Diary of a journalist: Post-Ayodhya riots and immediately thereafter in Madhya Pradesh

Lalit Shastri

Bhopal 6th December, 1992: It was just past the twilight hour when the news had spread in the capital of the Central Indian State of Madhya Pradesh that the Babri Masjid structure in Ayodhya had been razed to the ground by the Kar Sevaks. This happened when BJP stalwarts like LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, joined by firebrand saffron clad Uma Bharti and Pramod Mahajan were leading a stir for Ram Temple at Shree Ram Janmabhoomi.

Nothing happened that night. Next morning, 7 December 1992, the ordinary citizens had taken it as yet another routine day. The children were off to their schools and colleges at the regular hour and others also left home for work. It was between 10 am and 11 am that the old city was rocked by a flash riot. Armed mobs had gone berserk in different parts of the city. They caused heavy damage to property and indulged in large-scale arson and violence. For both children and everyone else, who were caught in the midst of riot, returning safely home was a nightmare that day.

On 7 December, I had visited the then State DG of Police DK Arya at the Police headquarters to interview him for The Hindu and ask him what had been done to preempt the riot and control the situation. The DG, who had chosen to remain oblivious of developments, was teeing off at the local Sultania Infantry Golf Course, when the Babri structure came crumbling down, told me during that meeting that he had asked his wife why there was no Azaan to be heard from the neighbourhood mosque that morning (7 December) and she had replied: “maybe the Muslims are protesting the demolition”. That’s all the State DGP had to reveal when asked about the preparation by the police for maintaining law and order and also the intelligence inputs.

The rest is history. Like many cities across the country, riots had erupted in major urban centres of Madhya Pradesh like Bhopal, Indore, Jabalpur and Gwalior. The result was the democratically elected Madhya Pradesh Government led by Sunderlal Patwa was dismissed.

Few months down the line, during President’s Rule, the then Madhya Pradesh Governor Kunwar Mehmood Ali Khan had started interfering directly in the postings and transfers of SHOs/Inspectors at the Police station level in Bhopal where there was no dearth of FIRs against the rioters, who had taken to the streets on the demolition of the Babri structure and the Kar Sevaks who also chose to strike back when they returned from Ayodhya.

I had done an exclusive news item revealing how the Governor was bent upon “communalising the Bhopal police stations by posting Muslim SHOs there”.

My report in The Hindu on 16 July 1993 highlighting this issue resulted in the Governor’s summary removal at the initiative of the then Prime Minister PV Narsimharao. That day before leaving on a 3-day tour of UAE, the PM had read and marked my report with instructions that it be presented to him on his return. The clipping of my story was placed before the Prime Minister when he returned and on July 23 1993, the Governor was sacked.

Earlier on 15 December 1992, the democratically elected Madhya Pradesh government led by Sunderlal Patwa was dismissed due to the failure on its part to prevent post-Ayodhya riots from spreading in Madhya Pradesh, whereas the top officials, including the then State Chief Secretary Nirmala Buch and Director General of Police DK Arya, who were monitoring the riot situation from the Control Room in the State capital and briefing the media on a day-to-day basis, kept rising the ladders of success in their respective careers.

After the dismissal of the Patwa Government, the Governor had announced the setting up of a one-person Inquiry Committee headed by the then Secretary GAD Sushma Nath to go into the acts of omission and commission leading to the riots and flaring up of the riot situation. The very next day my report was published in The Hindu questioning the Inquiry headed by a secretary level IAS officer into a matter involving even the State Chief Secretary and DGP since both of them had been monitoring the riot situation and issuing instructions. The Governor had acted positively on this and the day this report came in print, he disbanded the Sushma Nath Committee and appointed in its place a Judicial Panel. The next day, there was another report by me in The Hindu asserting the need to remove both the Chief Secretary and the DGP for the sake of objective and fair inquiry. The Governor that afternoon called members of the press to Raj Bhawan and announced the removal of both the the Chief Secretary and the State Police chief.

From Raj Bhawan, when I drove straight to the office of the then Commissioner Public Relations (CPR) OP Rawat, who later rose to become the Chief Election Commissioner of India, he told me that Advisor to the Governor, Brahmswarup (a former State Chief Secretary) had just left his office and was there to direct him not to issue a press statement on what the Governor had announced at his press briefing. Rawat went on to inform me that he had asked Brahmswarup to give the instruction in writing but he had declined and left in a huff. The next moment Rawat pulled out a press note and handed it to me and that was the big story of the day.

Later, after I had left Rawat’s office, a press note was issued stating that orders for changing the Chief Secretary and DGP had not been issued and sources in the Directorate of Public relations had revealed that this was on the basis of formal orders issued by Brahmswarup.

Nothing happened and there was absolute lull for the next few days as Brahmswarup was adamant and had refused to implement the Governor’s order for the removal of the Chief Secretary and DGP. During that period, few state Congress party bigwigs, including the Congress satrap from Indore Mahesh Joshi, were regularly seen strutting around the corridors of Mantralaya. They had a vested interest in maintaining status quo as they wanted to run the government during President’s rule with the help of the entrenched bureaucracy. Joshi had openly told media-persons then, “let’s see how the Governor implements his order”. In these circumstances, the Governor had a couple of rounds of discussions with the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao and Home Minister SB Chavan. He even divested Brahmswarup of the General Administration portfolio and rushed to Delhi to discuss the matter.

January 1, 1993: The Hindu news clipping

On 31 December 1992, one sat down and did a brainstorming piece for The Hindu. It appeared in print the next day (1 January 1993) with the title: “Madhya Pradesh stalemate continues”. It talked of the constitutional authority of the Governor and the role of the Advisors during President’s Rule. That morning the Governor was instructed by the Home Minister to implement his own order (as told to me by the Governor himself). The Governor drove to Vallabh Bhawa (Manrtalaya), occupied the Chief MInister’s chair, and implemented removal of the State Chief Secretary and DGP.

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