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When Even the Supreme Court Let Down the Nation

It did nothing to hold to account the BJP leaders who gave false assurances to the court before the Ayodhya demolition.

Babri masjid demolition on December 6, 1992. Credit: PTI

Twenty five years after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, The Wire, through a series of articles and videos captures how the act of destruction changed India forever.

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“It may be mentioned that the present government of Uttar Pradesh has an enviable record of maintaining law and order in the state, particularly in maintaining communal harmony.”

Thus spoke the Kalyan Singh government in an affidavit before the Supreme Court in the run-up to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, which took place on this day 25 years ago. It was on the basis of this affidavit that the Supreme Court allowed a “symbolic kar seva” to be held on the fateful day, with far-reaching repercussions for communal harmony across the country.

Filed on November 27, 1992, the four-page affidavit signed by Shekhar Agarwal, special secretary in the Uttar Pradesh government’s home department, made this deceptive claim about its law and order record in order to dissuade the Supreme Court from entrusting the responsibility of protecting the mosque to the Central government headed by P.V.  Narasimha Rao.

What was in contention was whether the kar seva that was proposed to be held on December 6, 1992, with the backing of the Bharatiya Janata Party, was likely to violate the status quo order passed by the Allahabad high court pending the disposal of the Ayodhya title suits.

In a bid to dispel apprehensions of any danger to the disputed structure, the affidavit cited a letter from BJP MP Swami Chinmayanand, who was one of the organisers of the proposed kar seva. Chinmayanand wrote:

“In response to a communication from the Uttar Pradesh government that kar seva may be performed from December 6 onwards without violating the high court’s order, I wish to convey that the government’s proposal has received a favorable response from several members of the Kar Seva Samiti and that other members are also being contacted in this respect.”

Chinmayanand’s letter was followed by one from another BJP MP, Vijayaraje Scindia, who was among the founding leaders of the party. Scindia’s letter said:

“In response to the discussions with the government of Uttar Pradesh, I concur with the statement of Swami Chinmayanand dated 27th November 1992 that Kar Seva would be performed on 6th December, 1992 without violating the court order.”

These letters were produced to bolster the Kalyan Singh government’s claim that the response to its negotiations with the various interested parties had been “positive”. It said that it was “now confident” that as long as the status quo order was in force, “no construction, permanent or temporary, will take place”. Significantly, it added that “though to allay the religious aspirations of the Ram bhakts, kar seva other than by way of construction, as stated may take place.”

As a corollary, the Supreme Court gave its go-ahead to what it called the symbolic kar seva for performing rituals that would not violate the interim order to maintain the status quo on the disputed site of 2.77 acres. It did not evidently foresee that the government’s plea for allowing “kar seva other than by way of construction” would turn out to be demolition of the mosque under the benign gaze of the police.

In its affidavit, the Kalyan Singh government was also at pains to say that it was “fully competent to prevent the violation of the court’s order and the assistance of force offered by the Central government is not necessary in the present circumstances.” Reiterating its commitment to “safeguard and protect” the mosque, the state government said that it “has been frequently reviewing security arrangements of the disputed structure and has been taking all necessary steps to ensure its safety”.

The measures it claimed to have taken in this regard were substantial enough to make the state government’s failure to act when it came to the crunch all the more intriguing:

“Entry to the disputed structure is carefully controlled and every person is checked before entry. Metal detectors and closed circuit TV are in operation. Road barriers are also used for controlling the crowd whenever necessary. Recently the state government has decided to deploy additional 15 companies of PAC and additional police force for the security of the structure and for maintaining law and order.”

Equally ironic is its claim that “no development has taken place till now to warrant any anxiety or to doubt the competence of the state government to deal with the situation”. The affidavit also contained a veiled threat on the question of whether the Centre should be entrusted the responsibility. “If any other authority is so entrusted, it will amount to abandonment of the course of negotiation/persuasion and is likely to lead to avoidable use of force.”

The bigger irony, though, is the Supreme Court’s failure to follow up on the contempt proceedings initiated by it against Kalyan Singh and other state authorities for reneging on their commitment to protect the mosque. Though it sent Kalyan Singh to jail for serving a one-day token sentence, it was only for a smaller contempt committed by him at Ayodhya five months prior to the demolition when he had allowed a platform to be constructed despite the status quo order.

For the far more serious violations that led to the demolition, all that the Supreme Court said in its October 1994 Ayodhya verdict was: “Though the proceedings for suo motu contempt against the then chief minister of the state of Uttar Pradesh and its officers in relation to the happening of 6-12-1992 were initiated, those are pending and shall be dealt with independently.”

Despite such a clarification, those proceedings have never been dealt with, independently or otherwise. It’s as if, after Kalyan Singh’s perfidy, it was the Supreme Court’s turn to let down the nation.

Manoj Mitta is the author of The Fiction of Fact-Finding: Modi and Godhra.