Demonetization was a failure but the PM is OK lying about it even after 4 years!

This is a lie because there is no data which says what was the black money in 2016 and what it is now – so nobody can say black money has reduced.

In a written reply tabled in the Parliament in Dec 2016, the then Finance Minister had admitted, “There is no official estimation of the amount of black money either before or after the government’s decision of 08 Nov 2016…”

Now there are other things for which we do have data. Let’s talk about the issue of counterfeit currency for example. PM Modi had claimed that demonetization would solve it (without any basis). It has not been solved.

Source: chart created from RBI data as presented here

Don’t forget, INR ~8,000 crore was spent in 2016-17 just on printing new notes (followed by ~5,000 crore a year after that). For what? A marketing gimmick!

Also let’s not forget that curbing terrorism was also a reason PM Modi had provided for justifying overnight demonetization.

What happened? See for yourself.

Data Source:

Before I end this post, let me sum up why black money could never have been solved by demonetization anyway (the Govt. never presented any study whatsoever to justify the move – it was an insensitive illogical idea from the beginning).

The thing is – even when nobody really knows what is the total unaccounted for income in India, almost every estimate acknowledges that a very small portion of it (~1%) is in cash. Majority of the cash that exists is accounted for. So demonetization by design was a move to harass majority of Indians by targeting less than 1% of black income. In what world is this justified? More than 99.3% of all the demonetized note came back to the banking system!

There is a reason, almost nowhere in the world, ‘demonetization’ is ever used for this purpose! Except of course, if you have the confidence to ‘market’ the move as path-breaking initiative to end corruption!

Other than the harassment that most Indians faced while getting their notes exchanged (some died too) and the unnecessary work that our bankers had to do, week after week – demonetization also had some other far-fetched consequences. It looks like it even caused increase in infant mortality rate!

What about the move towards digital payments?

I will make two comments. The night demonetization was announced, PM Modi did not even talk about digital payments as a reason to justify torturing the entire country. Two, India did not become digital overnight anyway as the below chart shows.

Source | UPI transactions were almost non-existent in 2016 – but could this have happened without the need for demonetization? Yes.

If you scroll back up and look at the existing cash in the economy (much more than was in 2016), it becomes obvious that one does not need to take away cash from the system for digital payments to work and grow. There is not a single economist who has ever claimed that India wouldn’t have made the growth in UPI transactions without demonetization. On the contrary, many studies later found the damage that the move did to the economy itself.

Dear PM, show some shame, acknowledge the mistake and move on? Or am I missing something?


Is Modi like Hitler? Yes & No. Very important to understand.

I read a very interesting and insightful book called How Democracies Die. Levitsky & Ziblatt (the authors) have analysed democracies across the globe to understand when a leader turns authoritarian, often leading to collapse of democracy. The erosion of democracy takes place piecemeal, often in baby steps.

Let me share this chart for you to get a sense of how fragile a democratic system can really be.

Let me quickly explain the three terms mentioned in the above table – a. ‘capturing referees’, b. ‘sidelining players’ and c. ‘changing rules’.


It means hijacking institutions that hold the govt. accountable (intelligence agencies, courts). It offers a powerful weapon, allowing the government to selectively enforce the law, punishing opponents while protecting allies.

By default, the judicial system, law enforcement bodies, and intelligence, tax, and regulatory agencies are designed to serve as neutral arbiters. But if such agencies are controlled by loyalists, they could serve a would-be dictator’s aims.

Tax authorities may be used to target rival politicians, businesses, and media outlets. The police can crack down on opposition protest while tolerating acts of violence by pro-government thugs.


Most contemporary autocracies do not wipe out all traces of dissent, as Mussolini did in fascist Italy or Fidel Castro did in communist Cuba. What they usually do is – ensure that key players – anyone capable of really hurting the government – are sidelined, hobbled, or bribed into throwing the game.

Key players might include opposition politicians, business leaders who finance the opposition, major media outlets, and in some cases, religious or other cultural figures who enjoy a certain public moral standing.

The Fujimori government in Peru was masterful at buying off its critics, particularly those in media. By the late 1990s, every major television network, several daily newspapers, and popular tabloid papers were on the government’s payroll.

Players who cannot be bought must be weakened. Whereas old-school dictators often jailed, exiled, or even killed their rivals, contemporary autocrats tend to hide their repression behind a veneer of legality.

Under Perón (Argentina), opposition leader Ricardo Balbín was imprisoned for “disrespecting” the president during an election campaign. In Malaysia, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad used a politically loyal police force and a packed judiciary to investigate, arrest, and imprison his leading rival, Anwar Ibrahim, on sodomy charges in the late 1990s.

Governments may also use their control of referees to legally sidline the opposition media, often through libel or defamation suits.

In Russia, after Vladimir Gusinsky’s independent NTV television network earned a reputation as a “pain in the neck,” the Putin government unleashed the tax authorities on Gusinsky, arresting him for “financial misappropriation.” Gusinsky was offered “a deal straight out of a bad Mafia movie: give up NTV in exchange for freedom.” He took the deal, turned NTV over to the giant government-controlled energy company, Gazprom, and fled the country.

As key media outlets are assaulted, others grow wary and begin to practice self-censorship. When the Chávez government stepped up its attacks in the mid-2000s, one of the country’s largest television networks, Venevisión, decided to stop covering politics. Morning talk shows were replaced with astrology programs, and soap operas took precedence over evening news programs.

Finally, elected autocrats often try to silence cultural figures – artists, intellectuals, pop stars, athletes. Usually, however, governments prefer to co-opt popular cultural figures or reach a mutual accommodation with them, allowing them to continue their work as long as they stay out of politics.


This essentially means somehow changing the Constitution itself. Authoritarians seeking to consolidate their power often reform the constitution, the electoral system, and other institutions in ways that disadvantage or weaken the opposition, in effect tilting the playing field against their rivals. These reforms are often carried out under the guise of some public good, while in reality they are stacking the deck in favor of incumbents. And guess what helps them most – a crisis situation.

