By Soroor Ahmed
It is very easy to flog a dead horse as it can not even scream in pain. Similarly it would be wrong and unethical to put all the blames on the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi for what had happened to Babri Masjid and the subsequent ruling of the Supreme Court.
It has become a fashion of a sort for mediapersons and independent political analysts to directly charge Rajiv for the ruling of the Faizabad court on Feb 1, 1986 to open the lock of Babri Masjid.
As it is difficult to hold the BJP patriarch Lal Krishna Advani, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and RSS responsible for whatever had happened in the last 35 years––obviously because there are many to defend them––it is easy to find in Rajiv Gandhi a favourite whipping boy. One needs to put the record straight. As history is often filled with exaggerations, half-truths, distortion and selective interpretations, by accusing Rajiv alone, there seems to be a design to condone and downplay the crimes of Advani and company as well as that of some Muslim leaders of that time, who misled the community and lacked foresight to see that things would soon go out of hand.
At the very outset it needs to be made amply clear that Rajiv Gandhi had no reason to appease the Hindutva groups as well as Muslims as he was voted to power with a thumping majority in Dec 1984. With 49 per cent votes and over 400 seats––highest in Indian history––Rajiv was in no hurry to do all these balancing acts as it is being alleged even by secular opinion-makers.
He took some bold decisions with good intention to solve the festering problems in Punjab, Assam, Mizoram etc and signed accords with the respective parties who were leading the agitations. In the same way he got in legacy the demand for building Ram Temple and Shah Bano case. Initially he did try to solve these issues amicably, as he was the best person to do so because he had no political motive. True the then PM might have made judgmental errors and was taken for a ride by some men within his own rank it would not be fully appropriate to hold him responsible for the opening of the gate of the mosque.
One needs to understand that it was the then minister of state for home affairs, Arun Nehru, who is alleged to have played a significant role in hurriedly implementing the Faizabad court order on the same day. Much was written then on this issue. It is true that as the PM the moral responsibility lies in the hands of Rajiv. Now everyone knows where Arun Nehru ended up. He soon developed differences with Rajiv and was among those who formed the Janata Dal and became a minister in the V P Singh government.
A false narrative is being created that since Rajiv Gandhi government passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Bill he as a balancing act got opened the lock of Babri Masjid. But the fact was something else. The court order came before the passage of Bill later the same year and the two issues can not be linked.
It was for some initial steps that he was then hailed as a very good Prime Minister both in India and abroad. Time Magazine did a story calling him Mr Clean.
However, things started going wrong later after the Bofors kickback issue came into surface. His defence minister V P Singh resigned.
He might have erred in handling the new challenges. The same media went against him. This gave an ample opportunity to Advani to regroup and reorganize his tattered and weak party. Needless to say, the BJP was down in the dump then with only two seats in Lok Sabha.
There is a need to understand the changing global situation too. The Berlin Wall was brought down exactly 30 years back (9 Nov.), Communism was collapsing in Soviet Union, which subsequently got dismembered. That was the era of religious revival be it in the West, Muslim world or former Communist countries.
This phenomenon had its impact on India where BJP was the party best suited to exploit the situation.
It is in 1989––and not in 1986––that Rajiv failed, perhaps because of lack of experience––or may be because he got much weakened after the exit of V P Singh and others, who were now accusing him of corruption. It is other thing that 14 years later the court cleared Rajiv of all the charges in Bofors case. Incidentally, this ruling came during the Vajpayee rule in 2004.
If Rajiv can be blamed for the court ruling in Faizabad in 1986 by that logic the then PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee should be held responsible for giving clean chit to him in Bofors case, and that too just before 2004 Lok Sabha election.
Advani fully exploited the situation in 1989 and launched Ramshila Puja campaign. The beleaguered Rajiiv government allowed ‘shilanyas’ (foundation) for the Ram Temple next to the Babri Masjid.
Curiously, the foundation stone was laid by a Dalit youth from Supaul in Bihar, Kameshwar Chaupal, on the same November 9, 1989 that is just 13 days before the start of polling for Lok Sabha election that year.
Incidentally, the country was in the grip of communal riots with the most horrendous one starting on Oct 25 in Bhagalpur.
It was virtually not possible for a government to take drastic step when the country was in the election mode.
As these riots took place just days before the 1989 Lok Sabha election Rajiv failed to take a tough stand. But more than Rajiv it was many of his ministers and CMs who seriously let him down.
As Rajiv Gandhi is not going to come back to argue his case and Congress does not politically deem it fit to open old wounds the need of the hour is to put the facts straight.
In the words of William Shakespeare’s King Lear, “I am a man more sinned against than sinning.”
Perhaps this is true of Rajiv too.
(Views are personal)