and in the places on the way than in Ayodhya itself.’
Yet, despite the initial lack of enthusiasm in Ayodhya, the Bajrang Dal’s popularity picked up fast in the rest of Uttar Pradesh and its neighbouring states as the general politics of the BJP, the VHP and the RSS started gaining momentum towards the end of the 1980s. The new organization had a central role in BJP leader L.K. Advani’s Rath Yatra – a procession in a rath or chariot that began in September 1990 from the Somnath Temple in Gujarat and was scheduled to conclude in Ayodhya after winding some ten thousand kilometres through western and northern India. The Bajrang Dal’s volunteers offered him a cup of their blood as proof of their commitment and kept him company. They also often welcomed him by applying a tilak of blood on his forehead. Activists also prepared the route of the yatra with decorations and the spread of communal propaganda.
The Rath Yatra could not reach Ayodhya. Advani was arrested on the orders of Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Janata Dal government in Bihar on 23 October. By then, however, it had succeeded in instilling so much confidence in the Bajrang Dal’s activists that a week later, on 30 October, a group of them stormed the heavily guarded Babri Masjid in Ayodhya and placed a saffron flag on top of the structure. The resultant confrontation between the local police and thousands of kar sevaks led to several deaths…