Chapter II. Preceding stages of the debate

2.1. A consensus amply confirmed

Strictly, there was no need for the Court-ordered excavation, for the existence of the medieval temple had long been firmly established. There was testimony upon testimony of Hindus bewailing and Muslims boasting of the replacement of the temple with a mosque; and of Hindus under Muslim rule coming as close as possible to the site in order to celebrate Rama’s birthday every year in April, in continuation of the practice at the time when the temple stood. None of the written sources, whether Hindu, Muslim or European, contradicted the pre-existence of a Rama temple at the site. None described a forest chopped down to make way for the mosque, none referred to (or better still, was) a sales contract delivering someone’s secular real estate to the Muslim ruler eager to build a mosque. Until 1989 there had been no dispute about it: “Rama’s birthplace is marked by a mosque, erected by the Moghul emperor Babar in 1528 on the site of an earlier temple”, according to the 1989 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, entry “Ayodhya”.

There was already plenty of archaeological evidence as well. In the 1970s, an ASI team led by Prof. B.B. Lal dug out some trenches just outside the mosque and found rows of pillar-bases which must have supported a larger building predating the mosque. Moreover, in the mosque itself, small black pillars with Hindu sculptures had been incorporated, a traditional practice in mosques built in forcible replacement of infidel temples to flaunt the victory of Islam over Paganism. (There are many examples of this practice inside and outside India, including the two other mosques at sites reclaimed by Hindus: Krishna’s birthplace in Mathura and Kashi Vishvanath, the principal pilgrimage site of Shiva in Varanasi.) In 1992, during excavations around the mosque in June and during the demolition on December 6, many more pieces of temple remains, mainly sculptures of Hindu gods and godlings, were discovered.

2.2. Eminent denial

Yet, in 1989, all the existing evidence was brushed aside in a statement, The Political Abuse of History, by 25 so-called “eminent historians” from Jawaharlal Nehru University (Delhi), mostly declared Marxists. In this fatwa, they denounced the history of Islamic iconoclasm in Ayodhya as a myth but didn’t offer any newfound data to overthrow the consensus. Yet, the sympathy of the Indian and international media for their purported motive of “upholding secularism” assured the immediate adoption worldwide of the new party-line: the demolished Rama temple had merely been a malicious invention of the ugly Hindu nationalists.

Note that they didn’t just settle for a political rejection of any plans to replace the mosque with a temple. They could have argued that the demolition of the temple happened long ago and could not now be a reason for reversing the event. That exactly had been the verdict given by a British-Indian judge in 1886 when ordering a status quo at the site. But no, instead they went as far as to base their rejection of a new temple construction on the claim that no demolition had ever taken place because no temple had existed there. This was reckless, for if the political choice for the preservation of the mosque were based on the historical non-existence of the medieval temple at the site, then the eventual discovery of such a temple would justify a contrario the replacement of the mosque with a restored temple. At least in theory, but the Marxists were confident that their opponents would never get the chance to press this point. Under the prevailing power equation, they expected to get away with a plain denial of history rather than a mere insistence on divorcing history from politics.

Ever since, the secularist historians have been bluffing their way through the controversy. In December 1990, the government of Chandra Shekhar invited the two lobby groups involved, the Vishva Hindu Parishad and the Babri Masjid Action Committee, to discuss the historical truth of the matter. Misled by the media into believing that the Hindu claims were pure fantasy, the BMAC office-bearers arrived ill-prepared. They were speechless when the VHP team presented dozens of documents supporting its case.

For the next meeting, they invited a team of proper historians chaired by Marxist professor R.S. Sharma, who declared that they hadn’t studied the evidence yet. This was a strange statement from people who had just led 42 academics in signing a petition confirming once and for all that there was no evidence whatsoever for a temple. The BMAC team also put forth the demand that they be recognized as “independent scholars” entitled to sit in judgment on the controversy between their BMAC employers and their VHP opponents. The government representative did not grant this hilarious demand. At the meeting scheduled for 25 January 1991, they simply didn’t show up anymore. In a booklet issued months later, pompously called ‘A Historians’ Report to the Nation’, they tried to save face by nibbling at the evidential value of a few of the numerous documents presented by their opponents (and of course, historical evidence is rarely absolute), but failed to offer even one piece of evidence for any alternative scenario.

When more temple remains were found in 1992, a cry went up among the Marxist academics that the sculptures had been stolen from museums and planted at the site. The central government (Congress) had the pieces locked away. During the scholars’ debate in 1990-91, the VHP-mandated team had discovered no less than 4 documents on which references to the “birthplace temple” had been altered or removed, or which had been removed from public access (and those were only the ones where the foul play was discovered; who knows how many times the tampering succeeded?). Here the secularists had their great chance to get back at them and expose them in turn as cheaters who had planted false evidence. Yet, the minister in charge, Arjun Singh, though a militant secularist and eager to embarrass the Hindu activists, forewent the opportunity to have the sculptures investigated by international experts to certify the allegation of forgery. Once more, it was sheer bluff and the secularists didn’t want it subjected to scrutiny.

