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Published in the 1-15 Feb 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

INTERVIEW: Hashim Ansari 
‘‘Political atmosphere polluted by Congress’ 

Hashim Ansari is the main plaintiff of Babri Masjid title suit and has appeared as a witness before the court in the same case. Rizvi Syed Haider Abbas examines his role in the campaign

Tahir MahoodWhat was the political atmosphere of Ayodhya and Faizabad in 1949?
The political atmosphere was polluted by Congress chief minister Govind Ballabh Pant who brought up a little known [Baba Raghav Das] against an internationally renowned personality Acharya Narendra Dev. GB Pant also rejected attempts of several local Muslims asking for an assurance that the religious status quo of Babri Masjid would not be disturbed. He instead intimated that his sympathies lied with the Hindu side of the dispute.

Were you present yourself?
I was 27 years old then and remember how Baba Raghav Das was spitting venom against Muslims. His speeches were laced with poison because Muslims were supporting Acharya Narendra Dev who unfortunately lost by a small margin of about 1000 votes. Ram Manohar Lohia. Aruna Asif Ali, Jay Prakash Narain all campaigned for him.

How did the scene converge on the Babri Masjid?
I have offered namaz [prayers] in Babri Masjid between 1938 to 1949. I can clearly recollect that Muslims were extremely resentful of the step by the magistrate of Faizabad who had made a Muslim constable bring some Muslims and forced them to sign a statement that not more than 50 people could offer namaz at a time in the Babri Masjid. I along with 50 others offered the last Isha [night prayers] in Babri Masjid on 22 Dec 1949 which was presided by Maulvi Ghaffar. Farooq Ahmad [still alive] had put the lock after consulting with the kotwal Ram Deo Dubey. The same night idols were installed by scaling the wall and breaking the lock of Babri Masjid by Abhay Ram Das of Nirmohi Akhara. On 23 Dec 1949 at 10:30 am a radio message by district magistrate KKK Nayar was sent. It spoke, ‘A few Hindus entered Babri Masjid at night when the masjid was deserted and installed a deity there.’ 

What was the scene next morning?
We saw a huge collection of senior police officers who assured us that the idols would be removed. We had gathered to offer Juma [Friday congregation] prayers but once after the prayer time had elapsed we were told to disperse as that would disturb the peace. The next day the mosque was put under section 144 Cr. P.C 

Who do you think is responsible for it?
This could happen only with the tacit support of GB Pant and active connivance of DM KKK Nayar. Nayar was notoriously pro-Hindu and a member of Rashtriya Swamsevak Sangh [RSS]. The other civil servant Guru Datta Singh who was the city magistrate of Faizabad-cum-Ayodhya was also a part of Nayar’s ploy and he too was a RSS member. Actually, after the surreptitious smuggling of idols inside the mosque, Muslims had started gathering and both the officers feared that a communal riot may ensue. The duo went to Babu Priyadatta Ram, the chairman of municipal board and begged him to intervene to ward-off any communal confrontation. They admitted before him that they had been forced to plant the idols but had not expected the calamitous consequences of their deed. Priyadatta Ram put the mosque in the custody of municipality and the litigation was allowed to go and which is still continuing. 

How did your role start?
In 1954, I gave a notice to the government that the Babri Masjid was our place of worship and that we would offer Juma-tul-wida [last Friday prayers of Ramadhan]. Eight days before that day I again gave a notice and found the government had clamped 144 Cr.P.C and had made an assembly of five unlawful, hence, we made groups of three and proceeded towards the mosque. When we were about 150 yards from the Babri Masjid we were greeted with a brutal lathi [baton] charge which broke my leg. I along with 101 boys were sentenced to six-months imprisonment for breaking the law and Rs. 500 as fine for saying Allah-o-Akbar [God is great] and in the condition of non-payment, a further jail of 50 days. 

What happened later?
No Muslim from outside Ayodhya was allowed to enter and we were left helpless from all sides. We did not pay the fine and hence our property was attached. Session judge on our appeal reduced the term to two months and Rs. 50 as fine. We remained in jail for 1 month and 28 days but did not pay the fine. 

How did you enter into the legal battle?
This tragedy would never have befallen had the strength of Muslims not been divided by migration to Pakistan. Muslims those days were under a fear psychosis and thought that since the mosque was waqf property it was obliged to protect it but in reality the government was saving and safeguarding the idols. In Jan 1950, Gopal Singh Visharad, a resident of Rajasthan went to court asking for permission for puja as idols were kept there. In 1952 Ram Chandra Paramhans and in 1954 Nirmohi Akhara filed the suits. The Muslims who were named [Haji Pheku, Mohd Faiq, Zahoor Ahmad, Ahmad Husain and Mohd Sami] did not go to the court. It was then that I gave an application to the city magistrate saying that I should be made a party. After eleven and a half years [as twelve years make adverse possession] Waqf Board filed the suit under Faizabad civil judge in 1961. 

What made you visit Lucknow this time?
Unfortunately, all the accused for the demolition of Babri Masjid are yet to have the charges framed against them. On 19 Sep 2003 the main accused LK Advani has even been exonerated of the conspiracy charge of demolishing the Babri Masjid by a special judicial magistrate. I am here to assist the court and see that discharge of LK Advani by the magistrate was a bad judgement. The date for the hearing has been fixed on Jan 28.

You are now almost in the last days of your struggle for Babri Masjid. Do you have any message for the Muslims of India?
Hamara khoon bhi shamil hai iski mitti mein/kisi ke baap ka Hindustan thori hee hai, Allah-o-Akbar [Our blood is also a constituent of its soil/ No one can exclusively claim Hindustan to be his fatherland, God is Great].

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