For demagogues hemmed in by constitutional constraints, a crisis represents an opportunity to begin to dismantle the inconvenient and sometimes threatening checks and balances that come with democratic politics.

Elected autocrats often need crises – external threats offer them a chance to break free, both swiftly and, very often, “legally”.

Crisis are hard to predict, but their political consequences are not. They facilitate the concentration, and very often, abuse of power. Given that we have a crisis situation right now, had Modi been like Hitler, the damage to democracy could have been much worse.

Major security crises – wars or large-scale terrorist attacks – are political game changers. Almost invariably, they increase support for the government. Citizens become more likely to tolerate, and even endorse, authoritarian measures when they fear for their security. In the aftermath of September 11, President Bush saw his approval rating soar from 53% to 90%. Citizens are also more likely to tolerate – and even support – authoritarian measures when they fear their own safety.

The book – How Democracies Die – also talks about 4 litmus tests that can hep identify any authoritarian leader.

As per the authors, we should worry when a politician

  1. rejects, in words or actions, the democratic rules of the game (and this is why Modi is not like Hitler)
  2. denies the legitimacy of opponents
  3. tolerates or encourages violence (this is where if not Modi himself, his party is mildly like Hitler)
  4. indicates a willingness to curtail the civil liberties of opponents, including the media (again – why BJP is like Hitler).

A politician who meets even one of these criteria is a cause for concern.

Let me also share five more insights that the book offers (have contextualized it with Indian political examples, where I could).

1. Most authoritarians leaders are popular rank outsiders who have little patience with democracy.

In Latin America, of all 15 presidents elected in Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela between 1990 and 2012, five were populist outsiders: Alberto Fujimori, Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales, Lucio Gutiérrez and Rafael Correa. All five ended up weakening democratic institutions.

When populists win elections, they often assault democratic institutions.

Democracy is grinding work – it requires negotiation, compromise and concessions. But would-be authoritarians have little patience with the day-to-day politics of the democracy (and in this regard, Modi is unlike Hitler; the BJP doesn’t only understand the politics that it needs to play but works towards it diligently).

In India, the hyper liberals don’t get the difference between being a Hitler and Modi. Modi for one, is not a rank outsider. Bhakts (and even some centrists) on the other hand, fail to understand that just because Modi is not exactly like Hitler, does not mean he is all good. They take the comparison ‘literally’ and start pointing out the differences. What matters is the similarity – and that’s what is scary and that is what we should watch out for.

Let me make a quick note on most arguments around comparison of two people / entities / countries / anything.

Those who don’t like the comparison get obsessed with the difference and only want to focus on why the comparison doesn’t make sense (‘you are comparing apples with oranges’). Of course no two people / entities / countries / anything are ‘the same’. Apples and oranges are different and yet in many contexts, it makes sense to compare them. It’s unwise to willfully ignore the intent behind any comparison – which is to appreciate the similarity! When we try to see the similarity between Modi and Hitler (the short-code I am using to denote an authoritarian leader), we become better prepared to watch out for when the government ends up pushing things too far off the line where democracy ends. If we keep obsessing about how they are not the same, we won’t gain much (that is the job of Govt. mouthpieces like Arnab Goswami; not citizens).

Ok now, carrying on with four more insights from the book.

2. Politicians do not always reveal the full scale of their authoritarianism before reaching power.

Hungarian PM Viktor Orban (and his party) began as a liberal democrat in the late 1980s and in his first stint as PM (1998-2002) he governed democratically. His autocratic about face in 2010 was a genuine surprise. The 2011 constitutional changes enacted under his leadership were, in particular, accused of centralizing legislative and executive power, curbing civil liberties, restricting freedom of speech, and weakening the Constitutional Court and judiciary. He has been in power since then.

3. Democracy requires ‘gate-keepers’ to do their job.

We like to believe the fate of the government lies in the hands of its citizens. As per the authors, this view is wrong. Political parties are democracies’ gatekeepers.

An over-reliance on the will of the people can lead to the election of a demagogue who threatens democracy itself.

Collective abdication – the transfer of authority to a leader who threatens democracy – usually flows from one of two sources.

  1. the misguided belief that an authoritarian can be controlled or tamed.
  2. ideological collusion – the authoritarian’s agenda overlaps sufficiently with that of mainstream politicians that abdication is desirable, or at least preferable to the alternatives.

Trump’s rise to presidency in 2016 is a good example of consequence of ineffective gatekeeping.

Some politicians did realize the problem and did their bit. For example, in March 2016, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave a high-profile speech describing Trump as a danger to both the Republican Party and the country. Echoing Ronald Reagan’s 1964 “A Time for Choosing” speech, Romney declared that Trump was a “fraud” who had “neither the temperament nor the judgment to be president.”

Other party elders, including 2008 presidential candidate John McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham, had warned against Trump too.

But the sad fact is that the #NeverTrump movement was always more talk than action. In reality, the primary system had left Republican leaders virtually weaponless to halt Trump’s rise (the book explains this in detail). The barrage of attacks had little impact and possibly even backfired where it counted: the voting booth.

4. Polarization can destroy democratic norms – the process often begins with words.

Fujinori (Peru) called his critics “enemies” and “traitors”. Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi attacked judges who ruled against him as “communist”.

Status anxiety – when a groups’ social status, identity, and sense of belonging are perceived to be under existential threat – leads to a style of politics that is “overheated, oversuspicious, overaggressive, grandiose, and apocalyptic”. A demagogue’s initial rise to power tends to polarize society, creating a climate of panic, hostility, and mutual distrust (Modi is like Hiter in this aspect).

If the public comes to share the view that opponents are linked to terrorism and the media are spreading lies, it becomes easier to justify taking actions against them.

