Continue fom “Prime Minister Who Took the Less-traveled Road ...”
There is a side of the Moon which we never
see, but that hidden half is as potent a factor
in causing the ebb and flow of the Earth’s tide
as the part of the Moon which is visible. - Max Heindel
In the latter day historical assessments both the real and supposed minuses of a leader play perhaps a more significant role than the pluses he displays. Wasn’t the Bard referring to this ironic attribute of historiography when he made Mark Antony say?
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interrèd with their bones.
And should that be with Julius Caesar, let it be with Narasimha Rao as well.
In a way, Rao’s Prime Ministership is a special specimen of the above historical irony. The very mention of Rao conjures up the ghost of Babri Masjid and India’s brigade of self-styled secularists focus on what happened on December 6, 1992 when the Kar Sevaks climbed atop the domes of the so-called Babri Masjid, which actually was then nothing more than an abandoned historical monument since no prayers were ever offered there after the supposedly miraculous appearance of statues therein.
Blow to Secularism
Nonetheless, amongst our liberal secular intellectuals - may their tribe increase - a mere mention of Narasimha Rao’s name unfailingly elicits the charge of his ‘culpability’ in the demolition of the much-prized symbol of secularism that Babri Masjid has become.
Perhaps the first to pin the responsibility personally on Rao was Kuldip Nayar, the doyen of Indian journalism. In his autobiography Beyond the Lines he says “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”. (Italics added to highlight “my information”.) He buttresses his charge by adding a dead man’s corroboration: “Madhu Limaye (late socialist leader) later told me that during the puja, Rao’s aide whispered in his ears that the masjid had been demolished. Within seconds, the puja was over”.
In his scissors-paste memoirs, “The Turbulent Years: 1980-96”, President Pranab Mukherjee, the godfather of Indian secularism, describes the inability to prevent the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992 one of P.V. Narasimha Rao’s biggest failures as prime minister. Brandishing his immaculate secular credentials President Mukherjee records:
The demolition of the Babri Masjid was an act of absolute perfidy, which should make all Indians hang their heads in shame. 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. (Italics added)
“It destroyed India’s image as a tolerant, pluralistic nation where all religions coexist in peace and harmony,” he goes on to add.
Author and lawyer A G Noorani, the present-day sole spokesman of secular Indian Muslims goes a step further. In Destruction of the Babri Masjid: A National Dishonour he also blames the supposedly secular Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) governments in Uttar Pradesh for showing little stamina and proving to be impediments in the way of pursuing cases against the accused. According to him, the then PM, PV Narasimha Rao was culpable because he knew what was happening and yet did not take any action.
Is the stigma justified? What role did Rao as Prime Minister personally play in its demolition? Or to put it differently, what action could he possibly have taken to prevent its razing to the grounds by over-zealous kar sevaks who had gathered in unmanageably large numbers on the site on that fateful Sunday, December 06, 1992?
To start with, can we wish away the atmosphere of communal tension that has ceaselessly gripped the Indian polity all through the centuries after Muslim invasions and continues to haunt us even today?
Wishing Past Away
In his write-up on D H Lawrence (in In Dyer’s Hand) W H Auden made a sardonic but very meaningful observation: “Man is a history-making creature who can neither repeat his past nor leave it behind”. (Italics added.) Our self-proclaimed secularists, in their strident march onwards, have managed miraculously to reach the present by completely bypassing the past. That past, however, is by no means a glorious chapter in the history of human tolerance to others’ religious faith and beliefs.
And that past continues to, and will haunt us until we come to understanding terms with it. Undoubtedly, the collective memories of that past include deep remorse on account of bruised self-esteem. And, whether we like it or not, that past has significantly influenced our present. We can neither wish it away nor live with it.
Robert Higgins brings out the vital implication of this past-present bond: “We do not live in the past, but the past is in us.” Yes, our past is there — it is in each living moment of the present, pursuing our memories, shaping our actions, conditioning our thoughts, influencing our psyches. And in our case, ‘the past in us’(the past of the last one thousand years) isn’t altogether a glorious past. In fact, it is a humiliating past — a past of conquests by those who managed to subjugate and rule us for centuries. The Muslim invaders came in one wave after another over-running the land, leaving behind a trail of misery and terror. Hardly had one set of conquering marauders settled down and finally got assimilated, another arrived: the Slaves, the Khiljis, the Tughlaks, the Lodhis, and the Mughals. Each bequeathed a mixed legacy that invariably included an exploitative system of administration created primarily to prop up tyrannical rule.