2.3. The Demolition

In October 1992, the central government of Narasimha Rao (Congress) tried to revive the scholars’ discussion. This time, the BMAC team quite reasonably protested that there was no point in talking unless the VHP called off its announced demonstration in Ayodhya scheduled for December 6. The VHP was adamant that Hindu society’s right to the site could not be made dependent on mundane factors such as judicial verdicts and academic disputes. This was an instance of the Hindu nationalist movement’s long tradition of smashing its own windows and of spurning the intellectual struggle which in this case had been going in its favour. On the plea that “you don’t need arguments to love your mother”, meaning Mother India, the Hindu nationalists had always neglected intellectual and favoured a mindless activism. Except for one (S.P. Gupta), all the scholars who had argued their case at the government-sponsored discussion had been outsiders to the movement; the VHP leadership itself, like its BMAC counterpart, never took the evidence debate very seriously.

So, activism replaced argument on December 6, 1992. The official leadership represented at the demonstration in Ayodhya by L.K. Advani, the later Deputy Prime Minister, had wanted to keep the affair purely ceremonial, singing some hymns to Rama as a sufficient act of confirming the Hindu claim to the site. But an elusive leadership within the crowd had other plans. A small group had come well-prepared for a demolition job, and once they broke ranks from the official ceremony to methodically pull down the mosque, much of the crowd joined in. Hindu movement officials tried to stop them, even when the police withdrew from the scene, but to no avail.

The BJP state government resigned at once, but the central government refrained from physically intervening until the next morning, when the activists had cleared the debris and consecrated a little tent with the three statues as the provisional new Rama temple. In a typical instance of the duplicitous Congress culture, Narasimha Rao declared on the one hand that the mosque should be rebuilt, but on the other, he created an accomplished fact which practically precluded the prospect of rebuilding the mosque. Duplicitous, yes, but under the circumstances perhaps also a wise move. The riots started by Muslims in the following days could have been much larger and more violent if the Prime Minister had not given them this verbal appeasement.

It is an odd but highly significant fact that the Indian media subsequently refused to open a search for who exactly organised the demolition. None of them seemed to care for the scoop of the year: “This man (photograph) organized the demolition.” Clearly, they thought it politically most profitable to pin the blame on the so-called “hardliner” Advani, the one Hindu leader who was most definitely not behind it. He had burst into tears upon seeing the fabled discipline of his activists break down and had been narrowly dissuaded from resigning as party leader in his post-demolition confusion.

During the demolition, an inscription tentatively dated to ca. 1140 came to light. It detailed how it was part of a temple to “Vishnu, slayer of Bali and of the ten-headed one”. Rama is considered an incarnation of Vishnu, and the two enemies he defeated were king Bali and king Ravana, often depicted as ten-headed in recognition of his brilliant mind. This evidence too was locked away and strictly ignored by the secularists until 2003, when People’s Democracy, the paper of the Marxwadi Communist Party, alleged foul play. It seemed that the Lucknow State Museum mentioned in its catalogue a 20-line inscription dedicated to Vishnu, satisfying the description of the piece discovered during the demolition, and missing since the late 1980s.

However, museum director Jitendra Kumar declared that the piece had never left the museum, even though it had not been on display, and he showed it at a press conference for all to see (Hindustan Times, 8 May 2003). In spite of many similarities, it differed from the Ayodhya find in shape, colour and text contents. So, the only allegation of fraud against the archaeologists or against the Hindu nationalists which was more than a knee-jerk reaction of the losers against the winners in the debate, the only one in which some homework had been done and the outlines of a real intrigue had been sketched, proved to be mistaken.

Meanwhile, in 1993 the central government had approached the Supreme Court with a request to evaluate the historical evidence. It is clear that Narasimha Rao, the most pro-Hindu Prime Minister of independent India so far (more so than the wobbly BJP leader Atal Behari Vajpayee), hoped to use a positive verdict as the basis for a settlement favouring the Hindu claim. But in October 1994, the Supreme Court turned down the request.

2.4. Findings, no findings

In early 2003, the Court ordered the ASI to start excavations and either confirm or disprove the provisional conclusions of the radar scan. Strictly speaking, the existence or otherwise of the medieval temple never depended on the results of the radar scanning nor on the excavations: it had already been proven by a wealth of documentary and archaeological evidence, which in any other circumstance would have been deemed conclusive. It was only because of the brutal denial of the evidence by a group of vocal academics and allied politicians that the Court considered it wiser to come up with a new and as yet unchallenged type of evidence.

