Published On : Tue, Mar 21st, 2017

How Rajiv Gandhi set the ball rolling for Ayodhya Temple – President Mukherjee recalls in his memoirs

New Delhi:
With the Supreme Court washing its hands off the Babri Masjid – Ram temple tug of war in Ayodhya history in a way has come full circle.

The story of this controversy will probably go down in the annals of Indian history as the turning point which changed the destiny of the whole sub continent – almost tragically.

How the brave and modern path chartered for the newly independent country by its first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who abhorred the mixing of Religion and Politics and told his country men that “dams, bridges and factories are the temples of modern India” was sabotaged by none other than his grandson Rajiv Gandhi when he became P.M. after his mother’s assassination.

The beans have been spilled by none other than our current President Pranav Mukherjee in his memoirs called ‘The Turbulent years – 1980 to 1986’.

He recounts how Rajiv Gandhi won the general elections with a land slide victory immediately after Indira Gandhi’s death due to the polarization that took place after her assassination at the hands of a Sikh bodyguard.

Writes Mukherjee –

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…

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.