May 25, 2020
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The Secret Witness

Undercover with the kar sevaks in Ayodhya, winter 1992

The Secret Witness
D. Ravinder Reddy
The Secret Witness

Each time I read about Ayodhya, it reminds me of the terrifying experience I went through during my first visit to the holy town in 1992. Armed with a letter of introduction from a member of the Delhi unit of the BJP, I had wormed my way into the ranks of the kar sevaks at Ayodhya. Initially I was put through intense grilling. Several times I had to recite an apocryphal tale of being a Kashmiri Hindu who had abandoned his studies in Kashmir because of militant activity. But after I was accepted as ‘genuine’, I saw at first hand the face of the religious drama that had remained veiled by political hoopla.

Somehow, I managed to stay in a tent near the disputed site. One early morning (a few days before the December 6 demolition), I saw hundreds of people assembled near two grave sites. Soon, they started breaking the gravestones with iron rods, large boulders and sharp instruments. I, too, had to join them. People called it “chhoti (small) kar seva’’.

Another grave was spotted, and this was also vandalised. The grave sites were levelled and water was sprinkled on the ground to make sure that no traces were left. The rubble was lifted and thrown into a nearby pond. Within an hour or so, two makeshift shops were set up at the site to sell tea. All this happened in the presence of an ex-BJP MP.

Some Bajrang Dal activists even wanted to build a small temple there. But they were prevented by others, who said it would give rise to another controversy and hamper the construction work of the Ram temple.

The PAC or Provincial Armed Constabulary’s interaction with the kar sevaks was as cordial as that between the BJP and the RSS. As I moved through Ayodhya wearing soiled clothes, I met many PAC men. I was treated with respect, even deference. One night some kar sevaks and I spent about four hours chatting with a group of PAC men. “Don’t worry about us, we are solidly behind you,’’ said one policeman. “If we are ordered on December 6 to attack you, we will lay down our arms and join you,’’ reassured another. “We will force the paramilitary forces to surrender,’’ chipped in a third cop.

It was from this group of policemen that I learnt that a PAC constable had been caught removing bricks from the disputed structure. “He had removed 10 to 12 bricks when he was caught,’’ a policeman told me. One of the constables was very upset with the conduct of the CRPF. Some days before, CRPF men prevented an Uttar Pradesh constable from standing inside the disputed structure. The matter had to be sorted out by senior officials, the constable told me.

The bonhomie between the kar sevaks and the UP policemen was glaring. They bought us tea and, later, one of them invited us over for breakfast to their camp.

There were many kar sevaks who were carrying arms with them. One boy showed me a flick knife and taught me how to use it. Also, some sadhus were carrying wireless sets with them. One sadhu told me he was keeping an eye on those who were moving suspiciously in and around the site. “We are also keeping an eye on journalists who are staying at the Shan-e-Awadh hotel,’’ he said.

One person who was staying with me in the tent told me that all the arrangements had been made by the RSS. “Be it food or tents, everything has been organised by the RSS.” He took me to a huge ‘bhojanalaya’ for food. The person serving us food said 1,00,000 people had already reached the site. He told us that a few more kitchens had been opened and godowns had been packed to meet any eventuality. The person who took me to the bhojanalaya said: “We have even planned the rann neeti (war strategy). The UP police is supporting us and we are even sure of victory.’’

Rhetoric apart, I witnessed an awesome organisational machinery managing the needs of tens of thousands of kar sevaks: identity cards, meal coupons, tents, lights, feeding arrangements. The machinery wasn’t, however, confined to merely boarding and lodging. The tools required for the final demolition were also being put together. Everyone knew that D-Day was nearing.

(The writer went undercover to Ayodhya to report for The Statesman in 1992.)

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