AYODHYA, Uttar Pradesh — Twenty-six years after 1992, it is not the wreckage of the Babri Masjid that Vijay Shankar Pandey remembers, but the deathly stillness of a nearby Muslim settlement that lay waste.
“All the houses were burnt, razed to the ground, and the Muslims had fled,” said Pandey, a retired bureaucrat who was appointed district magistrate of Faizabad, where Ayodhya is located, in the immediate aftermath of the demolition.
In a recent conversation with HuffPost India, Pandey, who joined the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in 1979, seemed to be at a loss for words when speaking about the cold and foggy morning that he rushed to the scene.
“I have always believed this country wants to be secular. No one has the right to do this kind of thing,” he said.
The retired bureaucrat is now planning to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha election from the same constituency where he had the mammoth task of reestablishing law and order after kar sevaks razed the 16th century mosque, triggering the worst communal riots since the partition.
Pandey, who is often referred to as UP’s “honest” bureaucrat, and has 52 transfers to show for his lifelong crusade against corruption, is contesting from the little known and relatively new Lok Gathbandhan Party (LGP).
But he is unfazed by the competition.
Challenging the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Hindutva heartland of UP has proven too much even for regional heavyweights like the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). The arch rivals have been forced into an alliance to take on the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah-Yogi Adityanath election machine.
Not only is Pandey going up against the BJP, but he is also doing it from the nerve centre of Ram Temple politics.
The 62-year-old, who wants to usher in an era of ‘New Politics’, devoid of corruption and muscle power, believes he has no choice but to go it alone.
“The people who are ruling are absolutely rotten and corrupt. You tell me...