We should be clear in our minds about what kind of evidence could be expected, as this digging took place at the foundations level. This is not where sculptures or furniture normally reside (though a few objects were found nonetheless) but where the unadorned foundations of walls and pillars have quietly survived the onslaught that destroyed the ‘over-ground’ constructions they supported. Foundations do not by themselves inform us of the type of building they supported, whether secular or religious; but for that, we can rely on other types of evidence. The temple had never gone underground, had never been covered with layers of soil; instead, it had been demolished and its components removed, destroyed or re-used. Earlier layers, by contrast, may approximate the normal stratigraphic pattern better: a building layer covered with stray debris, then a new building layer, etc.

In the months when the digging took place, the newspapers reported new findings once in a while. Thus, “an ancient stone inscription in the Dev Nagari script and a foundation were discovered in the ongoing excavation in the acquired land in Ayodhya today”, while “stone pieces and a wall were found in other trenches” and “a human figure in terracotta, sand stone netting, decorated sand stone in three pieces were found in one trench” (The Hindu, 5 May 2003).

In this light it is understandable that a Babri Masjid supporter, Naved Yar Khan, approached the Supreme Court with a petition to prohibit all archaeological digging at the contentious site (which was rejected: “SC rejects plea against excavation”, The Hindu, 10 June 2003). The secularists had always opposed archaeological fact-finding at the site, arguing that this would open a Pandora’s box of similar initiatives at the literally thousands of mosque sites where temples used to stand. They typically omitted to mention their fear that in Ayodhya itself, this digging was sure to prove them wrong, as it now has.

As journalist Bulbul Roy Mishra (“Temple and the truth”, Indian Express, 6 Sep. 2003) recollects: “When the Allahabad High Court ordered the excavation, [Prof. Irfan] Habib and [Prof. Suraj] Bhan insisted there was no need to do so. In their opinion, nothing lay beneath the former site of the Babri Masjid. They also questioned the competence of Tojo Vikas, which had reported anomalies beneath the surface after an imaging survey.”

Isn’t that funny: people wearing the mantle of the academic quest for knowledge who denounce the search for knowledge on the dogmatic plea that the outcome is known beforehand? As we shall see (ch.3.8), after the excavation results became known, both Irfan Habib and Suraj Bhan have told the public at some length that all kinds of things were found below the Babri Masjid surface: elements of an earlier mosque, elements of Muslim habitation, anything as long as it wasn’t a temple, but at any rate not “nothing”. This way, they have implicitly conceded that their initial opposition to an archaeological investigation was ill-founded. Even back then, given all the earlier evidence, everything indicated that something would be discovered. They themselves cannot have been ignorant of this, so their opposition was a deliberate attempt to obstruct the progress of scientific knowledge.

2.5. The great Indian vanishing trick

On June 11, after the ASI had been registering new findings for months, the world learned to its surprise that the final tally somehow amounted to zero. Readers of secularist newspapers came away with the impression that Habib’s and Bhan’s scepticism had been vindicated, and that nothing had been found: “No proof of structure in Ayodhya: ASI report”, according to Rediff.com, which confidently asserted that “the report also contradicts the Ground Penetration Radar survey”, but didn’t quote the ASI report. It only quoted Zafaryab Jilani, counsel for the Muslim claimant to the site, the Sunni Central Waqf Board, who alleged that “the ASI report does not speak about any such evidence” (viz. evidence of the type revealed by the radar scan).

For more of the same: “Nothing found below Babri site: ASI”, titled The Asian Age. “ASI finds no proof of structure below Babri Masjid: report”, claimed the Times of India. The occasion was the ASI’s filing of an interim report, yet none of these papers quoted the report, only “sources”. Most papers attributed the conclusion of “no evidence” to the ASI, which is a pure lie; and this is implicitly revealed even in their own reporting, for none quotes the ASI report to that very effect.

Six days later, the Times of India still tried to keep up its story, now citing an unnamed “senior ASI official” who admitted finding new archaeological evidence such as sculptures and inscriptions but not the type of structural evidence suggested by the radar scan: “But the structural bases so far do not lend credence to the mandir theory.” Questioned further, he turned out not to base this belief on the new digging results but on older ones: “According to him, the theory of ‘a pre-existing temple because of structural bases’ has been demolished ‘convincingly’ over the years. He points to the discovery of pillar bases by B.B. Lal in the mid-1970s during his excavation of Ramayana sites in Ayodhya and says: ‘It has not been found to be fit evidence for a temple’.” (Times of India, 17 June 2003) This when B.B. Lal himself had confirmed that his findings do support the temple theory.

