NINE YEARS AGO, as the Madhya Pradesh correspondent for the Indian Express, I found myself in the small town of Badnaver, about 50 km from the city of Dhar. Well past nine at night, four riders on emaciated horses, holding aloft saffron banners, escorted a tackily crafted thermocol rath through the town and to the local maidan. Mounted on a truck chassis, the rath was meant to resemble a monument in Dhar called the Bhojshala.
Tape recordings of speeches made by Sadhvi Rithambra, the founding chairperson of the Durga Vahini (the female wing of the VHP), in the run-up to the Babri Masjid demolition were playing from a stage set up at the maidan. “There are just two types of people,” she could be heard shouting, “Ramzades or haramzades.” Soon after, Hukum Chand Sanvla, mahamantri of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), spoke of the injustice being perpetrated at the Bhojshala, where Muslims “can offer namaz every Friday, 52 days out of 365, as compared to the Hindus who can offer prayers only on one day... One day for 85 percent of the people and 52 days for 15 percent of the people.” As he finished, the audience, numbering in the thousands, broke out into cries of “Bhala goli khayenge, Bhojshala jayenge (We will face bullets and spears, but we will go to Bhojshala)”.
The rath yatra through the district was an initiative of a Sangh Parivar organisation called the Hindu Jagran Manch. The state elections were still a few months away, but with Uma Bharti leading the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) campaign against Congress Chief Minister Digvijay Singh, the Sangh was falling back on tested methods of communal mobilisation. The entire debate on the right of access to the monument, however, was being fought on the basis of a concocted history. The speeches from the lead up to the Babri demolition were no coincidence.