Ranjona Banerji: Nation’s Shame, and Now?

01 Oct,2020

By Ranjona Banerji


“The scenes will return, like deranged ghosts, to haunt those of us who were at the graveside to witness the burial of a secular dream. The screams of exultation with each blow of a pickaxe, each thrust of a rod, each dome that came crashing down…

“3 p.m. Sadhvi Rithambara starts singing and dancing and, as if in a trance, repeats over and over again a mesmeric exhortation: “Ek dhakka aur do, Babri Masjid tor do” (Give another shove, and tear down the mosque). A village lad from Kanpur district rushes past with a piece of brick held aloft like a trophy. “These are Babar’s bones,” he shouts in unholy glee…

“A red cloud of dust settles on the rubble, all that remains of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid shrine. And, all that remains of the myth of Hindu tolerance.”

These are excerpts from Dilip Awasthi’s report, in India Today magazine, on the demolition of the Babri Masjid, December 6, 1992.


The magazine cover read: “Nation’s Shame”, as I was reminded by my former boss Inderjit Badhwar on Twitter, who was then editor of India Today. He now runs India Legal and more.


I only use India Today as an example to demonstrate that 1992 was a different India, for the media at least. You can compare this report to India Today as it is now, as well as to its TV spin-offs to see the change for yourselves. 1992 was 28 years ago. A whole generation and more have grown up in between and never known what that India was. A whole media generation and more does not know what the media was. No relentless 24-hour news television. No internet. No social media. Those who could, watched the demolition on the BBC World Service. But there were witnesses.

A special CBI court on September 30, 2020 acquitted all the 32 accused in the Babri Masjid demolition, including the LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi. The judge said there was no conspiracy and the demolition was not “pre-planned”. The CBI put forward 351 witnesses and 600 documents as evidence, apparently not good enough. The judge however did say that the demolition was an “egregious violation of the rule of law”.

Justice Manmohan Singh Liberhan, who led the commission of inquiry into the demolition from 1992 and submitted his report in 2009, said this to Indian Express on September 30, 2020: “I found it was a civil conspiracy, I still believe in it. From all the evidence produced before me, it was clear that the Babri Masjid demolition was meticulously planned… I remember Uma Bharti categorically took responsibility for it. It was not an unseen force that demolished the mosque, human beings did it,”

He also said his “findings were correct, right, honest, and free from fear or any other bias”.

“For posterity, it is a report that will provide an honest account of what took place and how. It will be part of history.”


According to Justice Liberhan’s report, the accused had either actively or passively supported the demolition.


Between then and now, between the action and the decision, the changes to India’s population, sense of self, of identity, and to India’s media have been incalculable and not all for the better. The fact that the media itself now sees the likes of LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and the planners and implementers of his Rath Yatra and Ram Janmabhoomi movement to be comparatively benign speaks to how much we forget and choose to forget. The comparison is made to Narendra Modi and Amit Shah as the fount of Hindu majoritarian hatred. But they are only the inheritors of a tradition laid down long before their time in power. Even the 2002 Gujarat riots when Modi was chief minister of Gujarat happened under the watch of AB Vajpayee as Prime Minister of India and his deputy, Advani.

The role of Bal Thackeray and the Shiv Sena in the demolition and the subsequent riots in Bombay cannot be forgotten either.

Already however, you will find from within the media itself, the blame being laid on the Congress government in power at the Centre in 1992 and PV Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister. And on Rajiv Gandhi who as Prime Minister opened the locks of the mosque to allow Hindu prayers. This blame cannot be escaped. But it is a sideshow compared to the RSS’s Hindutva agenda carried out by the BJP, VHP, Bajrang Dal, Shiv Sena and all those of the “mob” that did the actual demolition.

In the Indian Express article linked above, there is a photograph of the BJP’s Uma Bharti and Murli Manohar Joshi celebrating the demolition. It is possible that the CBI’s investigation was full of loopholes. But whatever the “mob” did that day, not all the acquitted actually wept with sorrow. Many were extremely happy at the actions of their own “kar sevaks” as we can see.

We saw how today’s media celebrated when the Supreme Court handed the land to the destroyers of the mosque to build a Ram temple in 2019, especially our friends in television.

You could replay that 1992 India Today headline for the media now: Nation’s Shame.


Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist and commentator. She writes on MxMIndia on Tuesdays and Fridays, except this week because it’s a ‘no edition day’ tomorrow. Her views here are personal. She can be reached via Twitter at @ranjona



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