A file picture of Babri Mosque just before it was demolished on December 6, 1992. Image Credit: Pawan Kumar

Dubai: On the morning of December 6, 1992, a large convoy of soldiers began moving from the regional base of Indian army’s Dogra Regiment in Faizabad in northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. The convoy of newly-created Rapid Action Force or RAF was ordered to head towards Mughal era Babri mosque where a large mob of Hindu extremists had gathered in the holy town of Ayodhya.

Leading three battalions of 2,250 men was a young officer who was part of a large deployment of federal armed forces to protect the 16th century mosque, a flashpoint that triggered bloody violence across the country in the 1990s. A total of 38 battalions comprising roughly 750 men each were waiting for official orders as “hundreds of thousands” angry Hindu activists had gathered and appeared set to demolish the mosque. A few metres from the mosque, Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, including LK Advani, sat on a podium and according to eyewitness testimonies, gave provocative speeches from loudspeakers, egging the mob to demolish the mosque. Some had climbed the domes and began breaking the mosque with hammers and chisels.

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On the morning of December 6, the order finally came from district magistrate RN Srivastava and police officer Brajmohan Saraswat instructed his men, stationed in a horse stable of Dogra Regiment Centre, to move towards the mosque. Saraswat’s 108 battalion was followed by two other battalions travelling in a convoy of 96 vehicles.

On Wednesday, almost 28 years later, a special CBI court in Lucknow acquitted all 32 accused, including Advani and his party colleagues Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and Kalyan Singh, citing lack of evidence. They were accused of hatching a conspiracy to demolish the mosque built on a site where Hindus believe Hindu deity Ram was born in Ayodhya.

BJP leaders L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Sadhvi Ritambara and others before the demolition of the Babri mosque on December 6,1992. Image Credit: Pawan Kumar

Shortly before judge SK Yadav delivered the verdict in Lucknow, Brajmohan Saraswat, who retired as director general of police of Uttar Pradesh, spoke to Gulf News from his village in Mathura.

Young officer

Saraswat was 39-year-old when he was handpicked to lead the newly-created RAF battalion in March that year. “We had to appear for a Japanese psychometric test that tested our ability to remain neutral in such disturbing situations,” Saraswat told Gulf News. After the RAF was deployed in Faizabad, the soldiers were trained in crowd control methods using non-lethal weapons, including stun grenades, restraining ropes etc. “The purpose of the training was to stop Kar Sevaks from causing damage to the mosque,” he said.

Brajmohan Saraswat

Build up to demolition

Inside the mosque compound was a security command centre equipped with three hotlines, including one connected to the chief minister’s office and to army brigade headquarters in Faizabad. “Security arrangements were foolproof and the administration was determined to protect the mosque,” said Saraswat, who was senior superintendent of police in Ayodhya just before joining the RAF.

Tension was building up at the mosque site and a large crowd of Hindu activists was getting restless. “On the evening of December 5, the crowd was told to do a symbolic ‘kar seva’ by bringing sand and water from the nearby Saryu river. This announcement angered the mob further and people began damaging perimeter barricades. I went to the mosque on the evening of December 5 and BJP leader Vinay Katiyar was present. I saw some people breaking the barriers and Katiyar was beating them with a lathi. The local police then controlled the mob and I left the compound soon after.”

Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Ashok Singhal addresses the crowd before the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6,1992. Image Credit: Pawan Kumar

On that day itself, Saraswat said, it was clear that there was no discipline in the crowd and many were getting violent and abusive. “The morning after, we were ready to move and our target was that the battalions should hit the road in three minutes. On the morning of December 6, hundreds of thousands people had gathered, they emerged on the streets like an army of bees coming out of beehive. Around 10am, we learnt that the mob had started damaging the mosque."

This statement in fact contradicts what judge SK Yadav said on Wednesday in his judgement: “It has also been established that on December 6, 1992, around 12pm, everything was normal and when Ashok Singhal announced again about how the Kar Seva would proceed, a section of Kar Sevaks got agitated and stone-pelting on the structure started and some broke barricades and climbed the disputed structure. Ashok Singhal again asked this group that was part of the Kar Sevaks to return, but everyone started attacking him.”

Violent mob

Saraswat suggested that the state government had sufficient number of armed soldiers at its disposal to prevent the mosque’s demolition.

