Looking back at the Heroes of Ayodhya

A saga of over 500 hundred years reached its culmination on Wednesday when Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for a temple at Ram Janmabhoomi site. It was indeed a moment of great joy for the entire Hindu diaspora when the foundation stones were laid for a temple of which their several past generations could only dream about.

Indeed, many felt overwhelmed with emotions when they realised that the slogan of “Mandir Wahin Banayenge” (will build the temple there alone), had become obsolete by the stroke of Wednesday afternoon, as the temple became a reality. Many found it difficult to hold back their tears while witnessing that much awaited moment which took centuries to come.

With the journey almost over now, it becomes important for us to look back at the journey and some of its key figures. Reflect back on those men and women whose undying devotion and indomitable conviction turned the once seemingly impossible dream into a reality, just little less than a week ago.

1 – Lal Krishna Advani

If any one person deserve the credit for taking the Ram Janmabhoomi issue on a whole new level then it is Lal Krishna Advani.

BJP was merely a 10 year old party in its current avatar and had failed to make any significant dent in the elections it had contested. With the party’s future appearing uncertain, its leadership passed from soft Atal Bihari Vajpayee to the more agrresive Advani, who right after taking over the charge threw in his support for the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. The move turned out to be game-changer, as the BJP went on to win as many as 86 seats in 1989 Lok Sabha elections from just 2 in 1984.

A year later, Advani launched the highly controversial and widely covered Rath Yatra (chariot journey) in support of the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation. Overnight, the centuries old Ayodhya based dispute was turned into an international subject of academic debates. All the national and international media suddenly turned towards the small city of Ayodhya in then Faizabad district and Ram Janmabhoomi movement became the biggest political issue of the country which would influence all the national elections of the country for more than two and half decades to come.

2 – Ashok Singhal

If Lal Krishna Advani turned the Ram Janmabhoomi movement from a national issue into an international one with his extravagant Rath Yatras, then it was Ashok Singhal who first uplifted it from a local dispute to a pan-India agitation. A man who served as the International working president of Vishwa Hindu Parishad for over 20 years, Singhal was the official leader of the agitation. He was the one who rallied the support of various Hindu pontiffs from across the country behind the cause. Unfortunately he passed away in 2015 and couldn’t see the fruit of his hard work.

3 – Murli Manohar Joshi

Following the Rath Yatra of 1990’s, Ram Janmabhoomi agitation snowballed into such a mass movement that it became impossible for just Advani and Singhal to manage it all. And in these times, Murli Manohar Joshi, “professor” of the BJP, emerged as the second-in-command. Subsequently, he played the role of the political leader of the movement whenever Advani was absent. An image of him embracing Uma Bharati on the backdrop of Babri demolition received much media coverage.

4 – Balasaheb Thackeray

Another Hindutva giant in those days was the former Shiv Sena Supremo Balasaheb Thackeray. Though, unlike the others, he never participated in the movement in person. Neither did he ever visit Ayodhya, the epicenter of the agitation. But his influence and spiritual presence could still be felt in the narrow lanes of Ayodhya, every year, during heydays of the movement.

Being the mass leader that Balasaheb was, his mere support alone was more than enough to create a difference. And his open support for the cause was a no secret. So much so that when the disputed structure called the “Babri Masjid,” was razed down, Thackeray’s Shiv Sena came out as the first organization to claim responsibility. A claim which Thackeray himself never refuted, but rather endorsed on multiple occasions through direct and indirect language.

5 – Kalyan Singh

Many experts believe that the construction of the Ram temple wouldn’t have been possible had the disputed structure remained at its place on the holy site. The same also say that the demolition of the structure wouldn’t have been possible if not for Kalyan Singh. Right or wrong, The then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Kalyan Singh allegedly tossed his very position for the cause of the Ram temple.

Despite declaring to the Supreme Court through an affidavit that he will protect the Babri Masjid as Chief Minister of UP, news reports and eye witnesses claim that the administration did nothing when the structure was being destroyed brick by brick on 6th December, 1992. The same evening he resigned from his position, taking the responsibility.

Many are of the view that Kalyan Singh was very well aware of the fact that the structure was to be destroyed on that day and was well prepared for it. Some even say, he in fact supported the action and sacrificed the Chief Minister’s post for it, such was his dedication for the cause.

However we must note that these are just speculations, and nothing could be confirmed about his alleged role in the demolition of the structure itself. Though, Kalyan Singh’s support and contributions in the overall cause is well known and he himself never shied away from admitting it.

6 – Uma Bharti

Not only men, but even women were at the forefront to demand construction of a temple at Lord Rama’s birthplace. And one of the most prominent female faces of the movement was Uma Bharti. Bharti rose to national prominence when she became one of the major faces of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, alongside L. K. Advani and others. Her fiery speeches are credited for helping the movement achieve its momentum. In December 1992, she was one of several prominent Sangh Parivar figures present at a rally in Ayodhya that culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

7 – Sadhvi Ritambhara

“Kaho Garv se Hum Hindu hai Hindustan hummara hai” (say it with pride, we are Hindus and India is ours), these words shook Delhi in 1992, and these were coming out of the mouth of a fierce lady monk named Sadhvi Ritambhara. Starting her public life as a volunteer of the Rashtriya Sevika Samiti, Sadhvi emerged as the second most prominent female face of the movement. Her fiery speeches often echoed in the air during the agitations. She became so popular that cassettes of her speeches started being sold. After demolition of the Babri Mosque, she was arrested as one of the accused.

8 – Vinay Katiyar

If Ashok Singhal consolidated the support of various Hindu pontiffs and leaders then it was the young Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Vinay Katiyar who consolidated the support of the country’s youth for the cause. It was Katiyar who launched VHP’s youth wing, the Bajrang Dal in 1984 and in no time made it into one of the largest right wing organizations in the country. The construction of the Ram temple had been primary objective of the Bajrang Dal since its inception.

It was the Bajrang Dal which carried out most of the ground duties of the movement from 1980s to all way to its culmination.

9 – Kothari Brothers

Ram and Sharad Kothari, these two names would forever remain etched in the minds of those who participated in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and those who supported it. The brothers who were just 23 and 20 years old respectively, were shot from point blank range in police open firing of October, 1990. The firing killed scores of kar sevaks (volunteers), but the two young brothers from Kolkata’s burrabazar have emerged as the face of the martyrs for the movement.

10 – Narendra Modi

Ever since Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) became a part of the movement, scores of Swayamsevaks (volunteers) started gathering in Ayodhya every year. One amongst them was a humble and hardworking cadre named Narendra Damodardas Modi. He was often spotted behind the titans of those days, Lal Krishna Advani, Ashok Singhal, Murli Manohar Joshi. Assisting them, managing crowds, fixing microphones. Over the years, Same Narendra Modi rose through the ranks. At first he became Chief Minister of Gujarat. Then eventually surpassed even Lal Krishna Advani.

On 5th August, 2020, the same Narendra Modi, who once figured as one amongst a sea of thousands in Ayodhya, laid the foundation stone for the Ram temple in Janmabhoomi site as the country’s Prime Minister.