Dr. Amna Shabi traces how the exploitation of religious sentiments has led to the present moment, through the anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid.


The Bhoomi Pujan (ground-breaking ceremony) of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya concluded on Wednesday, 5th August 2020 with the Prime Minister, the Chief Minister of the state and prominent right-wing leaders attending the function, along with other invitees. From there, on addressing the same gathering, the Prime Minister termed the upcoming Ram Janmabhoomi temple as a “modern symbol of the Indian culture, eternal faith, and national spirit”.
The right-wing members have been repeatedly saying that the Ram Mandir issue is a matter of faith. What cannot be actualised is whether this was an issue related to faith, or was it that the BJP had prepared a base for politics by highlighting the same. The truth, countermanding the “faith aspect”, is what Sushma Swaraj admitted in a public gathering in Bhopal on 14th April 2000, “The temple movement was purely political in nature and had nothing to do with religion.”
The fact is that the BJP had come to power only through the Ram Mandir movement.
Substantially, politics is the very name that exploits everything that has an emotional
feeling in the human psyche. Religion, nationalism, language, culture, cultural traditions, great personalities of the past, ancient historical buildings, etc. – all these factors have always been used by politicians to exploit people emotionally, and it is still prevalent today. The Ram Mandir movement is an excellent example of this kind of manipulation. Before the Ram Mandir movement, Hindu revivalists had made multiple efforts in Indian politics, but to no avail. From the Hindu Mahasabha’s political alliance with the Muslim League to the Janata Party’s alliance with the Jan Sangh; from the siege of Parliament in 1966 by campaigning in the name of cow protection, to agitation against Indira Gandhi’s dictatorship, the struggle to get power continued, unproductively.


Indian politics was never a walk in the park for the right-wingers. The diverse socio-political and historical profile of the country and the ideas, ideology, and socio-political structure developed by Gandhi, Nehru, Ambedkar and Azad and their influences on the newly created system had become an obstacle in the way of the right-wing but their hopes were revived ascribable to certain mistakes of the ruling party and their cunning politics. The mandir issue materialised their years-old dream and they corroborated their own space in mainstream politics.
During an interview with journalist Neerja Chaudhury, in April 1986, VHP leader Ashok Singhal said that the Congress leadership was always keen to use “Ayodhya” as an electoral issue at an appropriate time. In 1982, they seriously discussed the way forward with the right-wing leadership. Adding to the bargain and regarding the much-hyped and controversial Shah Bano case, the then Prime Minister passed the Muslim Women (Protection on Divorce Act) 1986. The case became less about legality or about the rights of women, and more about political one-upmanship, along Hindu-Muslim lines. Many Hindus reacted sharply to the proposed bill. More than its provisions, they objected to the PM’s caving into the Muslim pressure – what came to be seen as appeasement of the community.

Political Shifts

Consequently, “taala khulwa do” (open the locks) was the first suggestion the PM received to settle down the agitated Hindus. The Babri Masjid had been locked since December 1949, following the placement of an idol inside the mosque in the dead of the night. The Prime Minister had thought that the Muslim Women’s Bill would satisfy the Muslims and that opening the locks would make Hindus happy.
In 1980, the Ram Mandir movement was launched across the country. The sentiments of Hindu nationalism were greatly inflamed. A Dharma Sansad was convened in Allahabad in 1989 in which decisions were taken to start brick worship and shilanyas (laying the foundation) for the construction of the temple. A model of the Ram temple was also displayed in the Dharma Sansad and a nationwide Ram Shila Pujan campaign was launched. Large-scale processions and rallies began to take place across India, chanting slogans and speeches inciting religious sentiments. Although the Ram Temple was supposed to be a religious campaign, it was completely political and anti-Muslim. The efficaciousness of the campaign was indisputable. Riots kicked off across the country. The attacks were particularly greater in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. The deadliest attack took place in Bhagalpur, where thousands of Muslims were killed. Muslims across the country lost money in millions and thousands of innocent people were killed. Work was underway to bring bricks from all over the country to Uttar Pradesh. The right-wing brigade created an atmosphere of terror all over the country, but the government did not contravene and chose to stay idle.
India was undergoing major political changes at that time. Back in 1979, the government of Morarji Desai formed a committee under the supervision of Bhindeshwari Prasad Mandal to identify the educationally and economically weaker sections in India so that they could be given reservations. In its recommendations, the Mandal Commission said that India has 3743 different castes which constitute 52% of the total population who meet the criterion for reservation on social and economic grounds. 27% reservation in the public sector was recommended for them. These recommendations remained in the cold for ten years. In 1989, PM V.P. Singh decided to implement these recommendations.
Hindu revivalists had always wanted to keep Dalits with them for the sake of Hindu domination. Whether it is the demand for separate electoral for Dalits after independence or the reservation based on caste, any attempt to create a sense of separate individuality among Dalits has been stifled by the upper caste Hindus.

