President Pranab Mukherjee has written in The Turbulent Years: 1980-96, the second volume of his memoir, released on Thursday, that the opening of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya was an “error of judgment” by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Mukherjee has also termed the act as one of “absolute perfidy”.
The Prime Minister – having won an overwhelming mandate in 1984 primarily owing to consolidation on communal lines in aftermath of his mother Indira Gandhi’s assassination – and his prime strategist Arun Nehru found Hindu consolidation as a readymade recipe for electoral victory. And they made a series of mistakes:
1. Rajiv Gandhi and Arun Nehru persuaded UP chief minister Bir Bahadur Singh to open the lock in 1986 and allowed religious rites to take place inside the disputed structure.
2. This triggered a mass movement by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) which launched an agitation to break free the idols of Lord Rama and Sita from “captivity”.
3. “Sacred stones” were carried from all over the country to lay foundation of the temple, and in light of this, massive riots occurred all across north India, particularly Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (UP).
4. This coincided with VP Singh raising the banner of revolt against Gandhi’s alleged involvement in the Bofors scandal. What appears to have given fillip to the VHP’s “garv se kaho hum Hindu hain” (say it with pride, we are Hindu) was the impression that Gandhi bent over backwards to appease Muslims. The Shah Bano case and the government’s capitulation before Muslim fundamentalists provided a context. A beleaguered Gandhi now tried to win over Hindus by playing the temple card at Ayodhya.
And then the story went completely haywire. As a firsthand witness to the events that unfolded in Ayodhya, I have recounted instances that should serve to provide perspective on the issue.
A day after the controversial foundation laying of the Ram temple at Ayodhya on November 10 1989, I walked into the official residence of the then director general of police of UP, RP Joshi. A seasoned police officer, Joshi was a man of few words. As the winter set in, the attendant took me to the lush lawns of the house where chairs and tables were laid out. It was a sunny day.
“I want to know if the foundation laying was done at a disputed site,” I asked without delay. Joshi looked at me and said, “Yes”. “Did you know it beforehand that the site was disputed?” I persisted. Joshi said, “Yes, we all know it but that was the decision of the government.”
After offering me a cup of tea, Joshi closed the conversation. He had revealed little except that there was no option but to follow the diktats of his bosses in Delhi and Lucknow. At that point of time, Gandhi was the prime minister with Buta Singh as his home minister and ND Tiwari as UP chief minister. Subsequently Gandhi launched his campaign from Ayodhya promising “Ram Rajya” across the country.
For a long time, it remained a mystery how the foundation laying at Ayodhya was accomplished by defying the court’s order, which retrained the VHP and other organisations to do anything on disputed site. Was Gandhi personally involved in that with the concurrence of Tiwari? There had been many versions about the story doing rounds but none of them seemed complete.
But the cookie crumbled in 1995 when, in a fit of his customary rebelliousness, Tiwari recounted the story that proved to be undoing for the Congress. In fact, Tiwari had raised a banner of revolt against PV Narasimha Rao and was desperately trying to regain his political eminence. And in the course of the conversation, he recalled the situations that led to foundation-laying during his tenure as chief minister in 1989 and demolition of mosque on December 6, 1992.
In the present context when the issue is once again taken up by the Congress to express its indignation over the construction of the temple, the story is worth recounting. Buta Singh was the interface between the centre and the state government. At Lucknow secretariat, he used to run the administration along with certain bureaucrats with close ties to the VHP. The chief minister’s office was practically rendered effete on the Ayodhya issue and worked only as the post office.
But what appeared critical is the manner in which Gandhi was persuaded to allow the foundation-laying stealthily, in contravention of the court’s order. Just a week before the foundation-laying, he was taken to a saint, Devrahwa Baba, near Gorakhpur by Buta Singh. Apparently the sojourn of the PM with the Baba was arranged by an IPS officer who was a disciple of the saint. The Baba was revered among his considerable following across the Hindi heartland and was known for blessing his devotees by touching their heads with his feet. He was usually perched on a thatched platform from where such antics could easily be performed.
Gandhi went to seek the Baba’s blessing and guidance on the contentious Ayodhya issue. The saint looked at Gandhi and said, “Bachcha, ho jane do” (Child, let it happen). The saint’s words were taken to mean that the foundation-laying ceremony should take place on November 9. Tiwari, who accompanied Gandhi and Buta Singh to the Baba’s ashram, was instructed to facilitate the foundation-laying. “Bachcha ne ho jane diya” (The child has allowed it to happen), he pointed out while narrating the sequence in an attempt to absolve himself from being complicit in illegal action.
The story of Ayodhya is replete with stealth illegality and abdication of responsibility by successive Congress regimes, not only at the centre, but at the state level as well. India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru was able to gauge its sinister potential and was in favour of removing the idols stealthily placed in the mosque on December 22, 1949. However he was thwarted by the then chief minister GB Pant. In sharp contrast to Nehru, who steadfastly opposed use of religion in politics, Gandhi unlocked the temple to play the religious card to consolidate his support base following the revolt by VP Singh. Too clever by half, the Congress found itself decimated by losing support bases all across the country.
Those who are aware of developments in Ayodhya will vouch that the carving of stones for the temple is an activity which has been continuing in Ayodhya for the past 25 years. Sufficient quantity of marble has been ferried from Rajasthan and sculpted at a workshop, nearly a stone’s throw away from the disputed site; it is hardly a secretive affair. Yet the indignation shown by the opposition in Parliament over Ayodhya appears to be a perfect smokescreen to hide the history of their complicity and criminality in this political enterprise.