Dhaibat Mukherjee was just a little over three months old in 1992 when the 16th-century Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was demonlished by a Bharatiya Janata Party-led mob intent on building a Ram temple on the exact spot. The demolition, which sparked communal riots in many parts of the country, held no great significance for his family in Kolkata. “Kolkata had never witnessed any massive religious fervour or mania as far as I know,” said Mukherjee, now 26.
Mukherjee, who has a post-graduate degree in English from Jadavpur University, says he was in Class 8 when he first learned about the Babri Masjid demolition – “not from school books but [from] the internet”. Whenever it came up in conversion at home, he recalled that the general response was shock. “I remember wondering how such a thing was possible in broad daylight in a democracy,” he said. “It was such a massive failure of law enforcement. My father always said he could not believe this could happen.”
With West Bengal now a key state to conquer for the BJP – whose fortunes rose in the wake of the Ayodhya incident and its aftermath – Mukherjee, a self-proclaimed centrist with “balanced views”, is worried. More so given the party’s renewed call for a Ram temple in Ayodhya in the run-up to general elections next year.
“Be prepared for a riot-like situation regardless of the Supreme Court verdict,” he warned. The court will, in January, hear a batch of petitions challenging the Allahabad High Court’s 2010 division of the land in Ayodhya between the Nirmohi Akhara, the Sunni Wakf Board and the representative of the deity, Ram Lalla.
He added, “Why build temple and mosque when you can build school and hospital?”
While Mukherjee blames the BJP for polarising the country with its “act of hate” in 1992, he also claims to be a fan of the party’s development work since 2014. He says he grew up resenting the anti-development stance of the previous Left Front government in West Bengal and is also disillusioned with the lawlessness and corruption under the current Trinamool Congress regime. He voted for the BJP in the 2014 general elections and says he became more impressed when he observed the party’s work at the grassroots level in Bilaspur, Chhattisgarh, while working there as a probationary bank officer. “I can see how clean and well-maintained the roads here [Bilaspur] are,” he said. “Industries are growing rapidly. Politicians are visible and proactive on the ground. Crime rate is so low and roads are safer here than back home.”
However, he added that “the BJP engages in polarisation for votes” and this “will have its bad results”.
Does Mukherjee feel the Ram temple verdict will affect him?
“It surely affects me since I live in this country,” he said. Pointing to protests in the past two months against the Supreme Court’s verdict allowing women of all ages entry to Kerala’s Sabarimala temple and against its decision in 2017 to declare triple talaq unconstitutional, Mukherjee said, “In a secular democracy, religion cannot prevail over the law of the land. It would be disastrous if the Supreme Court verdict for Ram temple is overturned and something untoward happens.”
Mukherjee said he would most likely not make the same choices he had in 2014 at the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. As he put it, “One man is not the party.”
This is the seventh part in a series of articles interviewing Indians born in 1992 about the Bharatiya Janata Party’s efforts to bring its plan to build a Ram temple in Ayodhya back to the political centrestage. The first part can be read here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here, the fifth here and the sixth here.