Book Review of Madhav Godbole’s ‘The Babri Masjid Ram Mandir Dilemma’

Book Review of Madhav Godbole’s ‘The Babri Masjid Ram Mandir Dilemma’

Book Review 

Lt Gen.Zameer Uddin Shah,PVSM,SM,VSM,Dep.Chief of Army Staff(RETD)

Lt Gen.Zameer Uddin Shah,PVSM,SM,VSM,Dep.Chief of Army Staff(RETD)

I have just finished reading this brutally frank and insightful book ‘The Babri Masjid- Ram Mandir Dilemma, An Acid Test for India’s Constitution’ by Shri Madhav Godbole, former Home Secretary, who was in the saddle when the Nation was rocked by the demolition whose reverberations shook the nation to its foundation and its divisive tentacles have gripped the nation ever since. He saw things from close quarters and has truthfully reported his observations. I also had a telephonic conversation with him to clarify some doubts on the issue. Foremost, was why it took him three months, after the horrific incident to put in his papers for premature retirement since his sane advice and series of recommendations were spurned by his super ‘Boss’, Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. If he had resigned immediately it would have had an electrifying impact. His explanation was that attempts were being made to make him the scapegoat and he had to protect his honour, which was only possible whilst he remained in service.

The cover of the book and the author’s note on the jacket conveys the essence of its contents. The ‘Preface’ contains the fond hope that if unbiased and real facts, on the incident are widely disseminated, it would help change perceptions and lower temperatures.This is over optimism since the social media has intractably hardened views and cemented positions. Chapters 1 to 3 cover the subject of the book’s title. The author mentions that Shri LK Advani was the architect of the Ayodhya Movement and that the Babri Masjid could have been saved if the PM Narasimha Rao had acted on the advice being tendered to him by the Union Home Ministry. He also asserts that all organs of the Central and State Government, the Governor Shri B Satyanarayan Reddy, (VP Singh’s appointee in1990) and Chief Minister since 1991(Kalyan Singh) of UP and, regretfully, the Judiciary failed in their responsibility. It was not the Constitution which was found wanting but it was the persons who were in charge of administering it, that failed the Constitution.

I was on a one year sabbatical at the College of Combat, Mhow, M P when the tragedy unfolded on 6 December ‘92. As we sat glued to our TV sets watching, I distinctly remember the smug faces of the leaders of various right wing organizations, delirious with joy, as the demolition progressed. What surprised me was the paralysis of the large number of law enforcing personnel, who were present. They were passive if not complicit. The ‘ostensible long arm of the Centre’ was totally paralysed as there was no political will to act. Would the same be repeated if an Ayodhya like situation developed at Varanasi and Mathura?

The PM was lulled into a sense of complacency by the assurances given by the UP Government and the Governor of the State that the ‘Shilanyas’ would be peaceful and there would be no violence. The recommendation that President’s rule be imposed and Central Para Military,195 Companies, moved to Ayodhya in the face of stiff opposition by the State Govt, be used to prevent the influx of Kar Sewaks and to guard the complex, were brushed away by the PM. The author had argued that once the Kar Sewaks assembled in large numbers the options available to the Central Government would be closed. The procrastination on the part of the PM resulted in just that. He refused to judge the gravity of the situation and ridiculed the idea of holding a cabinet meeting at midnight when the situation warranted it. Rao‘s ‘feigned amnesia’ was governed by his belief that ‘Not taking a decision was also a decision’ (and a nationally disastrous one at that!). Rao’s arguments of non-invocation of Article 356 are unconvincing. This same article has been used in cases of lesser gravity. Rao made much of the advice of the UP Governor against imposition of President’s Rule on the specious plea that ‘The Governor is in charge of the state’. The Governor is in charge only when President’s rule has been imposed. The day to day proceedings of the case by the Supreme Court also gave Rao an excuse not to dismiss Kalyan Singh’s Government. In actual fact what held him back was fear of a Hindu ‘Backlash’, if not his secret, undeclared sympathy with the Kar Sewaks. This deliberate dereliction of duty is unpardonable – but Rao’s leadership was weak and he was disinclined to taking hard decisions.

Kalyan Singh resigned on 6 December ‘92 after the deed was done and reaped the fruit of his labours ever since. (He was belatedly sentenced to a token punishment of one day’s imprisonment and a nominal fine of Rs 2000/= for contempt of the highest court of the country). President’s Rule was imposed the same evening. Significantly, by design or sheer helplessness the Central Government delayed the deployment of Central Police forces till, morning of 7 December. This allowed the make shift temple to be built. Advani in his autobiography ‘My country, My Life’ termed it ‘Shrewdness on the part of the PM or ‘Divine Intervention’. He was also hypocritical to write that he was ‘extremely distressed when the structure was demolished on 6 December 1992, because it was illegal, forceful action’.