Some polarization is healthy – even necessary – for democracy. But when socioeconomic, racial, or religious differences give rise to extreme partisanship, in which societies sort themselves into political camps whose worldviews are not just different but mutually exclusive, toleration becomes harder to sustain. As mutual toleration disappears, politicians grow tempted to abandon forbearance (see point 5 below) and try to win at all costs.

Because of polarization, Chileans who had long prided themselves on being South America’s most stable democracy, succumbed to dictatorship that lasted for seventeen years!

In the US, in 1798, the Federalists passed the Sedition Act, which, though purportedly criminalizing false statements against the government, was so vague that it virtually criminalized criticism of the government.

When norms of mutual toleration are weak, democracy is hard to sustain. If we view our rivals as a dangerous threat, we have much to fear if they are elected. We may decide to employ any means necessary to defeat them – and therein lies a justification for authoritarian measures. Politicians who are tagged as criminal or subversive may be jailed; governments deemed to pose a threat to the nation may be overthrown.

In just about every case of democratic breakdown we have studied, would-be authoritarians – from Franco, Hitler, and Mussolini in interwar Europe to Marcos, Castro, and Pinochet during the Cold War to Putin, Chávez, and Erdogan most recently – have justified their consolidation of power by labeling their opponents as an existential threat.

How Democracies Die

5. ‘Forbearance’ – and why it matters

Much before Trump, the USA faced threat to democratic norms under President Roosevelt who subscribed to what he called the stewardship theory of the presidency – all executive actions are allowed unless expressly prohibited by law.

His use of executive orders – more than 3,000 during his presidency, averaging more than 300 a year – was unmatched at the time or since.

Forbearance is the exact opposite. It means “patient self-control; restraint and tolerance,” or “the action of restraining from exercising a legal right.

Prior to the 1973 coup, Chile had been Latin America’s oldest and most successful democracy, sustained by vibrant democratic norms. It was lack of forbearance that lead to fall of democracy.

Citizens are often slow to realize that their democracy is being dismantled – even as it happens before their eyes.

One may think of democracy as a game that we want to keep playing indefinitely. To ensure future rounds of the game, players must refrain from either incapacitating the other team or antagonizing them to such a degree, that they refuse to play again tomorrow. If one’s rivals quit, there can be no future games.

The cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy.

Hope you learnt something / gained some insights. And if this topic interests you, do pick up the book.

Gyaan politics

Meritocracy, Dalits, the Supreme Court and the curious case of the creamy layer.

Let me begin with a question. I will answer it later. Which political ideology first propagated the concept of meritocracy?

Ok, now let’s talk about Dalits. And reservation. Last month, while reacting to a piece by Varun Grover, I wrote how at some point Dalits should split themselves into two groups – rich (minority) and poor (majority), so that the benefit of reservation is not usurped by the richer Dalits. I had also added that it’s only for the Dalits to decide the ‘how’ and ‘when’ of this move.

And today, I read the following in the newspapers.

Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (SC/ST) communities don’t constitute a homogenous group and can be further sub-classified to ensure the benefits of reservation in government jobs and higher education institutions percolate down to weaker sections, the Supreme Court observed on Thursday in a ruling that may have far-reaching political ramifications.

Hindustan Times, 28 Aug 2020

Let me quickly lay down the full context (took me some time to research and read up – if I have misunderstood / misreported something, do let me know; will rectify).

The Creamy Layer

1971 (Indira Gandhi is the PM) – Sattanathan Commission introduces the term “creamy layer” – it refers to those members of a backward class who are highly advanced socially as well as economically and educationally. The Commission proposes that the “creamy layer” be excluded from the reservations (quotas) of civil posts.

1976 – State of Kerala vs N. M. Thomas – “benefits of the reservation shall be snatched away by the top creamy layer of the backward class, thus leaving the weakest among the weak and leaving the fortunate layers to consume the whole cake”.

1992 – Indra Sawhney vs Union of India – this judgment validates exclusion of creamy layer for OBCs.

The OBCs who meet some defined criteria (like if their parents have held high govt. office etc.) cannot claim reservation benefits. Same, if they fall under “creamy layer” – meaning the family annual income is above a certain defined threshold value.

1993: The “creamy layer” criteria for OBCs is set at an annual family income of more than INR 1 lakh (this would be revised to INR 2.5 lakh in 2004, INR 4.5 lakh in 2008, INR 6 lakh in 2013, and finally to INR 8 lakh in 2017 ). Note that so far, this concept (and the overall Indra Sawhney case) applies only to OBCs and not SC/STs.

2000: Andhra Pradesh State Govt. enacts a law – the Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Castes (Rationalisation of Reservations) Act, 2000. This requires sub-dividing the Scheduled Castes into four groups and apportioning reservations separately for each.

2004 – E V Chinnaiah v. State of Andhra Pradesh – SC strikes down the Rationalisation of Reservation Act 2000 and says that SC/STs form a homogeneous class and therefore cannot be further sub-classified for reservations.

The way I see it, implies that one cannot say some SC/STs are backward / less privileged and others are forward / relatively more privileged (which in turn suggests that it would be counter-intuitive to apply the “creamy layer” concept to SC/STs). The “Chinnaiah case” judgment is critiqued by many, main argument being that it does not reflect the reality. Also if OBCs can be sub-divided (as per the Indra Sawhney case), why shouldn’t the same logic apply to SC/STs? In fact, in 2018, the SC would ask something similar.

2006 – State of Punjab v. Davinder Singh – Punjab government enacts a law requiring 50% of vacancies in the quota for SCs in recruitment to be filled by the members of Balmiki community (rest 50% by those from the Mazhbi community). Davinder Singh, himself a SC person, challenges this law in the Punjab & Haryana high court (citing the Chinnaiha case as per which, one cannot sub-classify SC/STs). The High Court rules in his favour. The State Govt. appeals in the Supreme Court against this High Court judgement.

2009 – While SC is yet to decide on the legality of the Davinder Singh judgment, another state does something similar (sub-classification of SC/STs for reservation benefits). Tamil Nadu enacts a law that reserves 3% of the total seats in educational institutions and state services for the Arunthathiyar community (who constitute nearly 16% of the total SC population in the state, but their representation in most government departments, corporations and education institutions is less than 5%).

