03/12/2018 12:02 AM IST | Updated 03/12/2018 8:04 AM IST
Babri Masjid Demolition: Narasimha Rao Failed Muslims But So Did
Congress, Says Former PM’s Biographer Vinay Sitapati, who wrote ‘Half
Speaking to HuffPost India last month, Santosh Dubey, a Shiv
Sena leader who was one of the main accused in the Babri Masjid
demolition case, claimed that former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao
was involved in the plot to demolish the 16th century mosque in Ayodhya
on 6 December 1992.
This was not the first time that a kar sevak
or a leader of the Hindu right meaning RSS (Rowdy Rakshasa Swayam
Sevaks) who are just 0.1% intolerant, militant, number one terrorists of
the orld, ever shooting, mob lynching, lunatic, mentally retarded
rapists foreigners from Bebe Israel chitpavan brahmins who practice
hatred, anger, jealousy, delusion which are defilement of mind against
the 99.9 % sravajan Samaj for their hindutva cult,s manusmrity had made
such a claim. Last year, R.V. Vedanti, a former BJP lawmaker, told the
media that Rao was involved. In 2014, Hindu right leaders said that same
in a film secretly recorded by CobraPost.
The Bene Israel claim that Chitpavans are also of Jewish origin
Treatment of untouchables
The Peshwa rule forced untouchability treatment on the Mahars and other
communities such as Mang. Specifically, they had to walk with a broom
tied to their loincloth to wipe off their foot prints and an earthenware
pot tied to their neck so their spit could not fall on the ground
thereby polluting the road for upper castes. Human sacrifices of the
Mahars were common during this era. For example, they could be buried
alive under building foundations of upper castes. They were not allowed
to move in public places in the mornings or evenings as their long
shadows could defile caste Hindus. They were not allowed to read and
write. A 15 year old female student called Mukta Salve from the Mang
community, another untouchable caste, wrote in an essay in 1855 that
during Peshwa rule untouchables were often murdered using oil containing
toxic red lead and then buried in the foundations of mansions. She
further wrote that Passing the Talimkhana (local gymnasium) by a Mahar
or Mang often resulted in the person’s head being cut off and played
with. Those resisting any sanctions could be trampled under an elephant
on the grounds of the Peshwa’s palace. As a result of this treatment,
Mahars enlisted in the armies of the British East India Company and
served the British in their war against the Peshwas. On 1 January 1818
in the Battle of Koregaon between forces of the East India Company and
the Peshwa, Mahars soldiers formed the biggest contingent of the Company
force. The British won the battle and this effectively ended Peshwa
Role in Indian politics
Bal Gangadhar Tilak
the fall of the Maratha Empire in 1818, the Chitpavans lost their
political dominance to the British. The British would not subsidize the
Chitpavans on the same scale that their caste-fellow, the Peshwas, had
done in the past. Pay and power was now significantly reduced. Poorer
Chitpavan students adapted and started learning English because of
better opportunities in the British administration.
the prominent figures in the Hindu reform movements of the 19th and 20th
centuries came from the Chitpavan Brahmin community. These included
Dhondo Keshav Karve, Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade, Vinayak
Damodar Savarkar, Gopal Ganesh Agarkar, Vinoba
Some of the strongest resistance to change came
from the very same community. The vanguard and the old guard clashed
many times. D. K. Karve was ostracised. Even Tilak offered penance for
breaking caste or religious rules. One was for taking tea at Poona
Christian mission in 1892 and the second was going to England in
The Chitpavan community includes two major politicians
in the Gandhian tradition: Gopal Krishna Gokhale, whom Gandhi
acknowledged as a preceptor, and Vinoba Bhave, one of his outstanding
disciples. Gandhi describes Bhave as the “jewel of his disciples”, and
recognised Gokhale as his political guru. However, strong opposition to
Gandhi came from the Chitpavan community. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, the
founder of the Hindu nationalist political ideology Hindutva, was a
Chitpavan Brahmin and several other Chitpavans were among the first to
embrace it because they thought it was a logical extension of the legacy
of the Peshwas and caste-fellow Tilak. These Chitpavans felt out of
place with the Indian social reform movement of Phule and the mass
politics of Gandhi. Large numbers of the community looked to Savarkar,
the Hindu Mahasabha and finally the RSS. , drew their inspiration from
fringe groups in this reactionary trend.
