6th December 1992 is a day I will not forget: it was a Sunday and I had gone to office at the Times of India in Mumbai for a leisurely Sunday at work. We first heard about the Babri demolition on the news wires. This was the pre television era: no 24 x 7 news to distort the senses, or indeed, to report with breathless excitement (I have often wondered whether the Narasimha Rao government could have claimed a brain fade if there had been TV coverage of the build up in that fateful week). That evening, my task was to get reactions. The local BJP and Shiv Sena leaders I spoke to were in a celebratory mood. The Congress leaders were silent and had put up a 'do not disturb' sign: when I rang up Mumbai Congress chief, Murli Deora he told me he was busy in a game of bridge (next day, I would run a headline story, 'Deora plays bridge while Mumbai burns').
To be honest, the initial uncaring response was not surprising. Ayodhya was a long away from Mumbai and somehow this was seen as a political act being played out on distant terrain. How wrong we all were. That evening, around 6 pm, we got the news of groups of people assembling in the Muslim dominated Mohammed Ali road area of South Mumbai. At 7 pm, we heard of violence and the police being called in. The area was just a few kilometres from office, so I rushed there. A young man, we were told, had been injured in the police firing. The mob was angry: 'masjid gira dee hai, Iska badla lenge,'. A Urdu editor friend of mine warned me that the next morning could be worse. 'This is not Hindu Muslim, Rajdeep, this is police versus Muslims, the people here feel that the police failed to protect the masjid from being demolished."
He was right: the next morning, the rioting and violence had spread. The initial bout of violence in Mumbai was largely police versus Muslims. A second phase of violence would begin in January, orchestrated by a deadly mix of communalism and criminalisation. The Shiv Sena saw itself as a defender of Hindus, even as the underworld and land mafias also got involved. March 1993 would be the final denouement: Dawood Ibrahim and his D company would terrorise the city with RDX. The then chief minister of Mahrashtra, Sudhakar Naik, told me a week before the blasts, 'there is a fire in our society which will continue to burn, hai thambnar nahi, (it won't stop),"
Mr. Naik was prescient. The scars of the Babri demolition continue to haunt us even today. The political class was playing with fire, society was being burnt and polarised. Those divides exist today: a society more ghettoised than ever before, a ghettoisation not just in geographical terms, but also in the mind. I look at social media today: Shaurya Diwas is the top trend on Twitter as the forces which demolished the masjid are now more vocal and powerful than ever before. As someone who was witness to the riots and the cycle of violence that followed, December 6 will always be a black day, a day we just never forget, never repeat.
Post script: a few of us journalists at The Times of India put together a book on the 1992-93 riots, When Bombay Burned. The book I am told is out of print. I hope it is reprinted one day and is read by today's India. We say 'India has moved on', but moving on doesn't mean collective amnesia. Else, we risk the danger of repeating past follies.