2018 – Jarnail Singh v. Lachhmi Narayan Gupta – a five-judge Constitution Bench says that the well-off members of the SC / ST communities (the creamy layer) cannot be granted the benefits of reservation in college admissions and government jobs. This is a stance opposite to that of the Chinnaiah case.

2019: The Modi Govt. files a plea for a review of the Jarnail Singh judgement; it wants a 7 bench Constitution bench to reconsider the decision.

2020 (27 Aug): SC concludes hearing of the 2006 Davinder Singh case (and other related cases / pleas) and requests Chief Justice of India to place the creamy layer applicability in SC / STs matter before a 7 judge bench.

Now some of the above cited judgements talk about the reasons why it makes sense to view Dalits in at least two sub-groups – 1. the really poor / less privileged Dalits and 2. the more privileged ones (those who are not so poor; even when being rich does not mean less discrimination).

But is there a counter-question to this rationale?

What can possible be wrong in applying the creamy layer concept to SC / STs?

From some Dalit activist’s point of view, following seem to be the two main considerations:

  1. The claims that the well-off dalits (creamy layer) are taking away most of the benefits of reservations, leaving out the poorer / more backward dalits is just a hypothesis – there is no data / research / survey to back this. So why is the SC court trying to solve a problem that doesn’t even exist? Although one must realize that they are the not so poor / privilaged Dalits who are saying this. Nobody really knows what the really underprivileged Dalits have to say. Or can we guess?
  2. Doing this will divide the Dalits; it is of extreme importance that the Dalit community continues to be united so that it can fight the Bahmanical / Savarna oppression with full force.

Both these points are valid. But debatable too. In any case, there are no easy answers.

If only we could get some data, it would be easier to make decisions. Without data, imposing the creamy layer concept to SC/STs can always be argued as a political move than a societal-benefit move based on the ‘intuition’ and ‘logic’ of Savarnas (after all, the representation of Dalits in judiciary is minimal, just like in most spheres of power).

I think that claiming this division as a means to weaken the Dalit rights movement is a little far-fetched hypothesis, even when it’s valid from a certain point of view. To me, the potential benefits to the truly underprivileged Dalits, seems more than the perceived weakening of the Dalit movement (am I missing something?)

Also, if a division is such that the overall Dalit community is split in two equally sized groups – then it is one thing. But given that the creamy layer Dalits are in all likelihood just a tiny fraction of the overall Dalit community, will the division really impact the Dalit movement at all? I would want to know how. Data will certainly help.

By the way, if any of you are still under the impression that given that we are in 2020, it’s high time we all should move to ‘meritocracy’ and simply put an end to this never ending reservation thing, I do recommend you think deeper.

The blog that I mentioned in the opening paragraph may give some clues! If you have never lived a Dalit life, it’s easy to fall for the meritocracy myth.

Talking about meritocracy also brings me back to the question I posed in the beginning. Time to answer it – Mohism was the political ideology that first propagated the concept of meritocracy.

Exaltation of the virtuous is the root of government.

Mozi (470-391 BC), China

Although Mozi attracted a large group of followers, he was regarded as an idealist and Mohism was not adopted by the Chinese rulers of the time. In the 20th century, Mozi’s notions of equality were rediscovered by Chinese leaders Sun Yat-Sen and Mao Zedong.

That will be all for this blog. If not already, you can subscribe to my weekly newsletter here.

Gyaan history politics

Ayodhya Dispute timeline summary

The first place where I read about the Ayodhya dispute in some detail was L. K. Advani‘s autobiography – “My Country My Life“. This blog began as a summary of what he wrote. And then I read some more on Wikipedia and other online articles (linked in the end) and added additional points / perspectives to create this comprehensive timeline. If I have missed out on anything important or misreported anything, do let me know. (

600 BC (Buddha’s time) – Ayodhya (Saketa) is one of the six largest cities of North India. But over the next few centuries, it falls into relative neglect.

During the 11th and 12th century, the Gahadavalasa build several Vishnu temples in Ayodhya, five of which would survive till Aurangzeb’s reign. 

In subsequent years, the cult of Rama develops within Vaishnavism, with Rama being regarded as the foremost avatar of Vishnu. Ayodhya’s importance as a pilgrimage centre grows.

1520s – Mir Baqi (Baqi Tashakandi) – a Mughal army commander under emperor Babur, supposedly builds Babri Masjid, by demolishing a temple (we will soon come to proof / lack of proof).

Babur – India’s first Mughal emperor

No written records of a mosque at the site exist up until 1700’s (hence the use of word ‘supposedly’). Many have believed that the Mosque was built by Aurangzeb (much later than 1520s). Archaeologists acting as observers during the 2003 ASI excavations at the site would also indicate that Babur probably just ordered a new mosque where a smaller older one existed.

There was clearly a Buddhist community here, in the period, roughly from the 2nd century BC to 6th century AD. To us, it looks like this was then abandoned and reoccupied sometime around the 11th-12th century and possibly because there was a Muslim settlement that came up. And they had a small mosque, which was expanded as the community increased, in size and finally a much larger mosque was built by Babar in 1528.

Supriya Varma, Archaelogist appointed as observer to ASI excavations by the Sunni Waqf Board in 2003. Source.

1574Tulsidas moves to Ayodhya (from Varanasi) and begins writing Ramcharit Manas. Surprisingly there is no mention of the mosque in his writing.

1611: An English traveller William Finch visits Ayodhya and writes about the “ruins of the Ranichand [Ramachand] castle and houses”. Even he makes no mention of any mosque.

1672: Lal Das’s Awadh-Vilasa describes the location of birthplace of Ram, but without mentioning a temple (which some claim implies that a mosque probably exists by this time).