A Commission of Inquiry under Retired High Court Judge MS Liberhan was constituted on 15 December to investigate the tragedy. He was given three months time. It dragged on for 17 years, till 30 June 2009 because of attempts to scuttle the commission, non-cooperation of the UP Government and intervention of Allahabad and Delhi High Courts. The commission submitted a 10000 pages report, too voluminous to be examined in detail and now consigned to the archives. Ex Chief Minister Kalyan Singh was indicted and top BJP leaders like Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Lal Krishna Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi , who were referred to as ‘Pseudo Moderates’ were declared intellectually and ideologically responsible for the mosque’s demolition. Advani, in his book, expressing regret, highlighted ‘But it did mark a day of Hindu awakening of truly historic import’. The author however feels that not all Hindus agree with this assumption. My own observation is that on the day of the demolition my friends seemed to watch me closely. I had learnt to remain pan faced and accept the inevitable, stoically. A large number genuinely felt bad at the tragedy and privately expressed anguish to me.

As a redeeming, act of penance, the PM declared publicly that the Masjid would be rebuilt. Where? The author infers that Narasimha Rao really intended to rebuild one at a different location in Ayodhya. The ‘Places of Worship ( Special Provisions) Act’ of 1991 was enacted which declared ‘that the religious character of a place of worship, existing on 15 August 1947, shall continue to be the same as it existed on that day’. Section 5 of the Act however excluded Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi. This Act has no teeth and is not an effective deterrent against future misadventures. The author has rightly pointed out that ‘Rewriting History and apportioning blame for and seeking to correct the perceived and/or real historical wrongs will merely increase the communal divide and keep the country perpetually on the boil’. This highly emotive religious issue has been the driving force behind the BJP’s search for recognition and political power. It is acknowledged that India is now a Hindu nation as the changing colours of even the Congress, the champions of secularism, indicate. The Congress Party believed that it would be political suicide if they openly opposed the construction of the temple. This was ‘a rare situation in which the interests of both parties on opposite side—the BJP and the Congress--- converged’.

The perpetrators, after the deed was done made strenuous efforts to show that they had no hand in the demolition but the Liberhan Commission identified them. Only Sadhvi Pragya Thakur, now rewarded by a seat as MP in the Lok Sabha, openly admitted to her role. It is now 27 years since the Babri Majid was demolished and not a single person has been found (or will be found) responsible for the dastardly criminal act. The author has held former PM, Rajiv Gandhi as the ‘First Kar Sewak’ for allowing the laying of the foundation stone of the Ram Temple 9 November 1989. On a minute examination of the superbly written book what emerges is that Kar Sewak No1 is Shri Narasimha Rao for dereliction of a national duty, Kar Sewak No 2 is Shri LK Advani for whipping passions to a feverish pitch and Kar Sewak No 3 is Shri Kalyan Singh for impeding efforts to save the mosque.

Some other relevant chapters have also been included. Chapter 4 covers ‘The Daunting Challenges to ‘Sab Ka Saath, Sab ka Vikas, Sab Ka Vishwas’. There has been a drop of the minority community representation in Government jobs and their political and economic marginalization stares them in the face. There has been a decrease in communal riots but increase in polarization and targeting of individual Muslims by vigilantes, against whom no action appears to have been taken. On the other hand they have been publicly feted. The police has become totally communalized and it is essential not to commit the Army to resolve civil strife, for extended periods. The weapon of the last resort must retain its apolitical, unbiased cutting edge. Secularism, defined by the Supreme court as a ‘part of the basic structure of the constitution’ is under scrutiny. The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 which had originally declared that no non Hindu could be a scheduled caste (SC) was later amended to cover Sikhs and Buddhists. Logically since now the Muslims are at the lowest rung of the index of poverty and deprivation they should, according to the author, be also included. I totally agree with him. If that cannot be done they should be accorded ‘affirmative action’, especially in the field of education. They must be allowed to lag behind because the speed of national progress will depend on the slowest community. Issues pertaining to Secularism and concerns regarding treatment of minorities are discussed threadbare. The author asks, ‘Are we at a dead end in dealing with communalism?’ He concludes that riots are not epileptic seizures but malignant cancer.

Chapter 5 is grand stand view of ‘Looking Ahead: A Formidable Agenda’ and Chapter 6 ‘Afterword’ recommends some possible solutions. The author feels that only an amicable solution between the aggrieved communities is the answer. He recommends that the disputed site be used partly for construction of a new Masjid and partly for the construction of a Ram temple, with only a vertical wall in between to emphasise the unity of Religion. This would have been an ideal solution. Two places of worship, next to each other are not a rarity in India but now hardened positions on both sides on Ayodhya make this recommendation, utopian. While looking through the prism of constitutional amendments, legal changes and the well-meaning remedial steps these might be well-nigh impossible to implement in view of the high degree of polarization which has set in. The Supreme Court will soon deliver its judgement on the case. It is my fervent hope that they award the whole site to the majority community because even if the judgement is in favour of the Muslims they will never be allowed to take possession of the land. It will trigger further bloodshed and violence. The Muslims can be placated by giving cast iron constitutional guarantees that there will be no more conversions to places of worship. I am an optimist and firmly believe in the inclusive nature of Indian society. That is why my family decided to remain in the land of our birth. I strongly recommend this book to all who stand for a peaceful, progressive and modern India.