I want to make it clear that the Ram Mandir dispute is not communal – it is is political. After undergoing the tragedy of Partition, the poison of communalism had mixed with the climate of the country. The top leaders of the Congress like Pandit Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi were certainly talking about a secular nation. The nation was even declared secular, but on the Ayodhya issue, Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant along with former Congress leaders and workers were not ready at all to believe in secular values. Only a few people now know the real reasons behind why that dispute began on 22-23 December, 1949. What were the circumstances that abetted it? Who were those people who became its heroes? What role did officials and representatives play in it?
In 1947, the Partition of the country took place amidst dreadful bloodshed. In those days communal tension in the country was at its peak. Faizabad was not untouched by all this, especially because it was in this district that Ayodhya was situated, where during the past 100 years, violent incidents had happened many times in the context of the Babri Masd and Ram Janmbhoomi dispute. After Independence many Muslims migrated from Awadh to Pakistan. In that period of communal frenzy, it was but natural that Hindutva forces thought that the time had come when they could replace Babri Masjid with Ram Janmbhoomi. The Hindu Mahasabha — leader of communal Hindus — had never been a very influential political presence, but in the Congress itself there was no dearth of such people who could be called its ‘espousers’. At the top, the liberal secular democratic leadership of Gandhi-Nehru was present, but in the States and at the ground level there was no lack of such people who in their thought stood close to the Hindu Mahasabha. The kind of use of religious issues and symbols we see being done shamelessly during elections today, almost the same situation could be seen in the elections held immediately after Independence. In the by-elections held in the Faizabad election constituency in 1948 too, the local leadership of the Congress raised the Ram Mandir issue prominently.
Immediately after the Independence of India, Acharya Narendra Dev and with him 11 other members of the Congress Socialist Party resigned on moral grounds also quit the Uttar Pradesh Assembly. All these 11 members stood in the by-elections held in June-July, 1948 and except Gajadhar Prasad, they all lost. The Congress had not spared any effort to ensure their defeat. So much so, that to defeat Acharya Narendra Dev, who was contesting the by-election from the Faizabad seat, under which Ayodhya falls, the Congress openly played the Ram Janmbhoomi card. When the by-elections began, the Congress was faced with the problem of which poll issue to adopt to counter the Acharya — social, economic, or religious. During the elections, Congress strategists dubbed Acharya Narendra Dev a disbeliever, an atheist, a supporter of Buddhism who nurtured sentiments not favorable to the prevailing culture of a religious centre like Ayodhya. In this election constituency, apart from the towns of Ayodhya-Faizabad, rural areas are also included. In Ayodhya the atheist issue was raised prominently and a ‘defeat the atheist Narendra Dev’ call was given.
A sadhu named Baba Raghav Das was brought in as the candidate to contest against Narendra Dev. Baba Raghav Das had been born in a Chitpavan Brahmin family of Pune. After primary education, in 1913 he met and adopted as his guru Paramhans Anant Prabhu, who stayed on the banks of the Sarayu in Barhaj town of Deoria district. It was there that Baba Raghav Das studied yoga and philosophy for 7 years and in 1920, participated in the non-cooperation movement, the main center of which was Gorakhpur. Later, he was also elected President of the Gorakhpur District Congress Committee. Baba Raghav Das was not only a religious person, but was also associated with many religious organisations. He also used to run a Sanskrit school, a Brahamcharya ashram and a Veda school. For Baba Raghav Das to be chosen as a suitable candidate by one section of the Congress for a constituency where an important place like Ayodhya is located, which is called the birthplace of Lord Ram, was not done without thought. Acharya Narendra Dev, who was a person of socialist inclination, could easily be labeled an atheist and anti-religion and this was done too. In the banners that were put up in the Ayodhya election, it was called a ‘Ram and Ravana fight’.
Govind Ballabh Pant conducted meetings of saints and religious heads in support of Congress candidate Baba Raghav Das in Ayodhya, and said that in Raghav Das the soul of Gandhi resides, but Acharya Narendra Dev, the iron like strength of whose wisdom is accepted the world over, is an atheist. How will the city of Maryada Purushottam (epitome of stateliness) of Lord Ram be able to accept such a person? In this election Purshottam Das Tandon also participated in the campaigning. He too had raised question on the atheism of the Acharya and the dignity of Ayodhya.
