The August 5 foundation laying ceremony, the second such exercise in 31 years, provides an opportunity to re-visit the 36 years long Ram Janambhoomi movement and thus examine the truths, half-truths and untruths–almost bordering blatant lies–spread not only by those associated with the Hindutva Movement, but also by the Communists, secularists, liberal-media as well as the Muslim leaders. Today it is all the more important due to the stand taken by the Congress leaders like Kamal Nath and Digvijay Singh as well as the repeated utterances by AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi against the then PM Rajiv Gandhi.
Those who have witnessed and participated in the making of the history should certainly be the better judges than the posterity, which gets an opportunity to read it or believe just on hearsay. But the tragedy is that many objective political analysts have, one way or the other, slipped into half-truths or untruths. Though a sizeable number of them were old and matured enough to leave behind an honest assessment. Yet at the same time, there are some who remained unbiased and write with clear mind on the whole issue.
The introspection suggests that the secular-liberal and Left-leaning people in the media and some Muslim leaders too contributed significantly to the distortion of history—many times for political reasons. Mind it, those were the days when the Communists were strong and had palpable presence in the Press, which would stand for the newspapers as there were no private television channels then. In contrast the BJP was down in the dump—it could win only two seats in the 1984 Lok Sabha election held after the assassination of the then PM Indira Gandhi.
The role of Left-liberals needs scrutiny because they overplayed and over-confused two issues—the unlocking of Babri Masjid within an hour of the ruling of the Faizabad district judge K M Pandey on Feb 1, 1986 with the enactment of Muslim Women (Protection of Rights of Divorce) Act on May 19, 1986.
Herein lies the crux of the matter and sometimes even most balanced observers make misjudgement. This was simply because of the Press propaganda that Rajiv Gandhi, then the Prime Minister of the country, wanted to appease the Hindus as he had succumbed to the demands of Muslims by enacting a new law on women in negation of Supreme Court ruling of April 1985. The apex court had not only ordered the payment of maintenance to Shah Bano, divorced by her husband when she was 64 year old, but also called for the implementation of Uniform Civil Code.
True, Rajiv Gandhi by accepting the demand of Muslims, became the darling of a strong section of the community, yet the truth is that he did not do so to win their hearts, as he then did not need any such gesture.
The fact is that in the initial years he took some very bold decisions for which he was widely applauded. He signed accords with the Shrimoni Akali Dal to end crisis in Punjab, with the agitating students of Assam and Laldenga in Mizoram. He inherited all these problems from her mother Indira Gandhi, who unlike in her earlier life, turned somewhat inclined towards Hinduism.
Today those who propagate that Rajiv, as a balancing act, got Babri Masjid unlocked because he had appeased the Muslims by enacting the law on women need to cross-check the fact. The truth is that the lock of the mosque was broken after the Faizabad court ruling much before Act on divorced Muslim women was passed and not the other way round as many people want the upcoming generation to believe. As the Left liberals were upset over the way Rajiv conceded the demand of what they allege Muslim conservatives they later started confusing the whole issue.
The present Kerala governor Arif Mohammad Khan, who as the Union minister in his cabinet, resigned in protest against the passage of the Act, was then the hero of the Left liberals and had nothing to do with the Hindutva movement then. He later joined hands with another minister in Rajiv Gandhi’s cabinet, V P Singh, and became a minister in the latter’s cabinet in 1989.
There is another irony of history. The man who is alleged to have played a sinister role in getting the Babri Masjid lock broken within a few minutes of the district judge ruling was not Rajiv, but his minister of state for Internal Security Arun Nehru. That Rajiv was on Feb 1, 1986 not aware of these sudden developments, was a well written topic then. Arun Nehru, who also a relative of Rajiv, later developed differences with the Prime Minister and joined hands with V P Singh’s campaign against Bofors deal in 1987-89. Singh was the Defence Minister in Rajiv’s cabinet and resigned on April 12, 1987.
Against the general impression created today the truth is that between 1984 and 1988 Rajiv Gandhi was not at all in need of going out of way to woo either the Hindu or Muslim votes as the Congress had in 1984 won 406 seats against two by the BJP. The Telecom Revolution he tried to bring about was also yielding results. He was very popular then.
However, it was the resignation by his defence minister V P Singh and others in protest against the Bofors kickback deal which gradually weakened him in the next two years. That was the time when the BJP, just as an act of survival, picked up the issue of Ram Janambhoomi movement. In fact it was in 1984 that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad passed a resolution demanding the construction of a Ram Temple.
It was by 1989 that Rajiv, not a politician in true sense, became shaky. Today one needs to acknowledge the fact that between 1985 and 1989 the Muslim leadership did not display political maturity. The formation of Insaf Party by Syed Shahabuddin, diplomat-turned-politician, did not go down well. Both the secular media as well as the fledgling Hindutva forces started equating him with Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.
