In this series, we travel back to the turbulent 1990s to see what impact the Ram Janmabhoomi movement had on south India. We found that Karnataka was as enthusiastic then as it is now about militant Hindutva. But the other states in the region weren’t entirely immune to the flames of hate.
During a dharam sansad – a religious parliament of Hindu leaders – held in 1989 by the Vishva Hindu Parishad, it was decided that bricks would be collected from villages and towns across India, to be used in the construction of a Ram temple they wanted in place of the 16th century Babri Masjid at Ayodhya. It was three years later that thousands of kar sevaks (volunteers of Hindu outfits) climbed on top of the ancient mosque in Uttar Pradesh and tore it down. But in 1989, when the mosque was still standing, the bricks campaign ended up collecting money to the tune of Rs 8,29,31,000. Interestingly, more than Rs 1 crore came from the southern states. It appears that though people in south India may not have participated much in the Ram temple movement, they still helped by sending money and materials for the temple.
After years of legal battle for and against the building of a Ram temple at the site of the demolished mosque, a 2019 Supreme Court ruling allowed a trust formed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led Union government to go ahead with the temple construction. Four years later, with the temple consecration coming up on January 22, we look at the role played by Kerala in one of the most violent acts of the last century in India.
Of the Rs 8.29 crore collected in 1989 for the temple construction, Andhra Pradesh (before the bifurcation) donated Rs 50 lakh, Karnataka Rs 51 lakh, Kerala Rs 9.33 lakh, and Tamil Nadu Rs 7 lakh, says Valay Singh, author of Ayodhya: City of Faith, City of Discord. Asked about the Kerala connection to the temple movement, he dug out these figures and the role of KKK Nair, who was the district magistrate of Faizabad in 1949.
KKK Nair, a Malayali from Kerala’s Alappuzha, had been instrumental in letting an idol of Ram remain inside the mosque after it was forcibly implanted by a group of local sadhus on the night of December 22-23, 1949. Nair as the senior most government officer of the district let it remain there long enough for a suit to be filed in court to allow Hindus to worship there, Valay Singh writes in his book.
Other than that, Kerala had little role to play in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, though there were some leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP active on the ground.
O Rajagopal, the only BJP leader to have won an Assembly seat in Kerala so far [in 2016], says that he and other prominent figures of the RSS and the BJP had not participated in the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992. Neither was there any known participation of the Kerala leaders in the Ram Rath Yatra of 1990, led by then BJP president LK Advani, propagating the idea of building a Ram temple in place of the mosque in Ayodhya. The Yatra had not passed through Kerala, Valay says.
Rajagopal, now 94, however, speaks of a yatra that he had taken part in along with the BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi, in parts of Kerala and Karnataka. This could possibly be the 1991 Ekta Yatra, led by Joshi and similar in nature to the Rath Yatra, which travelled from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. Rajagopal tells TNM that he was in charge of the yatra in Kerala and Karnataka. Narendra Modi, the current Prime Minister, was Murli Manohar’s assistant at the time, he adds.
“Stones and bricks were sent in vehicles headed to Ayodhya for the construction of a temple, but few from Kerala went to take part in the movement in 1990 or 1992. The movement was spearheaded by the VHP and the RSS everywhere. In Kerala, all the organised efforts taken by the CPI(M) and the Congress – the two parties who have been leading governments alternatively in the state – are for other causes such as raising worker wages. No one makes any effort for nationalistic causes,” Rajagopal laments sitting at his house in Thiruvananthapuram, a board on the door declaring: Ex MLA, Nemom.
Other Sangh leaders in Kerala, such as KG Marar and P Parameswaran, also did not go, he says. “They would speak about the need for the Ram Mandir in their discourses, but neither travelled to Ayodhya for the movement,” Rajagopal says, adding vaguely that a counsellor from Palakkad called Natesan had mentioned going.
Valay Singh says that the barriers of geography, language, and culture may have distanced the southern states from the movement. “There is also the distance between Hindus in the north and south, and in Kerala’s case, the diversity in politics and political movements led to the Sangh not having a big presence in the state. These are the indicators of literacy, overall socio economic development and progress of the state. Also, how much will people identify with this far little town, thousands of kilometres away. Back then there was no social media or satellite TV, and there were language barriers. It can also be considered a failure of the VHP and the Ram temple movement that it could not broaden itself in the south beyond parts of Karnataka.”
“Three of us did manage to go, because we went many days ahead to prepare the ground. I was there both for the karseva (volunteer work) of 1990 and for the demolition of the ‘controversial structure’ in 1992,” says Viswan Papa, leader of Ayyappa Seva Samajam, an organisation of Ayyappa devotees associated with the Sangh Parivar.
Viswan Papa claims that about 2,500 people had started for Ayodhya from Kerala in 1990 for the karseva but not everyone could reach because of the strict measures, including curfews and barricades along the route, put in place by the then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mulayam Singh. In ’92, about 500 people went from Kerala, and it was smoother that time because the Chief Minister was the BJP’s Kalyan Singh, Viswan adds.
Before that, in 1986, water from River Ganga was distributed in the temples of Kerala, as in the rest of the country, says historian KN Ganesh. “The RSS in Kerala played a role in mobilising the karsevaks to send them to Ayodhya. BJP and RSS leaders like Kummanam Rajasekharan and R Hari were active in these campaigns. But the movement was not so big in Kerala because the opposition to the campaign was really strong,” he says.
Historian MG Shashibhooshan says that while the Left parties in the state were opposed to the movement, the Congress also showed no interest.
Even though they did not go to Ayodhya, prominent leaders of the BJP and the RSS in Kerala are believed to have worked on the ground. RSS veterans Parameswaran and R Hari, former BJP state president KG Marar, and PP Mukundan – all deceased now – who held various positions in the RSS and BJP were active at the time. So were O Rajagopal as well as S Sethumadhavan, a former Prantha Pracharak (regional head) of the RSS.
Parameswaran, who died a nonagenarian in 2020, had organised a ‘Vishala Hindu Sammelanam’ (huge gathering of Hindus) in 1982 when he brought together all Hindu organisations in Kerala. He had popularised the practice of reciting the Ramayana for the entire Malayalam month of Karkidakam, bringing the epic of Ram closer to Hindu households in the state.
R Hari, who passed away in October 2023, had authored and translated books in multiple languages, including Gujarati, Sanskrit, and Hindi. Among these is a 12-volume series compiling the teachings of RSS ideologue MS Golwalkar. Marar and Rajagopal had both been defensive of the Babri Masjid demolition. Mukundan, a mentor to many of the state’s Sangh leaders, had organised a ‘Hindu Maha Sammelanam’ (grand gathering of Hindus) in 1991, a year before the demolition. K Raman Pillai, another BJP veteran from Kerala, is also believed to have played a role in campaigning for the Ram temple.
However, it was more a movement of the ordinary workers from the RSS and the VHP in the villages of Kerala than that of leaders, says Ayyappa Das, a state leader of the RSS. “South India did not give the same prominence to the Ram temple as north India. That is because here we give more importance to Ayyappa,” he adds.
About 100 people from Kerala are travelling to Ayodhya to take part in the consecration ceremony. Twenty-five of them are sanyasis, says Ayyappa Das, who is also one of the organisers.