In the name of a Ram-Ravana face-off, pamphlets were distributed, posters were put up, in which an evocative call was made to defeat Narendra Dev in the image of Ravana and make Baba Raghav Das in the image of Ram win. Leading the election against Acharya Narendra Dev was the premier Pandit of Uttar Pradesh, Govind Ballabh Pant. His other associates were Lal Bahadur Shastri, Mohan Lal Gautam, Purushottam Das Tandon and A.G Kher etc, whereas inspite of being in the Congress Chandra Bhanu Gupta, Kamlapati Tripathi, Sampurnanand, Sucheta Kriplani and
Algu Rai Shastri kept themselves away from the ‘defeat Acharya Narendra Dev’ campaign. In a meeting of Mahants and religious leaders in Ayodhya Pandit Pant had also given the assurance that their religious sentiments will be protected, their love for Hindi will be kept in mind, Zamindari abolition will not have any on them and the Congress will protect Hindi and their ancient culture. Socialists in reality are supporters of Hindustani-based Nagri script and the Farsi script. Those who are opposing Congress, they are enemies of the nation. Acharya Narendra Dev remained silent on this ‘campaigning’ being carried out by his opponents. After the elections, in an article written on March 20, 1955, he gave an account of his internal agony and an answer to the questions raised by the Congress and all the stunts and propaganda that the Congress used to defeat him. He also said that to defeat him by using the name of Ramchandra was not in consonance with Gandhi’s soul. He also wrote that some prominent leaders of the Congress had told women not to go to and cast their vote — their vote would be cast on their behalf in the ballot box. The editor of the ‘National Herald’, Chalapathi Rau, had also protested against attempts to throw dirt on Acharya Narendra Dev.
For the election campaign, groups shouting slogans of ‘save the honor of Ayodhya’ were also formed, who were especially active in Ayodhya. The country was going through the painful sting of Partition and even the name of Uttar Pradesh State was still undecided. It was also suggested that its name should be ‘Aryavarta’. This suggestion was made specially by those people who were called Hindu traditionalists, who didn’t like progressiveness and religious moderation. To increase religious frenzy in Ayodhya, the issue of Ram Janmbhoomi, which had been quiet for a very long time, was also raised. At that time K.K.K Nair was the district magistrate in Faizabad and Gurudutt Singh was the City Magistrate. In the by-election, the Acharya lost by almost 1200 votes, and slogans of ‘win for Baba Raghav Das –an atheist lost’ and ‘Baba Raghav Das has won’ were raised.
According to a report of the local Intelligence Unit, it was said after the victory at a meeting that took place in Maharaja Inter College that Turks, after demolishing the temple constructed a mosque, we want it back. Baba Raghav Das too said that no religious place should be demolished. This comes in the category of atrocity. This statement of his was later taken as consent in their favor by people who had kept idols in the mosque premises and the feeling was strengthened that eventually the mosque, with some changes, should be made the Janmbhoomi (birth place) temple. Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant too, in the defeat of the Acharya, saw the demise of a big opponent of his. State Congress President Vishambhar Nath Tripathi was giving it the label of ‘victory of his policies’.
In this context, it would also be worth mentioning that in the 1936 United Provinces Assembly elections the Congress had got a majority. The first choice of Pandit Nehru for a premier position in UP was Acharya Narendra Dev himself. He had also made the Congress High Command take this decision. This fact is also described in the Acharya Narendra Dev Granth published by the Uttar Pradesh Government in the preface written by former Chief Minister Narayan Dutt – that the Congress High Command had even proposed making the Acharya premier in UP, but inspite of the High Command proposal, it was not the Acharya but instead Govind Ballabh Pant who became the premier in UP. It is related that the latter himself was hankering for this position. From the side of the High Command, the responsibility of carrying on a dialogue with the Acharya to sound out and ready him for the premier position was given to Pant himself. He told Pandit Nehru that he had a talk with Acharya Narendra Dev, but he is not ready to become premier at any cost. However, at that time, socialist leader Babu Sarvjeet Lal Verma used to say that with regard to this matter, Pant had never even ever talked with the Acharya. It was his (Pant’s) shrewdness that a non-greedy person like the Acharya will never express a desire in this regard. When the question of an alternative leadership will arise, then his name itself will emerge as a consensus. This is what happened too. In the words of Akshay Brahmachari, Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant did acknowledge the receipt of his letter, but didn’t take any action on questions and issues raised in the letter.