Yet, some of these papers clumsily let out the truth indirectly. The Marxist-controlled Chennai daily The Hindu of June 11 claimed the ASI “is reported to have said in its progress report that no structural anomalies suggesting the existence of any structure under the demolished Babri Masjid had been found in 15 of the new trenches dug up at the site”, - but those 15 were not the only ones investigated. So, at the very end of the article, there was an almost laconic addition: “Structural anomalies were, however, detected in 15 other trenches, the report said.” But the impression the paper sought to convey, was summed up in the title: “’No evidence of structures in some trenches’”. It is as if someone is hit by two bullets, one scratching his arm but the other lethally penetrating his heart, and a newspaper reports: “Man repeatedly shot at; one bullet harmless”.

In disinformation campaigns, the first stage of planting false news must be followed up with a second stage of making the false news into a familiar presence. Once it is repeated in women’s magazines, in TV chat shows, even in jokes, it is becoming part of the collective consciousness. That is the ambition of every disinformation operative worth his salt. In this case, indeed, we have seen secularists grab the ball and run with it from day one. In interviews of Hindu or Muslim leaders, questions were opened with a reference to the “fact” that nothing was found underneath the Babri Masjid. Some Hindu leaders, such as the Kanchi Shankaracharya (who had just led a failed initiative to negotiate an amicable solution), were so little informed that they didn’t even contradict the claim. Columnist Saeed Naqvi, known as a moderate within the spectrum of Muslim opinion, spices an otherwise reasonable opinion piece (“Muslims must be generous”, Indian Express, 13 June 2003) with the off-hand statement: “The ASI has found nothing under the mosque.” Clearly, some people were leaving no stone unturned to make this claim part of the received wisdom.

Meanwhile, a few papers did try to be truthful in presenting the findings of the interim report, especially after taking the time to properly read it, e.g. the internet version of The Hindu, Hinduonnet.com (22 June 2003), mentioned “structural anomalies in 46 trenches” of the 84 trenches investigated, as well as “pillar bases and drains in some of the trenches”.

In Outlook India (23 June 2003), Sandipan Deb gave a more detailed overview of the report. Finding that “most papers covering the new ASI report last week said that it claims there was no structure under the Babri Masjid”, he went on to read the actual report: “Among the structures listed in the report are several brick walls ‘in east-west orientation’, several ‘in north-south orientation’, ‘decorated coloured floor’, several ‘pillar bases’, and a ‘1.64-metre high decorated black stone pillar (broken) with yaksha [= demigod] figurines on four corners’.” He also points out that “what many people have missed out on – due to bias or sloth – is that these are findings only from the period of May 22 to June 6. This is not the full list. If they read the earlier reports, they would also find listed several walls, a staircase, and two black basalt columns ‘bearing fine decorative carvings with two cross-legged figures in bas-relief on a bloomed lotus with a peacock whose feathers are raised upwards’.”

For good measure, we should also quote a Hindu nationalist’s observations. On the website of the National Volunteer Corps, or RSS (www.rss.org, 24 June 2003), Chetan Merani wrote: “The excavations so far give ample traces that there was a mammoth pre-existing structure beneath the three-domed Babri structure. (…) The bricks used in these perimeters predate the time of Babar. (…) More than 30 pillar bases have been found at equal spans. The pillar-bases are in two rows and the rows are parallel. The pillar-base rows are in North-South direction. A wall is superimposed upon another wall. At least three layers of the floor are visible. (…) These facts prove the enormity of the pre-existing structure. (…) Moulded bricks of round and other shapes and sizes were neither in vogue during the middle ages nor are in use today. It was in vogue only 2,000 years ago. Many ornate pieces of touchstone (kasauti stone) pillars have been found in the excavation. (…) The Gupta and the Kushan period bricks have been found. Brick walls of the Gahadwal period (12th Century CE) have been found in excavations.”

And according to Merani, it was not just a “structure”, but definitely a structure with a religious purpose: “Beautiful stone pieces bearing carved Hindu ornamentations like lotus, kaustubh jewel, alligator facade, etc., have been used in these walls. (…) An octagonal holy fireplace (yajna kund) has been found. (…) Terracotta idols of divine figurines, serpent, elephant, horse-rider, saints, etc., have been found. Even to this day terracotta idols are used in worship during Diwali celebrations and then put by temple sanctums for invoking divine blessings. (…) The excavation gives out the picture of a vast compound housing a sole distinguished and greatly celebrated structure used for divine purposes.”