“The last dome [of the mosque] was demolished at around 4-5pm. Around noon, when we reached Saket degree college, around 3km from the mosque, we faced a large angry mob that attacked our convoy with stones and weapons. Our convoy had three battalions and on the way we faced violent resistance. At Saket degree college, the crowd had blocked the road with a burning passenger vehicle,” he said. A magistrate who was accompanying Saraswat’s convoy then explained the situation to his boss and district magistrate RN Srivastava who was stationed at the mosque.

A general view of the Babri Masjid before its demolition on December 6, 1992.

“Just before noon, we saw a huge mob near Saket college and I requested magistrate Sudhakar Adeeb to allow use of force. Adeeb then radioed District Magistrate Srivastava who said he would consult the Chief Minister. Srivastava, who was with Advani on the podium, got back saying we could proceed to the mosque only if the mob could be dispersed by using non-lethal force. We assessed the situation and realised that mob was getting increasingly violent and they were carrying fire torches. It was not possible to proceed without opening fire on the mob. Our assessment was conveyed by Adeeb to Srivastava who asked us to return to our barracks, he said recalling the conversation with magistrate Adeeb and Srivastava as they communicated through police radio.

“We made a u-turn and returned. I was not aware if our units had received any instructions from the federal government in New Delhi.”

At the mosque, the demolition was in full swing as Hindu activists were furiously damaging the domes and mosque walls. Journalists who covered the incident from the spot had reported that it was Advani who had asked the assembled crowd to block Faizabad-Ayodhya highway to prevent central forces from reaching the mosque compound.

Servile attitude

Sarswat said it was wrong on part of the state government to allow the assembly of such a huge crowd at the mosque. “Definitely it was a wrong decision… many officials of the administration had such a servile attitude” towards the BJP leaders who organised the event. “They wanted something untoward to happen at the site, how was it possible to build a temple without razing the mosque?”.

“Do you think the government wanted to protect the mosque? [Chief Minister] Kalyan Singh had once said ‘it would be an honour to go to jail for the mosque’s demolition’,” he said. However, he added, “when I was SSP Ayodhya, I had lodged a complaint against Katiyar and I was called by Kalyan Singh who told me maintain status quo at the mosque site. I told him that the state government would be responsible for any incident.”

Police personnel take their positions on the day the Babri Masjid was demolished on December 6, 1992. Image Credit: Pawan Kumar

“You have 38 battalions at your command, including Border Security Force, Central Reserve Police Force… you name any force and it was there. Officers of the rank of inspector general of police were appointed co-ordinators to deal with the central forces. I personally visited their camps and there was no shortage of troops.”

“On December 6, if the troops were allowed to control the mob the casualties would have been too high, it would not have been an easy operation.”

Earlier attempt

“In November 1990, [when a similar gathering of Hindu activists had taken place at Ayodhya], a much smaller number of security personnel were present at the mosque. Yet, they were handled strictly and a large number of them were killed in police firing. The entire state was converted into a jail. So, it depends on the will of the government. I was posted in Bahraich where over 4,000 preventive arrests were made.”

On the night of December 6, Kalyan Singh’s government was dismissed and the President’s rule was imposed. Srivastava was removed and Vijay Shankar Pandey was appointed the new district magistrate of Ayodhya where riots had begun and terrified Muslims were leaving the town.

A day after the demolition, Saraswat’s men were again called to the mosque to take control of the site. “On December 8 at around 4am, we reached the site where a temporary Ram temple was built soon after the mosque was demolished. We were ordered to clear the compound and we reached before sunrise. We dispersed the crowd, there was no magistrate with us but I ordered my men to clear the area and disable all loudspeakers in the area. I wanted to finish the operation quickly. When we used force, a group of state’s reserved force PAC pointed guns at us. The crowd was mostly of south Indians who left their lungis behind when we lathicharged them. We heard that many of them were from [then Prime Minister] Narasimha Rao’s constituency in Andhra Pradesh.”

“Soon after we cleared the compound, BBC’s India correspondent Mark Tully and his colleague Ramdutt Tripathi reached and spoke to me,” Saraswat added.

Commenting on the Lucknow court’s verdict, veteran journalist Ramdutt Tripathi, who covered the demolition, told Gulf News: “There can never be a direct evidence of conspiracy and according to a Supreme Court judgement, courts have to draw inference from circumstantial evidences. So, even if there was no evidence to prove conspiracy, under Indian penal Code’s section 149, if a crowd that does something illegal every person of that crowd collectively and individually is responsible for the act.”

“Nobody can deny that mosque was demolished, riots happened, properties were looted and people died. So, the people who were present at the mosque site should have been held responsible,” Tripathi added.