1766–1771 Joseph Tieffenthaler visits India and mentions the Mosque in his writings

Emperor Aurangzeb got the fortress called Ramcot demolished and got a Muslim temple, with triple domes, constructed at the same place. Others say that it was constructed by ‘Babor’. Fourteen black stone pillars of 5 span high, which had existed at the site of the fortress, are seen there. Twelve of these pillars now support the interior arcades of the mosque.

Jesuit priest Joseph Tieffenthaler, on his visit to Awadh

Tieffenthaler also writes that Hindus worship a square box raised 5 inches above the ground – the “Bedi, i.e., the cradle”, and “the reason for this is that once upon a time, here was a house where Beschan [Vishnu] was born in the form of Ram.”

1777 – Sawai Jai Singh acquires the land of Rama Janmasthan

1813-14: Francis Buchanan (also called Buchanan-Hamilton) does a survey of the Gorakhpur Division on behalf of the British East India Company. Buchanan’s report (never published but available in the British Library archives) states that the Hindus generally attributed destruction of temples “to the furious zeal of Aurangzabe [Aurangzeb]”, but the large mosque at Ayodhya (now known as Babri Masjid) was ascertained to have been built by Babur by “an inscription on its walls.”

DISPUTE PHASE 1: 1853-1885

1853: First recorded incident of Hindu-Muslim violence over the site with Hindus alleging the mosque was built on the site of a razed Hindu shrine dedicated to Lord Ram.

1859: British rulers erect a fence and allow Muslims and Hindus to worship in the inner and outer courtyards respectively. This also aligns with the Britishers’ divide & rule policy post the revolt of 1857. By this time, a new chabutra is also built in the Hindu side.

Image via

1862-63: ASI founder surveys Ayodhya – finds no “ancient” structure

Alexander Cunningham, the founder of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), conducts a survey of Ayodhya. He identifies Ayodhya with Sha-chi mentioned in Fa-Hien’s writings, Visakha mentioned in Xuanzang‘s writings and Saketa mentioned in Hindu-Buddhist legends.

Alexander Cunnigham, Founder ASI

According to Cunnigham, Gautama Buddha spent six years at this place.

Cunningham does not find any ‘ancient’ structure in the city. According to him, the existing temples at Ayodhya are of relatively modern origin.

His theory is that when King Vikramaditya of Ujjain visited the city around first century CE, he did construct new temples at the spots mentioned in Ramayana, but by the time Xuanzang visited the city in the 7th century, those temples had “already disappeared” – the city had become a Buddhist centre, with several Buddhist monuments.

1877: The British Govt. opens a door on the northern side of the outer courtyard and passes it to the Hindus to control and manage.

1885 – a court finally intervenes

Some Muslims mount an attack on Hanuman Garhi temple (situated close to the Babri Masjid / Janambhoomi) under the rumours that the Hanuman temple had been built over a mosque. Nawab of Avadh sends his army and saves the temple from getting destroyed.

Mahant Raghubardas appeals to Faizabad High Court to get an order for construction of a temple on Janambhoomi (next to the masjid) – where the chabutra is.

A judgement given within a year says “it is most unfortunate that a masjid should have been built on land specially held sacred by the Hindus, but as the event occurred 356 years ago it is too late now to agree with the grievances. All that can be done is to maintain the party in status quo”.

DISPUTE PHASE II: 1934 till the 60’s (a local issue)

1934: Communal violence erupts, many die and the mosque is damaged. Nirmohi Akhara, a sect that claimed to have been worshipping Lord Ram at his ‘birthplace’ since the 1400s is involved in the clashes and is made to pay for the mosque repairs.

The gate is locked (and would continue to remain locked till 1950).

Soon thereafter, Muslims stop using the site as a mosque or for offering prayers (true till date); Hindus continue to worship (darshan from outside the gate).

1946: An offshoot of the Hindu Mahasabha called Akhil Bharatiya Ramayana Mahasabha (ABRM) starts an agitation for the possession of the site. Given that most of India is busy with the anytime-now independence from Britishers, this is definitely not a “national news” sort of thing at this point of time.

1947 – Announcement of Somnath temple resurrection by Sardar Patel sets the precedent for Govt. intervening in temple constructions.

By 1947 end, Indian Govt. takes over the princely state of Junagadh (Nawab of Junagadh escapes to Pakistan). Four days later Sardar Patel declares that Somnath temple (stood destroyed since 1706) will be rebuilt. Moulana Abul Kalam Azad suggests handing the site over to ASI. Patel refuses. Mahatma Gandhi says he is fine as long as money for construction doesn’t come from GoI. Nehru is not okay – he views this as an act as “Hindu revivalism”.

1949 – beginning of the modern dispute at Ayodhya

Sant Digvijay Nath of Gorakhnath Math joins the ABRM (Akhil Bharatiya Ramayana Mahasabha founded three years earlier). He organizes a 9-day continuous recitation of Ramcharit Manas. At the end of the recitation, Hindu activists break into the mosque and place idols of Rama and Sita inside. This was already anticipated.

The then Faizabad superintendent of police (SP) Kripal Singh had written a latter to the DM – KKK Nayar a month before the “appearance” of the idol at the site.

There is a strong rumor that on purnamashi the Hindus will try to force entry into the mosque with the object of installing a deity.

Kripal Singh’s letter to Nayar, a month before the break-in.

Nair acts surprised!

People are led to believe that the idols have ‘miraculously’ appeared inside the mosque. One of the mahants who did this, admits to doing so in the Ram ke Nam documentary shot and made in the early 90s (before the mosque was illegally demolished by kar sevaks).

Nayar (the DM ) and his fellow local official Guru Dutt Singh do not act to remove the idols despite instructions from then Chief Secretary Bhagwan Sahay and Inspector General of Police BN Lahiri.

Nayar in fact allows daily worship to take place (he would later join the Jan Sangh).

Nehru sends a telegram to UP CM Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant “Dangerous example is being set there which will have bad consequences”.