Curiously, there is a general perception that Shahabuddin resigned from the post of ambassador in 1978 when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the external affairs minister in the Morarji Desai cabinet. It was Vajpayee who, it is said to have ushered Shahabuddin into politics.
The unnecessary muscle-flexing by Muslims in late 1980s helped leaders like the BJP stalwarts Lal Krishna Advani to exploit the situation and thus polarise the whole scenario. This did not happen in one day.
Advani fully capitalised the situation emerging after the resignation of V P Singh and mishandling the challenge by Rajiv.
In June 1989 national executive of the BJP in Palampur in Himachal Pradesh, the saffron party endorsed the 1984 resolution of the VHP.
The party in league with the VHP launched Ramshila Puja and a campaign was initiated to collect consecrated bricks from all the cities, towns and villages for building Ram Temple. Advani made a nation-wide tour as the date for the Lok Sabha election, Nov 22 neared.
This sparked communal tension across the country as riots broke out in Bhagalpur in Bihar on Oct 24-25 following dispute over the Durga Puja procession. This was just 27 days before the first phase of polling. Rajiv rushed to Patna and then accompanied chief minister Satyendra Singh to land in Bhagalpur on Oct 26.
He asked the chief minister to get the SP of Bhagalpur, K S Dwivedi transferred. The move backfired This was followed by the open defiance by Bihar Military Police and the worst was to happen. The state government had to take back its order.
The BJP-VHP combine continued to exploit the weakness of Rajiv, who became panicky. Now in a vain bid to control the situation he started his election campaign from Ayodhya and called for the establishment of Ram Rajya and construction of a Ram Temple–obviously not by demolishing Babri Masjid.
Thirteen days before the start of election the VHP on Nov 9, 1989 picked a Dalit worker from Supaul in Bihar, Kameshwar Chaupal for laying the foundation of temple just beside the masjid structure. Honestly speaking no ‘lame-duck’ government with election just 13 days after can dare to stop this exercise done by the BJP in such a surcharged atmosphere.
Rajiv, who was under pressure from the V P Singh’s Janata Dal, ultimately was voted out of power.
The Janata Dal, with 140-odd seats and the outside support of 89 MPs of BJP and other parties, especially Left, came to power under the leadership of V P Singh.
True as the Prime Minister of the country Rajiv had to take the blame for whatever went wrong during his tenure. But blaming him entirely for the breaking of lock on Feb 1, 1986 and ‘shilanyaas’ on 9 November 1989 would not only be historically wrong but would amount to the travesty of the fact. Yes, he had said that he wants Ram Temple built, but he never said that it should be constructed by demolishing Babri Masjid. In fact on several issues his stand was much more clearer than his predecessor, Indira Gandhi, and successor Congress PM Narasihma Rao, who is alleged to have connived with the BJP in letting the Babri Masjid razed to the ground.
Three decades later exactly on Nov 9 last year the Supreme Court gave a ruling making it amply clear that no Ram temple was demolished to build a mosque in 1528. Some demoralised Congress leaders like Kamal Nath and Digvijay Singh now deem it fit to twist the whole version as they think that herein lies the survival.
This is perhaps the victory of the Sangh Parivar. Only Mani Shankar Aiyar tried to put the record straight in his article published in The Hindu on August 6, 2020.
Now almost all the Muslim leaders who were in the forefront in 1980s are dead or have retired. Instead of All India Muslim Personal Law Board and Babri Masjid Action Committee, it is the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen leader Asaduddin Owaisi, who has been given free hand by the media to distort the history for obvious reasons.
Ever since 2012 when his party broke its long relationship with the same Congress following a dispute over the construction of temple near Charminar in Hyderabad, Asaduddin has been busy hurling absurd allegations on Rajiv Gandhi not knowing that his father ‘Salar-e-Millat’ Sultan Salahuddin Owaisi was in the lap of Congress in the post-Babri Masjid demolition years as the Telugu Desam Party under N T Rama Rao completely decimated AIMIM. For example in 1994 Assembly poll in the then undivided Andhra Pradesh AIMIM won just one seat against Congress 26 and TDP 216 in the House of 294.
The irony is that the AIMIM had good relationship with the Congress when the country’s Prime Minister was P V Narasimha Rao, also from Andhra Pradesh, whom many Muslims blame for the demolition of Babri Masjid. That is why many Muslims even of Hyderabad voted for N T Rama Rao and later for his son-in-law Chandrababu Naidu, who succeded him after his death.
More than two decades later Asaduddin, who succeeded his father, is not very critical of Narasimha Rao and even Advani so far as the destruction of Babri Masjid is concerned. In contrast he would put all the blames on Rajiv, whose crime was much less. Today Owaisi junior is in alliance with another Rao, KCR, whose tilt towards BJP is well known.
Flogging a dead horse is much easier as in the changed scenario even Rahul and Priyanka can not muster courage to defend their father. But the truth needs to be told and black sheep within the Muslim community needs to be identified and exposed.
(Soroor Ahmed is a senior journalist based in Patna. The views are personal.)