Certainly, Pandit Nehru was against such kind of activities in Independent India. It was only the leadership of Mahatama Gandhi and Jawarlal Nehru, which in times of religious frenzy too didn’t let the country become a Hindu Rashtra (nation) and made it a secular democracy. In this regard Pandit Nehru had given a message to the UP Chief Minister too through telephone and telegram that the idol installed in the mosque be removed. Central Home Minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel too had in a letter called the keeping of the idol inappropriate. But Pant said to Nehru that the situation and circumstances are very bad. If attempts are made to remove the idol, then it will be difficult to control the crowd. Pant also mentioned that when he expressed a desire to visit Faizabad to District Magistrate Nair, then the District Magistrate’s prompt reply came that the administration will not be able to protect him and his plane. Pant was given the suggestion that he should come to Akbarpur runway, 39 miles away from Faizabad, where the District Magistrate and his colleagues would meet him. As suggested, this visit was made by Pant, but no change took place in the situation of the disputed site in Ayodhya. Gopal Singh Visharad of the Hindu Mahasabha gave an application in the court of Sub-Judge Bir Singh that as a believer of Ram he be given permission to do rituals at the site and Muslims be stopped from coming at the disputed site by issuing an injunction. He even got this permission in the form of a temporary injunction and ban order.
In the the Partition of India and the poisonous storm of communalism linked to it, the biggest challenge before Muslims used to be to prove themselves to be patriots. They were always in fear that people should not brand them Pakistanis and upon suspicion of their being ‘active’, should not get them killed. That is why they used to avoid any kind of resistance. This was the reason that no strong resistance was put up upon destruction of graves around Babri Masd and the keeping of idols in the mosque. The first legal case was also filed from the Hindu side. The Hindus were being led by Gopal Singh Visharad. No big Muslim lawyer was ready to advocate the case of Muslims. Muslims did of course go to the Faizabad court for the case. Their advocate then was Rahmat Sahib. He used to guide their path. Many influential Muslim advocates remained disconnected from this, because they feared losing the support of of Hindus and the administration. This was the reason that when the question of determination of attached property ownership was going on before the City Magistrate, then from the side of 21 Muslims, affidavit statements were submitted that if this site is given to Hindus, then they will have no objection. The affidavits were generally from families of workers employed in theFaizabad Municipality and Government offices or of those people who were under pressure from Hindu leaders.
It was on account of taking it up merely as a case that from the side of Hindus, well known advocate Babu Jagannath Prasad and from the side of the Nirmohi Akhada socialist leader Sarvjeet Lal Verma had become advocates. The interesting fact is that on various sides of the case, arguments-counter arguments took place in the courts only — not in houses or on the roads while coming and going. After attachment under section 145 of law for criminal breach of peace, for determination of ownership this matter was handed over to the Civil Court, but even after that in the court of the City Magistrate the hearing under section 145 continued. From the side of the Muslims too, an affidavit was submitted there, not in the Civil Court. This affidavit was presented before Additional City Magistrate Markandey Singh. As has been mentioned above, after the appearance of the idol of Ramlalla in the mosque, on December 29, 1949, the local administration as per section 145 attached the disputed land and for arrangement of prasad, raag, aarti (rituals) etc, appointed top socialite and President of the Faizabad Municipality Babu Priyadutt Ram as the Receiver. In this way the situation became such that now, whenever this matter comes up, then a reply is given by the administration that the matter is sub-judice in court, therefore no interference can take place.
(The writer is Editor of Jan Morcha)