Sardar Patel soon writes a letter to Pant too – “such matters can only be resolved peacefully if we take the wiling consent of the Muslim community with us. There can be no question of resolving such disputes by force”.

The state govt. locks the complex gate.

1950: The start of the court case in independent India

Gopal Singh Visharad – a Hindu Mahasabha leader, files suit in Faizabad city court seeking exclusive rights to perform prayers for Ram Lalla. He also seeks judicial restraint on the removal of idols. What he doesn’t ask for is any right to “title of the land” (which would be first claimed only in 1959 by Nirmohi Akhara – and then later claimed two more times in subsequent years).

Mahant Paramahans Ramchandra Das files another suit to continue with the Hindu prayers and keeping the Ram idols at the Babri majid.

This same year, Sardar Patel dies and K. M. Munshi (his confidante and a Union Minister) takes over the responsibility of getting Somnath temple built in spite of severe opposition from Nehru (who finds it easy to dominate now with Sardar gone). Once the temple is constructed, the President of India – Dr. Rajendra Prasad inaugurates it. The precedent of state involvement in a so called “secular” country is set (you can read my detailed blog on the myth of secularism in India).

1955: the Allahabad High Court upholds unrestricted right to worship for Hindus but since the “title of the property” issue is not yet resolved, only a priest is allowed to enter the locked gates to perform prayers (regular pilgrims to Ayodhya cannot).

From this point onward, till the 80s – the nation at large moves on and the Ayodhya issue exists only as a local issue – not a national one – until Rajiv Gandhi would bring it back to limelight.

1959: Nirmohi Akhara files suit seeking transfer of disputed site – this is the beginning of the “land title dispute” that would get resolved only after sixty years by the Supreme Court of India.

They claim that their mahant (chief priest) and sarbrahakar (administrator) have been managing the site and been responsible for prayers to Lord Ram there since their founding in the middle ages – what is known as ‘shebaitship’.

1961: Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Board of Waqf files suit seeking possession of Babri mosque site (so this is now the second claim for land title). They also make a plea for the removal of Ram idols from the Mosque. They claim that Muslims had been worshipping till 1949 (when the idols were placed inside).

DISPUTE PHASE III: 1980s onwards – from local to national

1984: First Dharm sansad in Delhi resolves to “liberate” the birthplace of Ram through a peaceful mass movement. Ramjanmabhoomi Muktiyanja Samiti (RMS) is formed. It brings many Hindu religious leaders together for a “common goal”. A mass awareness yatra is undertaken from Bihar (Sitamarhi) to Ayodhya – demanding opening of locks for everybody. Later that year Indira Gandhi is assassinated and Rajiv Gandhi becomes the new PM. Ayodhya issue is still a local issue and not a national one.

1986 – Rajiv Gandhi manages to bring back Ayodhya in the national limelight

A conference of Hindu religious leaders resolves to break open the locks on Mahashivratri. But the state government decides to open the locks and to that effect gets favourable court order (from Faizabad District Court).

The Allahabad High Court orders the opening of the main gate and restoring of the site in full to the Hindus.

Rajiv Gandhi publicizes this “achievement” and makes the so far “local issue”, a national thing.

Rajiv Gandhi, the sixth PM of India

Earlier in the year, Rajiv Gandhi was heavily criticized for surrendering to an unfair Muslim pressure (the Shah Bano case). So this over-publicity to opening of locks is most likely a way for him to undo that image in the public.

1989: VHP (Vishwa Hindu Prasishad – formed in 1964) plans to carry Ram shilas from all over the country to Ayodhya and perform shilanyas of the temple. BJP openly supports VHP (the first time a leading political party did so).

All cases related to the title suit of the disputed site, are transferred to the Allahabd High Court.

Towards the end of the year, both Rajiv Gandhi and the state govt under Vir Bahadur Singh allow the shilanyas, justifying by stating that the site of the shilanyas is “adjacent” to the disputed site. In fact Rajiv Gandhi had kickstarted his Lok Sabha election campaign from Ayodhya this year.

The shialanyas takes place.

Congress loses election by year end and V. P. Singh becomes the new Prime Minister (Janta Dal). It’s a hung government with outside support of BJP.

Vishwanath Pratap Singh, India’s 7th Prime Minister

Some Muslims form All India Babri Masjid Action Committee (AIBMAC) – the first national level Muslim organization to agitate for a change in Allahabad High Court order from 1950s.

1989 – the third title suit is filed by Bhagwan Sri Ram Virajman (the god’s idol, also known as Ram Lalla Virajman) and Sri Ram Janmabhoomi (the birthplace). These deities are represented by their ‘next friend’, retired judge Deoki Nandan Agarwala, associated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

Indian law has long recognised that deities can be considered legal persons, and so this suit is included without batting any eyelids.

Allahabad High court clubs all the threee title cases into one – hearing would begin only in 1993 and would go on till 2002 (Godhra).

1990 – the year of the Rath Yatra

Saints associated with Ram Janambhoomi decide to resume Kar Seva. Prime Minister V. P. Singh asks them to give him four months time to solve the problem. 

V. P. Singh Govt. comes up with a resolution formula: the Babri masjid and the site can be handed over to a new Hindu trust on the condition that it would build the Ram temple without disturbing the Babri masjid. Also, a wall would be constructed between the temple and the adjusted structure.

To take this idea ahead, Krishan Kant, the then Governor of AP (would later become India’s VP) arranges meeting between Swami Jayendra Swaraswati of Kamchi Kamakoti Math and Ali Mian, a Muslim theologian from UP.

In the mean time Advani makes a statement warning the PM – “any attempt to scuttle the Kar seva would lead to the greatest mass movement independent India has eve seen”.

Four months get over, no resolution comes and VHP sets up a date for Kar Seva.

“Gains of victory needed to  be consolidated” – Advani says in his autobiography (victory = election victory).