P.V. Narasimha Rao
however, that there is no question that Rao prioritised personal and
political ambition at one of the gravest moment’s in India’s
post-independence history, and made a serious error of judgement in
trying to negotiate with the RSS instead of imposing President’s Rule in
As the 26th anniversary of the demolition of the
Babri Masjid approaches, the demand for a Ram Temple is gathering steam
once again. Sitapati spoke to HuffPost India about why rumours of Rao’s
involvement in the plot started and still persist, the Congress’s role
in singling him out as the villain in the tragedy, and the deeper
question of prioritising secularism over electoral democracy in times of
When did rumours about Narasimha Rao’s involvement in the conspiracy begin surfacing?
Tracing it back to 1998, when Sonia Gandhi comes back to the Congress
after unseating Sitaram Kesri (as party president). They are grappling
with two problems. The first is how to get rid of Narasimha Rao’s legacy
from the Congress party. Here, Narasimha Rao was not innocent at all.
He was very conscious in his desire to see the Nehru-Gandhis
marginalised within the Congress party. Sonia Gandhi has just reasons to
It was not just Sonia Gandhi’s apathy, but also
many of the people that Narasimha Rao had marginalised within the
Congress party, from Madhavrao Scindia to Arjun Singh to Mani Shankar
Aiyar, they came back as Sonia’s group. And they, more than Sonia
Gandhi, really had it in for Narasimha Rao.
And the second problem?
The second problem they were facing was that Congress had collapsed in
UP, especially among Muslim voters. The demolition of the Babri Masjid
just accentuated the trend of Muslims voting for the Samajwadi Party,
something which had begun in 1989. Muslims had left the Congress even
before the Babri Masjid was demolished. The Congress’s aim was to do
things: to discredit Narasimha Rao’s legacy and to make the claim that
now that Congress does not have Narasimha Rao, the Muslims should repose
their faith in the Nehru Gandhis.
In fact, Rahul Gandhi even
made a statement (in 2007) that had someone from his family been a
leader during that time, the mosque would not have fallen. And the
simple answer to that question is that his mother was still one of most
powerful leaders of the Congress party at the time. One word from her
between October 30 1992 and December 5 1992 would have jolted the
Congress into action. Had she just said that we don’t trust Kalyan
Singh, or the threat of the misuse of Article 356 is a lesser threat
than the threat to India’s secular fabric that the demolition of the
mosque would portend, but she said nothing. She only spoke for the first
time, I think, the day after the mosque fell.
They are grappling with two problems. The first is how to get rid of Narasimha Rao’s legacy from the Congress Party.
Was there a concerted effort to defame Narasimha Rao?
That was part of it. The rest of the Congress party knows which way
Sonia Gandhi is thinking. Then, they don’t need to be instructed. To
give an example, when the Congress was in power in Andhra Pradesh under
YSR (Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy), there was talk of installing a statue of
Narasimha Rao in Warangal, an area of what is Telangana today, where he
is from. The local Congressmen that I spoke with told us that they
really wanted to do it, but if they were seen garlanding a statute of
Narasimha Rao, then their enemies within the party would use it to tell
Sonia Gandhi. Within the rank and file of the Congress party, a clear
message went that Narasimha Rao was fair game.
What is Narasimha Rao guilty of?
Just because the Congress has a motivation to besmirch Narasimha Rao’s
reputation does not mean that we should give him a free pass. There is
no question that Narasimha Rao put his own political interest and his
own survival over the survival of Babri Masjid. There is no debate about
that. He was more worried about a no-confidence motion against him and
the Supreme Court striking down the imposition of Article 356 and the
damage it would do to his politics than he was about the survival of the
Babri Masjid. But that would be accusing him of behaving like a
politician. At a moment of profound crisis for the Indian Republic,
Narasimha Rao failed to rise to the occasion. It is not clear to me that
any other Indian prime minister, bar Jawaharlal Nehru, would have acted
differently from Narasimha Rao. I can only think of Jawaharlal Nehru as
saying, ‘I don’t care if my government falls, I’m going to make sure
the Babri Masjid does not fall.’
