The time when Hindi journalism turned into ‘Hindu’ journalism


Babri Masjid PHOTO/PTI

I seek your indulgence for starting with a personal anecdote. It can only be described as an unhappy conjuncture of events in the ninth decade of the century gone by that, just when the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) started flexing its muscles to turn Ayodhya into a battlefield, the fledgling journalist in me opened his eyes to the world. Coming from an extremely backward village – then in Faizabad district (where Ayodhya is located) and now in Ambedkar Nagar district – I set out on my journey with few belongings other than the social and moral values and principles given to me by parents living in straitened circumstances. It so happened that my very first assignment brought me face to face with the VHP’s rath yatra from Sitamarhi to Ayodhya under Daudayal Khanna’s leadership.

As many might recollect, the yatra with its rousing slogans such as ‘aage badho, zor se bolo, janmabhoomi ka tala kholo (step forward, speak out, open the janmabhoomi lock)’, went largely unheeded by ordinary people to eventually sink in the sea of sympathy that surged in the wake of Indira Gandhi’s assassination. It could not but sink, for Mrs Gandhi, when alive, had not reacted to the yatra even once. She knew any comment from her would only add stature to the yatra. The Sangh parivar was understandably dejected. The dejection increased as the Sangh’s political front, the BJP, almost committed hara-kiri with its Gandhian socialism misadventure.

As the Sangh and the BJP resorted to new farces for a fresh lease of life during Rajiv Gandhi’s prime ministerial tenure, an insecure prime minister and his band of Doon School advisors were so traumatised they saw only one way out – appropriate the Sangh parivar’s so-called Hindu card by themselves arranging to have the [Babri Masjid] locks opened, thus leaving the parivar ‘disarmed’. In a trice the then Uttar Pradesh chief minister Vir Bahadur Singh offered his services for the needful. From the outset what was ignored was the fact that the opening of the locks would not solve the issue; if anything it would ignite the issue afresh, letting such genies out that could never be put back in the bottle.

In any case, the VHP and BJP were not going to be placated by a mere opening of the locks. As the lustre of the mandate won by Rajiv Gandhi gradually dimmed and he increasingly found himself entrapped in a political maze, the machinations for the so-called construction of a grand temple at the ‘ram janmabhoomi’ gathered pace.

Decoding what ‘ram janmabhoomi’ means

Here it is important to pause a bit and understand the meaning of ‘ram janmabhoomi’ as is known and understood in Ayodhya and Faizabad: on the night of December 22-23, 1949, in a mosque several hundred years old and known by the name of Babri, an idol of Lord Rama was secretly planted with the connivance of the then district magistrate of Faizabad, K.K. Nair, and members of Hindu communal organisations, and it was claimed that Lord Rama had manifested himself. The police FIR of December 23, 1949 named Abhiram Das as the prime accused and mentioned that the idol was planted there.

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