Advani, with help of Pramod Mahajan decides to do a Rath Yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya in a way that Advani would reach Ayodhya on the same day as the date of Kar seva (30 Oct 1990). The rath is basically a decorated vehicle. In his autobiography, Advani explains it was Pramod Mahajan who suggested this idea of a “rath” after Advani shared with him that he was contemplating undertaking a pad-yatra. Narendra Modi is another key organizer (who Advani acknowledges in his autobiography).

Rath Yatra begins. It attracts a lot of attention, both on ground and in press (do the check out the Ram Ke Naam documentary that I shared earlier, to see some visuals from the time).

‘Jo Hindu ki baat karega, vahi desh pe raj karega’. I immediately stood up to affirm that BJP represents every citizen of India irrespective of whether he is a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian or a Prasi or any other faith.

L. K. Advani, My country my life

There is no major communal violence in the Rath Yatra route itself. But there are many instances of riots in various other parts of the country.

In the mean time, V. P. Singh Govt is considering a new resolution formula – the central Govt can acquire both ~70 acres of undisputed land and ~2.5 acres of disputed land of the proposed temple complex, then hand over the undisputed land to Kar Sevaks, retain with it the masjid (in as-is condition) + 30 ft area around the masjid, and ask Supreme Court to settle the disputed land area (2.5 acres) – on which the masjid stands.

The SC would be asked to consider its judgment based on whether a temple (not necessarily Ram temple) ever existed where the masjid now exists. As per Advani, V. P. singh accepts this proposal at first. Central govt. decides to work on an ordinance to this effect. V. P. Singh’s Govt. even holds a press conference to announce about this ordinance. But within a day, the Govt. withdraws the ordinance. Apparently, Mulayam Singh Yadav (then CM of U.P) opposed this formula. As a result, BJP withdraws support to V. P. Singh Govt.

“Tens and thousands of devotees from all over country started to arrive in Ayodhya for the scheduled Kar Seva” – Advani.

Towards the last phase of the Yatra, Lalu Yadav, the CM of Bihar arrests Advani. He is released after 5 weeks.

Kar Seva happens in Ayodhya. Police fires at devotees. Some Kar sevaks climb atop the mosque to destroy it but are unsuccessful. 50+ people die.

V. P. Singh loses Vote of Confidence in Parliament and Chandrashekhar becomes the new PM. “He made the most sincere and consistent efforts to final  negotiated solution to the problem” – Advani.

New negotiations with AIBMAC begin. As per Advani, they initially agree for masjid relocation if it can be proved that a temple existed there earlier. But they later change their condition – they would agree for relocation only when it can be proved that there was specifically a “Ram temple” and not just any temple.

1991 – from Kalyan Singh’s land acquisition to Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination

Kalyan Singh of BJP becomes the CM of UP. Immediately after becoming the CM, he, with his colleagues, “visited Ayodhya and took a vow to construct Ram temple there itslef”, as per CBI chargesheet to be filed later.

Later that year, the state government of Kalyan Singh acquires 2.77 acres of land around the Masjid complex under a Land Acquisition Act for the purpose of “promoting tourism”.

This acquired land is not disputed – it includes the spot where Rajiv Gandhi had allowed shilanyas to be performed in 1989). 80% of this 2.77 acres has in fact been acquired from VHP (who had over time acquired the land by “gift” or purchase from original land-owners). The Ram ke Nam documentary also indicates the possibility of corruption and fraud in the entire VHP land purchase business (unaccounted for sources of money).

AIBMAC challenges the land acquisition in the Allahabad High Court – the court asks the Govt. to not make any permanent structure of the land.

Chandrashekhar’s Govt. falls.

Rajiv Gandhi is assassinated.

Congress comes back to power in the centre and PV Narasimha Rao is the new PM.

A 17 day kar seva takes place in Ayodhya. PM invites the sants for discussion. “He assured them he expected the problem to be solved within four months and requested them to discontinue the kar seva” – Advani.

The sants stop the kar seva. But no resolution happens in four months. The sants restart the kar seva.

1992 – the year the Babri Masjid is demolished by Kar Sevaks

In July 1992, the Sangh Parivar lays the foundation for the proposed Ram temple by digging around the Babri Masjid and filling the area with 10-foot thick layer of reinforced cement concrete. This is in spite of the fact that the year before Allahabad High Court had asked the State Govt. to not make any permanent structure of the land.

Kalyan Singh’s government calls it a “platform” for performing bhajans while the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) declares it as the foundation for Ram temple.

Allahabad High Court begins hearing on the title dispute.

In the mean time in Delhi, Kamal Nath (working for PM) proposes to Advani a new solution. Central Govt. can acquire land needed to build Ram Temple and pass it to RJB Nyas on the condition that mosque not be touched till a judicial verdict. Advani agrees. Advani later realizes that Kamal Nath doesn’t have PM Narasimha Raos’ approval on this solution.

Advani and Murali Manohar Joshi start a new yatra (one starting from Varanasi, another from Mathura). In the mean time over 1 lakh “Ram Bhakts” have arrived in Ayodhya.

The Indian Express photographer Praveen Jain caputures secret videos and photos that show the kar sevaks have taken some training to execute demolitoin.

Below is Atal Behari Vajapayee saying in Luckow, a day before the demolition – “the ground at the site must be levelled” (althouh in a clever indirect manner).

06 Dec 1992: Advani makes a spirited speech from the Ram Katha Kunj, few hundred meters from the site and charges up the sevaks who then climb atop the Babri Masjid and bring it down. None of the BJP leaders who were present, including Advani makes any effort to stop them. Upon demolition, they distribute sweets.

Kalyan Singh resigns and President’s rule is imposed by evening. Kar sevaks continue building a make shift temple over the night and safely place the idols inside the make shift temple.

Advani leaves Ayodhya for Lucknow.

Within half an hour of our departure from Ayodhya, our car was stopped by the police. On seeing that the car carried Pramod Mahajan and me, a senior officer of the UP Govt. walked up to us said ‘Advaniji, kuch bacha to nahi na? Bilkul saaf kar diya na’

Those who took Hindu concerns and aspirations for granted, and tried to thwart them through an endless process of political machinations and judicial delays, got an answer which they will hopefully not forget.