Even the attentive reader of the papers which on June 11 starkly denied the findings could have seen that something was wrong, for on the very same day, they carried the following news item: “ASI fabricating evidence in Ayodhya, says Waqf Board” (The Hindu). All the papers carried this news, citing the Board’s counsel, Mr. Zafaryab Jilani: “ASI fabricating evidence: Waqf Board” (Times of India); “Foul play alleged at Ayodhya dig” (The Pioneer). The party most likely to be elated over the non-finding of traces of a temple should have been the anti-temple lobby, including the Sunni Central Waqf Board, yet it complains that the ASI team did find evidence, only it was of the pro-temple kind, hence “fabricated”. In the free-for-all of Indian secularism, we needn’t fuss over the fact that this grim allegation against the integrity of highly qualified scientists was levelled without any evidence. The decisive point is that, against the secularist claims and against their own interest, the Muslim plaintiffs admitted that the ASI excavators had not come up from their trenches empty-handed.

2.6. Sheer bluff

“Too strenuous an effort to make a point is usually a dead give-away. And if somebody shows an absolute lack of scruple about the methods used in making a point, there is likely to be very little substance in the argument.” Thus opens Sukumar Muralidharan’s comment on the interim report in the Communist fortnightly Frontline (“Excavating truth”, 19 July 2003). While he meant to attack the VHP, his statement neatly described the behaviour of the secularists themselves in the Ayodhya debate from the 1980s till 2003.

Their effort has indeed been very strenuous. They were all over the press with petitions and statements and columns, insisting on the temple’s non-existence, or slipping claims to that effect into texts which focused on other aspects of the “communalism” problem. During the latest excavations, they had teams of historians on the spot to scrutinize the ASI team from day to day. They were issuing statements all the time, grim one day, furious the next, scholarly never.

By contrast, the VHP took a very lackadaisical attitude towards the excavations, arguably the moment of truth for the temple party. It had never attached too much importance to the history debate, firstly because it was a false and contrived debate about a demolished temple which all honest observers knew to have existed; and secondly because the Hindu claim to the site rested less on past history than on the continuous and present fact that Hindus consider the disputed site as a sacred site today. On Hindutva internet discussion forums, you could see temple enthusiasts criticize the VHP leadership for its passivity. Only at the end of the excavations did the VHP-affiliated archaeological team, led by Dr. S.P. Gupta, give a modest press conference, where the political VHP leaders sat in the back and refrained from commenting. It seems they trusted in India’s national motto, “truth shall prevail”, even and especially against the decibels of those who rely on propaganda rather than on the quiet convincing power of the facts.

So, Prof. Muralidharan was quite right: the party which didn’t have the facts on its side, betrayed its lack of confidence in the outcome by displaying “too strenuous an effort to make a point”. But far be it from a Marxist historian to be cowed by mere facts. To his knowledge, the interim ASI findings were either false or non-existent, which is why he saw the VHP smarting under “the disarray within their ranks after the archaeological excavations at the site turned up empty”. This disarray was completely imaginary: the VHP knew perfectly well that the excavations were bringing up more confirmation by the day of the existence of the temple. But if the ASI’s findings had been negative, then the VHP would be in disarray, so Muralidharan posits not just negative findings but also the VHP’s disarray. This shows what accomplished liars the Marxists are: they posit not just one lie, as amateurs would, but also all the ramifications of that lie.

Sentence after sentence in Muralidharan’s text is filled with denial and hateful insinuation against scientists doing their jobs. Thus, it was hardly a controversial fact that the Tojo company had carried out radar scans at the site, but under Muralidharan’s pen, even this becomes questionable: “In February, Tojo Vikas (…) claimed to have deployed some of its devices in Ayodhya and discovered ‘structural anomalies’” (emphasis mine). Nor is there any benefit of the doubt for the ASI, whose professional excavations with the most careful modern methods are put down as follows: “With the ASI’s ongoing excavations, the entire archaeological record has been destroyed.” If at all the ASI has behaved properly, it must have been due to outside pressure: “Indications, however, are that the relentless vigil exercised by observers on both sides has induced a degree of discipline amongst the ASI excavators.” The Marxist hate campaign targets the ASI, a scientific institution, as much as it targets the VHP.

2.7. Ad hoc crank theories

Like the secularist dailies, Frontline reports on the ASI findings without reference to any ASI documents, citing its own handpicked experts instead: “After the thorough excavation of 52 trenches in the area – each four metres square – the ASI filed a preliminary report before the Lucknow Bench on April 24. With inputs from this and other sources on the ground, a team of historians put forward the conclusion that every significant fact recorded either pertained to the Babri Masjid or to the many preceding years of Muslim settlement. These findings, announced at a press conference organised by the Safdar Hashmi Memorial Trust (SAHMAT) in Delhi on May 6, have so far remained uncontested.”

It may be true that nobody bothered to reply to the wild claim made at the press conference of the Communist forum SAHMAT, but the implication that everyone has accepted the claim is as ridiculous as the claim itself. The archaeologists have found objects dating as far back as 1300 BC, and then all through the Sunga, Kushana and Gupta periods, all of them predating the genesis of Islam, let alone the arrival of Islam in Ayodhya in 1194. Yet, the SAHMAT historians want us to believe that all those ancient artefacts belonged to a Muslim settlement. Just how silly can you get? While papers and columns keep on being written about the true meaning of “secularism”, shouldn’t someone try the meaning “buffoonery”?