Can the Hindus of India forget the grueling atrocities they suffered at the hands of Muslim invaders? May I refer to that famous article of that Dutch historian; Dr. Koenraad Elst “Was There an Islamic Genocide of Hindus?” According to it:
There is no official estimate of the total death toll of Hindus at the hands of Islam. A first glance at important testimonies by Muslim chroniclers suggests that, over 13 centuries and a territory as vast as the Subcontinent, Muslim Holy Warriors easily killed more Hindus than the 6 million of the Holocaust. (The Persian historian) Ferishtha lists (in Tarikh-i Firishta) several occasions when the Bahmani sultans in central India (1347-1528) killed a hundred thousand Hindus, which they set as a minimum goal whenever they felt like punishing the Hindus; and they were only a third-rank provincial dynasty.
The biggest slaughters took place during the raids of Mahmud Ghaznavi (ca. 1000 CE); during the actual conquest of North India by Mohammed Ghori and his lieutenants (1192 ff.); and under the Delhi Sultanate (1206-1526).
Should that be not enough, take the famous testimony of Will Durant in his celebrated study, The Story of Civilisation: Our Oriental Heritage (page 459):
The Mohammedan conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history. The Islamic historians and scholars have recorded with great glee and pride the slaughters of Hindus, forced conversions, abduction of Hindu women and children to slave markets and the destruction of temples carried out by the warriors of Islam during 800 AD to 1700 AD. Millions of Hindus were converted to Islam by sword during this period.
Whatever else it might be, secularism is by no means a new anesthesia that can induce complete national amnesia. It cannot just brush clean the slate of national memories. To exorcise the ghost of a communal past riddled with recurrent tensions, did the Muslims who opted to stay back in India after having worked overtime to divide the country on basis of religion, volunteer to demolish, on their own, the mosques on three contentious sites, namely, the Gyanvapi mosque built in 1664 in Varanasi on the site of the demolished Kashi Vishwanath temple; the great mosque erected in place of Keshava Dev Temple in Mathura; and the Babri Masjid built by Babar’s general Mir Baqi, in 1528 after reportedly destroying a pre-existing temple of Rama at the site which came later to be called masjid-i-janmasthan (mosque at the birthplace) at the site of Ram temple in Ayodhya?
Above all, did the Muslims of India publicly apologize for the atrocities they committed as invaders as the Japanese have repeatedly done for their role in WWII? Should they have expressed their remorse, we could possibly have started on a firmer secular footing. One-stroke-brushing-of-the past is an utter self-delusion.
Spurred by such a past, in the 1980s, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), belonging to the mainstream Hindu nationalist family Sangh Parivar, stroked the long-smoldering fire by launching a new movement to “reclaim” the site for Hindus and to erect a temple dedicated to the infant Rama (Ramlala) at Ayodhya. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), formed in 1980 from the remnants of the Jana Sangh, became the political face of the campaign. In 1986, a district judge ruled that the gates would be reopened and Hindus permitted to worship inside, thereby providing a major boost to the movement.
And set in the above historical perspective, it’s pertinent to point out that the Babri Masjid demolition-in-making story really started not with Narasimha Rao, but with the play boy of Indian secularists i.e., Rajiv Gandhi. Let me explain.
In 1984, riding on the sympathy vote following Indira Gandhi’s assassination, Rajiv led his party to victory in the general elections. However, he soon found his government in deep troubled waters when his own finance minister, V.P. Singh, leveled serious charges of corruption against the Congress Party.
What added fuel to the fire of discontent against a beleaguered Rajiv was the Shah Bano case - the controversial case of alimony and maintenance for divorced Muslim women. Supreme Court had passed a masterpiece judgment, giving right to a Muslim woman of maintenance on monthly basis - a measure, if implemented, would have brought about profound changes in the hopelessly anachronistic Muslim Personal Law. Unfortunately, under the pressure of orthodox Muslim clergy the Rajiv Government overturned it by legislating the regressive Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986.
This measure angered the genuine secular public opinion as it was interpreted as another act of appeasement of Muslim orthodoxy.
In retaliation, BJP government in Uttar Pradesh unlocked the gates to the makeshift Ram mandir that had earlier been set up surreptitiously inside the Babri Masjid. Thereafter, the premises were locked by the court while the case was still sub judice.
In September 1990, BJP leader L. K. Advani began a “rath yatra” (pilgrimage procession) to Ayodhya in order to generate support for the movement. Advani later stated in his memoirs, “If Muslims are entitled to an Islamic atmosphere in Mecca, and if Christians are entitled to a Christian atmosphere in the Vatican, why is it wrong for the Hindus to expect a Hindu atmosphere in Ayodhya?”
The BJP withdrew its support to the V. P. Singh ministry at the centre, necessitating fresh elections. The BJP substantially increased its tally in the union parliament, as well as won a majority in the Uttar Pradesh assembly.
