Babri Revisits Congress, Pranab Mukherjee Blames P V Narasimha Rao

Even as he admits Rajiv erred in opening the temple site.

New Delhi : This has been the long held view within the Congress party. Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao had bungled the situation that finally led to the demolition of the Babri Majid on December 6, 1992. Now this view gets official credence in President Pranab Mukherjees memoirs – ‘The Turbulent Years (1980-96).’

But at the same time Pranab also admits that the opening of Ram Janmabhoomi temple site in Ayodhya was an “error of judgment” by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

In four telling paragraphs, Mukherjee, a regular diary writer, has nailed Rao. He has written: “There are many who blame PV (then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao) for the destruction of the mosque. l was not in the Cabinet at that time and, therefore, not part of the decision-making regarding the Babri Masjid issue.

However, I believe the Government of lndia was confronted with a Hobson’s choice. It did not have many options. The central government could not dismiss an elected state government simply because it was apprehensive that the latter might not fulfill its obligation to maintain the safety of the Babri Masjid. The UP government had given a solemn assurance not only in meetings of the National Integration Council, but also through an affidavit to the Supreme Court. People argue in hindsight that the central government should have dismissed the state government under Article 356. But this is wisdom in hindsight. How could President’s rule be approved by Parliament? The Congress party did not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha.

The inability to prevent the demolition of the Babri Masjid was one of PV’s biggest failures. He should have entrusted the task of tough negotiations with other political parties to a more senior and seasoned politician familiar with politics in UP – like ND Tiwari.

Home Minister SB Chavan was an able negotiator but could not fully grasp the emotive aspects of the emerging situation. Rangarajan Kumaramangalam worked sincerely but was young, relatively inexperienced and a first-time Minister of State.

Later, in a private meeting with PV, I did not mince words. I burst out, ”Was there no one who advised you of the dangers? Did you not understand the global repercussions of any damage to the Babri Masjid? At least now take concrete steps to quell communal tensions and assuage the feelings of Muslims through affirmative action.”

PV looked at me as I said this, and in his characteristic style did not let any emotion cross his face. But I had known and worked with him for several decades. I did not need to read his face. I could feel his sadness and disappointment.”

Mukherjee is not the first writer to lay the blame at Rao’s doorsteps. In his memoirs journalist Kuldip Nayar wrote: “My information was that Rao had connived at the demolition. He sat at puja when the kar sevaks began pulling down the mosque and rose only when the last stone had been removed.” However, these narratives have been denied by Rao’s son P.V. Ranga Rao who has maintained: “It is unbelievable and untenable… There is no way my father would have done so. He was in anguish when the Babri structure was demolished, for he loved Muslims… He told us many times that it should not have happened.”

It is believed that Rao was in favour of the destruction of the Babri Masjid as it would lead to the end of the long standing dispute.

Pranab also describes the demolition of Babri Masjid as an act of “absolute perfidy” that destroyed India’s image. “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.

 Never Aspired To Be PM

But Mukherjee has also talked of other controversial aspects of his political career, including his as yet unrealised desire to be the country’s prime minister. He has tried to settle at rest long-standing speculation about his aspiring to become interim Prime Minister after Indira Gandhi’s assassination and termed these stories as “false and spiteful”. He has written: “Many stories have been circulated that I aspired to be the interim Prime Minister, that I had staked claim and had to be persuaded otherwise. And that this created misgivings in Rajiv Gandhi’s mind. These stories are completely false and spiteful.”

He has added: “When I learnt of my ouster from the Cabinet, I was shell-shocked and flabbergasted. I could not believe it. But I composed myself, and sat alongside my wife as she watched the swearing-in ceremony on television.’’

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