At the same time, this secularism also has traits more commonly found in revealed religions, such as a terrifying intolerance of those who break ranks. Thus, reporting on Prof. B.B. Lal’s statement in 1990 that pillar-bases had been found during excavations in the 1970s, Muralidharan claims: “The professional community of historians and archaeologists was appalled at the veteran archaeologist’s apostasy.” (emphasis mine) Well, not all of them, to be sure, but at least the vocal Marxist group which was then still firmly in control of the guiding history institutions.

For those unfamiliar with modern Indian history: the Marxists, already pushy for acquiring as much power in the institutions as they could grab, were handed a near-monopoly on institutional power in India’s academic and educational sector by Indira Gandhi ca. 1970. Involved in an intra-Congress power struggle, she needed the help of the Left. Her confidants P.N. Haksar and Nurul Hasan packed the institutions with Marxists, card-carrying or otherwise. When, during the Emergency dictatorship (1975-77), her Communist Party allies threatened to become too powerful, she and her son Sanjay removed them from key political positions but, in a typical instance of politicians’ short-sightedness, they left the Marxists’ hold on the cultural sector intact. In the good old Soviet tradition, they at once set out to falsify history and propagate their own version through the official textbooks. After coming to power in 1998, the BJP-dominated government has made a half-hearted and not always very competent attempt to effect glasnost (openness, transparency) at least in the history textbooks. This led the Marxists to start a furious hate campaign against the so-called “saffronization” of history.

Since some ignorant dupes of these Marxists denounce as “McCarthyist” anyone who points out their ideological inspiration, it deserves to be emphasized that acclaimed secularist historians like Romila Thapar, R.S. Sharma and Irfan Habib are certified as Marxists in standard Marxist sources like Tom Bottomore’s Dictionary of Marxist Thought. The BMAC team’s argumentation of 1991 and several other anti-temple pamphlets were published by the People’s Publishing House, a Communist Party outfit. One of the textbook innovations most furiously denounced as “saffronization” was the truism that Lenin’s armed seizing of power in October/November 1917 was a “coup d’état”. And while they were unchaining all their devils against glasnost, in early 2003, the Marxists ruling West Bengal deleted from a textbook a passage in which Mahatma Gandhi’s biographer Louis Fischer called Stalin “at least as ruthless as Hitler”. Such are the true concerns of the “secularists” warning the world against the ongoing glasnost in India’s national history curriculum.

The Marxists’ power position also led to a development of which Muralidharan inverts the meaning, viz. that after B.B. Lal’s excavations, “the ASI proved curiously reticent about yielding up the records that could clear the confusion”. Why was this? He insinuates that over a decade ago the ASI, the same institution which has now embarrassed the secularists by finding temple foundations, was unwilling to reveal evidence of the mendaciousness of B.B. Lal’s claims. The real reason is the exact opposite. Of course the ASI proved reticent: the records confirmed B.B. Lal’s statement, while the ASI administrators, then still beholden to the Congress-cum-Leftist establishment, had preferred to stick to the secularist party-line and pretend that no pillar-bases had been found.

To drive a final nail in the coffin of his own credibility, Muralidharan quotes the Marxist archaeologist D. Mandal who has, at least since the publication of his booklet Ayodhya after Demolition (Delhi 1993), led the charge against the evidence of the pillar-bases. In Mandal’s view, these were but “brickbats laid haphazardly”. Most people who plan a building first conceive a plan and then lay foundations in a pattern dictated by the building-plan. Hindus, by contrast, are like perennial children playing in the sand: they put some stones in the ground here, and a few more there, then a next generation puts in a few more, all without rhyme or reason and definitely without building anything on all these buried stones, so as to keep the site empty for any incoming Muslim invaders to build their mosque on it. Fifty-three years after India adopted a Constitution which calls on all citizens to “develop the scientific temper” (Art. 51.A.h), the country’s academic positions are occupied by crackpots.

Half-educated people, including many journalists, tend to judge a statement by the status of the speaker rather than by its contents. That is one reason why Marxist academics have been quoted as Gospel in the media, no matter how transparently unbelievable their explanations were. D. Mandal’s cranky theory has reappeared in many newspaper stories, e.g. in the Times of India: “Babri pillar bases do not support temple theory” (17-6-2003). At least the article acknowledged the existence of some pre-Babri artefacts, viz. the pillar-bases, but it insisted on denying the existence of the temple. Now, how can there be foundation structures such as pillar bases in the ground unless they had been put there to support a building? The paper cites an unnamed “ASI official” as saying: “The excavated structural bases are neither aligned nor belong to a single period.” For most human beings, it must be inconceivable to just put a pillar base into the ground once in a while, and then another one, without alignment, without any plan to make them support a preconceived building. But I suppose this has to be the secularist way of doing things.