On December 06, 1992, the RSS and its affiliates organized a rally involving as many as 150,000 VHP and BJP kar sevaks at the site of the mosque. The ceremonies included speeches by BJP leaders such as Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti.
The mob grew restive through the duration of the speeches, and shortly around noon, a young man managed to slip past the cordon and climb the mosque itself, brandishing a saffron flag. This was seen as a signal by the mob, who then stormed the structure. The police cordon, vastly outnumbered and hopelessly unprepared for the size of the attack, found itself helpless. The mosque was attacked with a number of improvised tools, and brought to the ground in a few hours. And all this occurred despite a commitment from the state government to the Indian Supreme Court that the mosque would not be harmed.
More than 2000 people were killed in the riots following the demolition in many major Indian cities, including Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad.
Later in a 2009 report, authored by Justice Manmohan Singh Liberhan, found 68 people to be responsible for the demolition of the Masjid, mostly leaders from the BJP. Among those named were Vajpayee, Advani, Joshi and Vijay Raje Scindia. Kalyan Singh, who was then the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, also faced severe criticism in the report.
Rao’s Alleged Complicity
To deal with the charge that Narasimha Rao could have prevented the demolition of Babri Masjid and thereby prevented a irreparable damage to Indian secularism let’s examine the possible options he could have resorted to.
Before that let’s not forget maintenance of law and order is unambiguously a State subject in our Constitution and that was Rao’s major obstacle to intervene directly even he wanted to?
Therefore for argument’s sake even if Rao was convinced that Kalyan Singh was taking him for a ride and wasn’t at all sincere in his intentions to maintain rule of law in UP, he couldn’t have easily recommended to President Shankar Dayal Sharma to dismiss the Kalyan-led BJP government in UP. There is, first, the questions how to ascertain whether a person’s assurances are genuine or fake? Kalyan Singh was a new political face. His party enjoyed a clear majority in the State assembly. Would President Sharma, a sticker for constitutional propriety, have accepted Rao’s plea to dismiss Kalyan Singh on the suspicions of a possible breakdown of law and order? And suppose Rao had recommended and the president had accepted his plea, wouldn’t have BJP gone to the Supreme Court to challenge its validity? Isn’t this hypothetically possible course of action riddled with a formidable array of if’s?
Rao is unnecessarily blamed for not doing enough to prevent the demolition. Sitapati in his authoritative study Half Lion records from Rao’s hitherto unpublished personal papers which he accessed, how Rao had clearly noted down the pros and cons of imposing President’s Rule in Uttar Pradesh. “None of his cabinet ministers (like Arjun Singh and N D Tiwari) who later criticized him for not dismissing the Kalyan Singh Government, I found, (in records of Cabinet meetings) had themselves suggested that President’s Rule be imposed. There were several meetings of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs in the month preceding the demolition but there is no evidence or record that the issue was even raised.” (Italics added in Sitpati’s quotes.)
The story that Narasimha Rao was sleeping or doing pooja at the time of the demolition is, Sitapati notes, “also untrue.” Sitapati adds: “I discovered that at 12 Noon on December 6, the Intelligence Bureau had reported that everything was fine. But at 12.15 pm the information came that the first Karsewaks had scaled the wall and had started demolishing the mosque. For some time during this window, visitors were not allowed into his room and that apparently triggered the story which acquired a life of its own.”
Also, had the BJP preplanned the demolition? How can anyone level this accusation without indisputable proof? However, one thing is fairly certain. With a crowd of 150,000 kar sevaks gathered at the site no one could ensure that things don’t spin out of control. And that’s exactly what happened on that day. Breathtakingly naive is the view of Justice Liberhan who later headed the legal enquiry into the demolition case that that the “icons of the movement present [that day]... could just as easily have... prevented the demolition.”
And yet the stigma holds because Rao was the Prime Minister when the Babri Masjid was demolished. Was it entirely his fault? Was he alone responsible for it? Or, isn’t it, in legal jargon, a case of apportioning damages among multiple tortfeasors? Personally, I deem the case Who Demolished the Babri Masjid? is a political equivalent of the famous Who Killed John Doe? case which is endlessly discussed and debated in most management programs in a bid to apportion responsibility as per differing perspectives that we bring to bear upon the study of what happened, and why did it happen, and who really did it? So the jury is still out. Meanwhile, those piqued by the fact that a politician not on the approved list of the First Family could last a full term and bring into being momentous changes that shaped the future of the polity continue unjustifiably to heap the blame on Rao’s shoulders. That’s how the Lutyens City operates.
Continued to “Scams and Scandals - Controversies that Marred Rao’s Political Legacy”