Ayodhya lodged itself permanently in the national consciousness with the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. The destruction of the mosque was the climax of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement that has been at the heart of Indian politics for a quarter century since the BJP first campaigned on the promise of building a Ram temple at the site of the mosque. The demolition was followed by large-scale riots that killed thousands of people and permanently communalized the polity of the country.
In the first section of the book, the author tells the complex story of a city holy to many faiths—Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Jainism. Through a comparative analysis of the various versions of the Ramayana in which it features, Valay Singh goes back almost 3,300 years in time to when Ayodhya is first mentioned. He then traces its history showing its transformation from being an insignificant outpost to a place sought out by kings, fakirs, renouncers and reformers. He looks at the propagation of an aggressive Hindu cultural and religious consciousness in the city that was exacerbated during the period in which the East India Company became a military power in north India in the eighteenth century.
The second section seeks to bring together the disparate events and developments after India’s Independence in 1947 that were responsible for launching Ayodhya to centre stage in Indian politics and the political imagination. This section goes deep into the violent years leading up to the demolition and its aftermath through which the right wing gained decisive ground in electoral politics.