Advani in his autobiography.

More than 2,000 people are killed in the riots following the demolition. Riots break out in many major Indian cities including Mumbai, Bhopal, Delhi and Hyderabad.

PM charges the leaders of the temple movement with conspiracy, criminal intent and perfidy. Advani claims the demolition was not pre-planned (but if you watch the interviews and the slogans as documented in the Ram ke Naam documentary that was shot before the demolition, the threat to demolition is real and talked about by many).

Govt. orders arrest of the top leaders including Advani, imposes ban on VHP, RSS, Bajrang Dal, Jamait-e-Islami hind and the Islamic Sevak Sangh and sets up Liberhan Commission to enquire into the incident.

The best compilation of all the video footage from around the demolition time that I have found on the internet.

1993: Liberhan Commission begins its investigation after 3 months of being setup (which will go on for 17 years).

In the meantime, central Govt. releases a White Paper giving official version of the Ayodhya events leading to the demolition of Babri Masjid. It holds Kalyan Singh’s govt responsible for it because of his instruction to the police ‘not to use force’.

Allahabad High Court allows pilgrims to have darshan of Ram Lalla at the makeshift temple.

In his appearance before the Liberhan Commission, Narsimha Rao is asked why the Centre did not request the Allahabad High Court for an early verdict on the UP Govt’s land acquisition matter. His reply was – “How could the Central Govt. make any sure request even if it wanted to , when it was not a party to the proceedings before the Allahabad High Court.

L. K. Advani from his Autobiography

The President of India orders acquisition of some land parcel around the disputed site and refers the matter to the Supreme Court.

PM Vajpayee / CM Modi

2001: Dharam Sansad at the Maha Kumbh held at Prayag adopts a resolution urging removal of “all hurdles” in the way by 12 March 2002 – the day of Mahashivaratri.

2002: Leaders of the temple movement begin a 100 day purnaahuti yagna in Ayodhya. Advani is the home minister (Vajpayee the PM). Three days later, 58 persons, many kar sevaks die by fire in train in Godhra. Hindu Muslim riots ensue, many die – under the governance of CM Narendra Modi.

Allahabad High Court begins the title dispute hearing.

Supreme Court prohibits religious activity of any kind by anyone either symbolic or actual and also forbids the Govt. of India from handing over any part of the acquired land to anyone.

2003 – the year of the ASI findings

By the order of the High Court, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is asked to conduct an in-depth study and an excavation to ascertain whether the type of structure that was beneath the rubble indicates definite proof of a temple under the mosque.

The remnants are found to have more resemblance to a Shiva temple. In the words of ASI researchers, they discover “distinctive features associated with… temples of north India”. Their conclusion would later be questioned by the archaeologists who are observers on behalf of the Sunni Waqf Board, during the excavation.

ASI offers no explanation for discovery of animal bones and glazed pottery at the site during excavation.

Udit Raj’s Buddha Education Foundation would claim later that the structure excavated by ASI was a Buddhist stupa, destroyed during and after the Muslim invasion of India.

2004: Manmohan Singh becomes the PM

2005: The make shift temple is attacked by five Lashkar-e-taiba terrorists. They are all shot dead.

2009: The Liberhan Commission finally submits its report after 17 years

The Commission indicts 68 people for the demolition, including a number of BJP leaders (Advani, Vajpayee, Murali Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharathi, Kalyan Singh). The report states that the then CM Kalyan Singh had appointed officers to the area who were less likely to act to prevent the demolition.

At the site of the then disputed temple, the Uttar Pradesh police and the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) were placed outside the structure, while the Central Reserve Police Force was inside. On the very first evening, I spotted a PAC constable shouting “Jai Shri Ram” slogans along with kar sevaks barely a few metres away from the disputed structure.

As I moved through the holy town wearing a two-day stubble and soiled clothes, I interacted with many PAC men. Always, I was treated with respect, even deference. One night some kar sevaks and I spent hours chatting with a group of PAC personnel. “We are solidly behind you. Don’t worry,” said a policeman. “If we are ordered on December 6 to attack you, we will lay down our arms and join you,” reassured another. “Come what may, we will force the paramilitary to surrender,” said a third.

Sanjay Kaw – The Asian Age (source)

The LC report also states that the demolition was “neither spontaneous nor unplanned”.

2010: the first verdict

Two archeologists – Supriya Varma and Jaya Menon who were observers during the excavation on behalf of the Sunni Waqf Board, claim that the ASI violated ethical codes and procedures during the excavation. In a paper published in the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), they challenge the methods used in collecting evidence and its interpretation. They also tell the Allahabad High Court that the excavation did not find anything that supported ASI’s conclusion. You can read more about the contradictions to ASI findings here.

The Allahabad High Court pronounces its verdict on four title suits relating to the Ayodhya dispute – land to be divided into three equal parts to Ram Lalla (represented by Hindu Maha Sabha), Sunni Wakf Board and Nirmohi Akhara.

The Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha and Sunni Waqf Board move to the Supreme Court of India, challenging part of the Allahabad High Court’s verdict.

2011: Supreme Court of India stays the High Court order and says that status quo will remain. 

2017: a special CBI court frames criminal conspiracy charges against Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti, Vinay Katiyar, and several others.

2019 – the final verdict

SC forms a 3 member mediation panel headed by former SC judge FMI Kalifulla. The panel fails to resolve the dispute. A 5-judge Constitution bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, of Supreme Court then starts the final hearing on the case.

Sixty years after the start of the land title hearing in Indian courts, a final verdict is given.

SC orders the disputed land to be handed over to a trust to build the Ram temple. It also orders the government to give 5 acres of land inside Ayodhya city limits to the Sunni Waqf Board for the purpose of building a mosque.

2020 – the year of the corona virus

Additional sources:

Full text of the 2019 Supreme Court verdict