New Delhi: The opening of Ram Janmabhoomi temple site in Ayodhya was an “error of judgement” by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the demolition of Babri Masjid an act of “absolute perfidy” that destroyed India’s image, President Pranab Mukherjee has said in his memoir released today.
“The opening of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple site on 1 February 1986 was perhaps another error of judgement. people felt these actions could have been avoided,” the President has written in the book titled “The Turbulent Years: 1980-96”, released by Vice President Hamir Ansari.
“The demolition of Babri Masjid was an act of absolute perfidy…It was the senseless, wanton destruction of a religious structure, purely to serve political ends. It deeply wounded the sentiments of the Muslim community in India and abroad. It destroyed India’s image as a tolerant, pluralistic nation,” he says.
Mukherjee says implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations “contributed to reducing social injustice in society though it also divided and polarised different sections of our population”.
The period of 1989-91, Mukherjee says, was a phase dominated by violence and bitter divisions within Indian society. “Insurgency and cross border terrorism broke out in Jammu and Kashmir; the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir-Babri Masjid issue rocked the nation. Finally, a suicide bomber brought Rajiv’s life to an abrupt and tragic end on 21 May 1991,” he says.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s campaign by mobilising activists to collect bricks from all over the country and take them in a procession to Ayodhya caused communal tension, he said.
Recalling the Shah Bano case, the President says Rajiv Gandhi’s action eroded his image of a modern man. “Rajiv’s actions on the Shah Bano judgement and the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Bill drew criticism and eroded his modern image,” the President said.
Shah Bano, a Muslim mother of five children, was divorced by her husband in 1978. She filed a criminal suit in which the Supreme Court ruled in her favour and she won the right to alimony from her husband.
However, the then Congress government, enacted the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986. The most controversial provision of the Act was that it gave a Muslim woman the right to maintenance for the period of iddat (about three months) after the divorce, and shifted the onus of maintaining her to her relatives or the Wakf Board. The Act was seen as discriminatory as it denied divorced Muslim women the right to basic maintenance which women of other faiths had recourse to under secular law.
Mukherjee says Rajiv Gandhi has been criticised for his excessive reliance on some close friends and advisers who installed the so-called ‘babalog’ government. “Some of them turned out to be fortune seekers.”
The Bofors issue proved to be one of the causes for Rajiv Gandhi’s undoing in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections, though no charge has been substantiated against him till date, Mukherjee writes. He says V P Singh earned fame as “messiah” for his government’s decision to implement the Mandal Commission’s recommendations for quotas to Other Backward Classes in government jobs and central universities.
The move, he says, reduced social injustice but left the country “divided and polarised”. Mukherjee says during 1980-1996 India emerged stronger from these challenges.
“The reforms of the 1980s, though limited in scope, were precursors to the systematic policy narrative of the 1990s. In all, they yielded rich dividends for the country.
“During this period, India managed to surmount some challenges, kept others at bay and charted new paths. This is not to say that some of those challenges won’t reappear or that newer ones won’t emerge-but we did not give up on the idea of India our Constituent Assembly had left us with,” he says.