The rise of political Hindutva

On the other hand, the Bharatiya Janata Party was formed under the supervision of the right-wing to advance the Hindutva agenda directly. Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the first President of the BJP. In the early days, the BJP started working on the ideology of the Janata Party and adopted integral humanism as the party’s core philosophy. However, the BJP failed to establish its influence and lost the election gravely, winning only two seats. The assassination of Indira Gandhi gained sympathy for the Congress party and consequently, they won 403 seats. The BJP thought it failed because of Vajpayee’s moderate policies. The party was then forced to alter its mind and return to strict Hindutva. In 1984, Advani was made the Party President. Advani, on one hand, had to face the challenge of Mandal politics and on the other hand, he also had to stand up to the BJP. To achieve both these goals, Advani had a simple agenda – the Ram Mandir politics. Subsequently, he heated the mandir issue all over India.
Following the Shilaniyas taking place at the allegedly disputed land on grounds of permission granted by the then Prime Minister, with the Ram Mandir movement, Advani created a stir within the BJP and made it his election agenda. Consequently, the number of BJP seats in the 1989 general election increased from 2 to 84. When Advani saw that the Ram Mandir movement was gaining extraordinary success, he decided to carry on a yatra to create a public atmosphere throughout the country. Advani modified a Toyota car into a chariot travelling across 8 states and covering a distance of 10,000 km. The Yatra was scheduled to commence from Somnath and culminate in Ayodhya – both historical sites in Hindu mythologies. The yatra sparked riots in several places, killing thousands of innocent people. Ram Chandra Guha called it “irreligious, violent, inflammatory and anti-Muslim.” Wherever Advani went, weapons were given to him as a gift. Advani received so many weapons as a gift that Pramod Mahajan even said that with the help of these weapons, we can liberate Ram Janmabhoomi in one day.

The event

Finally, in 1990, Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav stopped Advani’s yatra and took him into custody, thus ending this journey. The BJP used the Ram Mandir movement vigorously in the 1991 elections. Compared to 1989, its vote bank increased from 11% to 21%, magnifying twofold. Its number of seats in the Lok Sabha increased from 85 to 120. It gained entry into states like Karnataka, Assam and Telangana and emerged as the largest party in the country after the Congress. On December 6, 1992, about 1.5 million karsevaks were gathered to demolish the Babri Masjid. The right-wing leaders delivered emotional speeches and infuriated the crowd. Then, a saffron flag was put over the mosque and a violent, fanatic mob soon demolished the Babri Masjid.


As a result, communal riots took place across the country in which a large number of people lost their lives and property. The Ram Mandir movement also responded to the Mandal and united the Hindus. The Hindu vote bank was strengthened and the BJP benefited. For the first time, a BJP government was formed at the centre in 1996 for thirteen days, then in 1998 for thirteen months followed by a five-year tenure.



  1. Dr Sabiha Khan

    The editor has drawn the map of the series of situations so deeply that every image of that tragedy has come to mind.

  2. Dr Sadika Kapadwala

    Excellent analysis and synopsis of a grave plot meant solely to break the social and secular fabric of our country


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