2.8. The world press as blind amplifier

In spite of a very aggressive campaign of lies by a few spearheads of “secularism”, the broad outline of the true story was in the public domain for anyone with the curiosity to find out. Yet, the international media’s reporting on the interim report consisted exclusively in copying the most mendacious version. The Reuters despatch for 11 June 2003 was titled: “Dig finds no sign of temple at Indian holy site”. More than 90% of the text rehashes the story of riots and other incidents that have punctuated the whole Ayodhya dispute. What little it says about the new findings, is this: “A three-month excavation has found no evidence yet to back nationalist claims of a Hindu temple under the ruins of a mosque in northern India (…) The state-run Archaeological Survey of India has submitted an interim report saying digging so far at the site in Ayodhya town had ‘not found remains of any structure that remotely resembles a temple’, a source at the Survey said on Wednesday.”

Note that the actual report is not quoted, merely what “a source” at the ASI has claimed about it. Note also the slanted phrase about “nationalist claims of a Hindu temple”, as if there were anything typically nationalist about acknowledging historical facts. The existence of that temple had been a matter of consensus among Muslims, Europeans and Hindus, both nationalist and anti-nationalist, until the JNU professors issued their fatwa to disregard the evidence and deny history. Note also that no mention is made of the wealth of evidence extant before the radar scanning and the recent diggings: a fine example of how the public is led by the nose into seeing only a very small selected part of the matter rather than the full perspective which one is entitled to expect from quality media.

Like a babe in the wood, the world press never thought of taking a critical look at the secularist version. The BBC News titled: “‘No sign’ of Ayodhya temple” (11 June 2003). Here again, no information from the horse’s mouth, only from “widespread reports across the Indian media”.

The next day, the peripheral part of the world press was relaying the story, e.g. the Flemish tabloid De Morgen (12 June 2003) called the fact that a temple had been forcibly replaced by a mosque “an evil fairy-tale”, for: “The temple, it turned out yesterday, is a phantom. For three months, experts have dug for traces of it, all in vain. By the end of the month their definitive report should follow, but for now Rama’s home remains unfindable. Bad luck for the ultranationalists, who had hoped to base their next election campaign on the fairy-tale. But they still might manage to, some fear. Yesterday already, the first politicians expressed doubts about the archaeologists’ findings. Other Hindu leaders said, and this is even more dangerous, that the facts don’t matter. What counts is what you believe. We now know that Rama didn’t live in Ayodhya, while Allah did until 1992.”

This passage is symptomatic for most of what is wrong with India reporting. Firstly note the ignorance about a rather significant detail: Allah is unlikely to have stayed around in the idol-house which His mosque had become after three idols had been installed in it on December 22, 1949. Clearly the paper’s Asia desk editor didn’t know that the building had functionally been a temple for almost 43 years before the demolition.

The article is totally based on sources which are not only unreliable on facts and background data, but are also quite open about their partisan involvement, indeed about their unreserved hatred for the Hindu nationalists. Attributing a claim that “the facts don’t matter” to “Hindu leaders” is a pure lie, though they may have said something to the effect that the Marxist historians’ opinion doesn’t matter, even if falsely presented as fact. In defence of the overseas babes in the wood, we acknowledge that it is uncertain at which point along the line of transmission this lie was inserted. (Most probably close to the source, by an Indian correspondent of a Western news agency.)

Another striking aspect of this particular instance of distorted reporting is that much of it is purely deductive: from a small core of primary information, all manner of seemingly logical assumptions are added to put flesh on the bones of the poorly understood Indian situation, and these speculations are presented as fact. Thus, it may seem plausible that the BJP wants to use Ayodhya in its elections campaigns, which it did in 1989 and 1991. However, to the frustration of its more activist sympathizers, the BJP has effectively disowned the Ayodhya issue immediately after reaping the benefits in the 1991 elections (when it became the leading opposition party), and has stayed away from it in the campaigns of 1996, 1998 and 1999. Indeed, the demolition was partly an outcry of the activists against the BJP leadership, whose participation in the ceremony they correctly saw as perfunctory and insincere. Once the BJP came to power and proved time and again how it was in no mind to build the temple, criticism from the hardliners has only increased. Given the infighting between temple loyalists and pragmatists, the last thing the BJP now wants is an election campaign focused on Ayodhya.

A second example of this deductive reporting is the deduced claim that Hindu nationalists object to the archaeological investigation of the site. In reality, the first politicians to express doubts about the archaeologists’ findings have not been the Hindu nationalists but the Babri Masjid lobbyists. All through the past 14 years, the secularists have always opposed archaeological research at the site. Yet, because the interim report was falsely presented as going against the Hindu nationalist position, distant India-watchers deductively assume that the opposition against the diggings must have come from the Hindu nationalists.

