New Delhi: India has recovered from the shock of the cataclysmic events that followed the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, but that dark episode should be taken as a warning against mixing politics with religion and inciting inter-community hatred, says the celebrated former BBC journalist and author Mark Tully who was witness to it.
Tully, who covered the riotous events in Ayodhya on Dec 6, 1992, felt the Ram Janambhoomi movement was not the sole factor for the rise of the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) in the late 1980s and that the decline of the Congress also contributed to the process.
Recalling the events of Dec 6, 1992, the day Sangh Parivar groups were to start building a Ram temple in Ayodhya, Tully said he had taken position on a roof of a building overlooking the mosque. He said Sangh Parivar groups, including the BJP and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), had assured the administration that it would only be a symbolic beginning and no harm would come to the mosque.
"Trouble broke out when young men wearing yellow headbands managed to break police barriers and sought to make their way to where a ceremony was to be held symbolising the laying of the first bricks of the temple. Police had instructions not to open fire," Tully recalled in an interview to IANS.
The crowds, he said, first attacked television crews and smashed their cameras. "I saw two young men scramble on top of a dome and start to dismantle it," Tully said, adding that they were soon joined by others.
He said he had to drive from Ayodhya to Faizabad to file his story as the telephone lines had been cut, but getting back to Ayodhya was very difficult.
When he arrived in the town, jubiliant young men were chanting slogans. "They were calling BBC names. I was locked up in one of the temples."
Tully said by the time he was released the mosque had been demolished.
"The demolition has been a day that shocked the world, that shocked India. It led to riots," he said.
He said India had recovered from the crisis and continued with its basic traditions. "(The demolition) is certainly not a burning issue any longer, not a live issue at the moment."
However, the incident, he added, should be taken "as warning by people in terms of mixing politics with religion and inciting hatred". He said there was a danger that someone may raise the issue again to divide India.
Tully said that the demolition of the Babri Masjid had dented India's image but most of it had worn off. "I think India has recovered. India was widely condemned, but no longer. It caused a great deal of damage at that time. Most of that has worn off," Tully said.
Tully, an Englishman who has worked, lived and travelled in India for over four decades, said he did not buy the theory that the Ram Janambhoomi movement was solely responsible for the rise of the BJP and "there were many other factors, including the decline of the Congress".
Tully, who was awarded the Padma Bhushan, the country's third highest civilian honour, in 2005, said the Congress had secured a massive majority under former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in the 1984 Lok Sabha elections but was not able to form a government five years later. He said the party declined further under former prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao (1991-95) and some leaders walked out.
"A lot of that was the fault of the Congress party itself in terms of its inability to hold together," he said.
Tully added that the Babri Masjid issue was revived when the Congress government unlocked the gates of the disputed structure in the mid-1980s.
"After Shah Bano (the Muslim woman who fought for justice for divorced women of her community, only to be rebuffed by the government of then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi), they (the Congress government) opened the lock (to the gates of the structure)" Tully said.
He said after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination, there was no agreement in the Congress on a leader and the Ayodhya issue widened the inner-party rift and gave Rao's opponents an opportunity to move against him.
Asked about the possible solution to the dispute, he said both sides had agreed to abide by the decision of the court.
Tully said cases relating to demolition of the Babri Masjid have been on for 20 years. "Twenty years on, cases have not been decided one way or the other. (It is) not a very good reflection on the Indian judicial system. In practical terms, it is not such a bad thing as it had allowed things to fade away," he said.
Tully said it would be dangerous for the BJP to raise the pitch on the Ayodhya issue and the party would be playing into the hands of Congress.
He said the BJP's future lay in being "a slightly right-wing party concerned with development of the country. If it retreats too much into Hindutva, it will put off more people", Tully told IANS.
Asked if Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's projection as the prime ministerial candidate in 2014 could revive the Ayodhya issue, Tully said that Modi had concentrated on development in the state. "Personally, I don't think (he will be projected). If, a big if (he is projected), he will be more concerned about governance."