Many Western media have devoted more attention to the interim report on June 11 than on the final report on August 25. Within the logic of the media, even politically neutral media, this was normal. The interim report was the first, and India being only of marginal interest, many editors didn’t think the issue worthy of a second look when the final report came out. Moreover, the handful of Delhi correspondents who control almost the whole information flow from India, had presented the interim report to them as having very clear-cut conclusions, viz. “no evidence for the temple at all”. By contrast, the final report was falsely presented as indecisive, hence less newsworthy and less apt to inspire catchy headlines. Indeed, it is likely that those who misinformed the world about the interim report’s findings had foreseen and planned that this would help in neutralizing the inevitable pro-temple impact of the final report.

2.9. Why the anti-Hindu distortions?

Distorted or even totally false reporting on communally sensitive issues is a well-entrenched feature of Indian journalism. There is no self-corrective mechanism in place to remedy this endemic culture of disinformation. No reporter or columnist or editor ever gets fired or formally reprimanded or even just criticized by his peers for smearing Hindu nationalists. This way, a partisan economy with the truth has become a habit hard to relinquish. And foreign correspondents used to trusting their Indian secularist sources have likewise developed a habit of swallowing and relaying highly distorted news stories.

Yet, in the instance under consideration, the brutal distortion of the facts pertaining to the recent archaeological findings may be a matter of more than just a bad habit. Some people learn from their failures, but these disinformation specialists may also have learned from their successes. Consider a few earlier instances.

After the BJP came to power in 1998, India should have witnessed a genocide of the minorities, gas chambers and what not. At least if you believed the predictions made by the secularists in the preceding years. Nothing of the kind happened, so in the next two years the secularists tried to make the most of what few incidents did take place. In particular, all manner of small incidents within the Christian community were at once blamed on the evil hand of Hindu nationalism. In Kandhamal, Orissa, a Christian man murdered a girl and her little brother. At once, a cry went up in the secularist and Christian media that Hindu nationalists had perpetrated the crime. When the official investigation revealed the true story, it was reported only marginally in Indian papers and not at all in the international media, which had eagerly carried the initial allegations.

Likewise, in the Central-Indian town of Jhabua, a quarrel among mostly christianized tribals led to the rape of four nuns. With no Hindu nationalists in sight, the media decided nonetheless that this was an act of Hindu nationalist cruelty against the poor hapless Christian minority. Though the official investigation confirmed the total innocence of the Hindu nationalists in this affair (more details on these and similar cases in Arun Shourie, Harvesting Our Souls, ch.1), their guilt has been consecrated by endless repetition in the media. While the media in India couldn’t prevent the truth from quietly making itself known, the international media have never published a correction, and the story of “four nuns in Jhabua raped by Hindu nationalists” now keeps on reappearing as an evergreen of anti-Hindu hate propaganda.

Similarly, a series of bomb blasts against Christian churches in South India was automatically blamed on the Hindu nationalists. In that version, the story made headlines around the world: Hindu bomb terror against Christians. Hindu organizations alleged that it was a Pakistani operation, a blame-shifting exercise which only earned them ridicule and contempt. Yet, when two of the terrorists blew themselves up by mistake, their getaway car led the police to their network, and the whole gang was arrested. It turned out to be a Muslim group, Deendar Anjuman, with headquarters in Pakistan. But this was not reported on the front pages in India nor made the topic of flaming editorials; and in the international media, it was not reported at all. In the worldwide perception of Hindu nationalism, the association with raping nuns and bombing churches has stuck.

So, moral of the story: feel free to write lies about the Hindu nationalists. Even if you are found out, most of the public will never hear of it, and you will not be made to bear any consequences. Striking first is what counts. Any second round in which the truth comes out, will hardly be noticed. Indeed, conditioned by the initial lie, many readers and viewers will deride the correction as an attempt at “denial” of the grim facts which “everybody knows well enough”. And the audience abroad will never even be informed that there has been a correction.

In the present case, lying about the interim report was a very clever move. When the Ayodhya issue came up again with the presentation of the final report, many an editor dismissed it as uninteresting: “Haven’t we already done something on those Indian excavations lately?” And even where the report did get adequate coverage, it could never entirely undo the impression created by the initial story. So, apart from being the natural implementation of a bad habit, this particular lie about the interim report may well have been part of a deliberate ploy to condition public opinion against the true story if and when it was to come out. For fourteen years, the secularists had worked hard to keep the lid on the Ayodhya evidence and they didn’t want some puny radar scanner or muddy-handed archaeologist to bring the facts to light and thereby expose their mendaciousness.

 

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