There is no question that
Narasimha Rao put his own political interest and his own survival over
the survival of Babri Masjid.
What is the story about Narasimha Rao sleeping when the Babri Masjid was under attack?
There was a rumour doing the round that when the mosque fell, Narasimha
Rao was doing pooja in the Prime Minister’s house. I traced that rumour
to one source, which is Kuldip Nayar, the journalist, who mentions it
in his book. Then, the next question is how does Kuldip Nayar know. He
said he got the story from Madhu Limaye, who was a politician opposed to
the Narasimha Rao at the time. Then the next question is how does Madhu
Limaye know. Madhu Limaye says he heard it from someone’s in the PM’s
office. Think about it. In law, a single hearsay, we do not allow. And
yet, a rumour like this, which was based on two people leading up to
Kuldip Nayar, is taken to be the truth. And the moment Kuldip Nayar said
this story, there were many people in the PM’s office who held a press
conference saying that we were with Narasimha Rao when the mosque fell,
or we were on the phone with him, but somehow that was not reported.
Why have the allegations about him being involved in the conspiracy persisted?
The evidence is very clear that throughout November and early December
1992, Narasimha Rao was meeting people from the BJP, the RSS and the
VHP. He met Ashok Singhal, he met Advani, he met Murli Manohar Joshi, he
kept meeting these people. He was actually meeting them to beg them not
to destroy the mosque. There were a tremendous number of officials as
well as other politicians present in the room. It was pretty well-known
what the conversations looked like. The fact that Narasimha Rao was
reaching out to the BJP and the RSS, is something that he should do,
right? If he was in a conspiracy with Advani, would he be meeting him so
regularly? In fact, as I write in the book, Rao falsely accused Advani
of involvement in the Hawala case in January 1996, almost certainly as
revenge because he felt let down by Advani in Ayodhya. It would be fair
to ask why was Narasimha Rao was so gullible. Did he not know better?
But why have the allegations persisted?
With regard to why the rumours still persist, that answer is much
clearer. If you look at people like Deng Xiaoping, FDR (Franklin D
Roosevelt) in the US, who have been pivotal figures in their country’s
history. Today, their own political parties look up to them, celebrate
them. Whereas Narasimha Rao’s own party has decided that he is an
outcaste. If your own party is accusing you of demolition of the the
Babri Masjid, the BJP, the Samajwadi Party, are very happy to play
along. Look at the irony of the situation. The man (Kalyan Singh) who
both the Supreme Court and the Liberhan Commission said was guilty of
demolishing the Babri Masjid is today at the constitutional post of a
governor. Whereas the man who was exonerated by both the Supreme Court
and the Liberhan Commission, Narasimha Rao, is being constantly accused
by the Congress party. They are trying to thread a needle by saying that
it was part of the Congress that was led by Narasimha Rao that did
Babri Masjid, not the part led by the Nehru-Gandhis, and the party
should be forgiven for it. But I don’t think that most Indians see that.
I think most Indians see it as Congress admitting to a self-goal.
The man who both the Supreme Court and the Liberhan Commission said
was guilty of demolishing the Babri Masjid is today at the
constitutional post of a governor.
But what would be the
motivation of BJP leaders to allege that Rao was in on the conspiracy?
There was the Cobrapost sting operation in 2014. Just last year, former
BJP MP RS Vedanti called a press conference and accused Rao. You trace
the Congress defamation of Narasimha Rao to 1998. Is there a pattern or
timeline for the BJP?
I can’t answer with respect to the specific
motives of the people you mention, but I have not seen any
corroborative evidence for any of these allegations. The BJP’s general
interest in Narasimha Rao has been to play a double game. At one level,
both the BJP and the Congress were competing for Hindu votes because the
Hindu votes, especially the upper caste Hindu votes, were in play in
the early nineties. At the same time, the BJP is using the fact that the
Congress has treated Narasimha Rao so badly to finger and embarrass the
Why did Narasimha Rao have so much faith in these Hindu right groups?
There are various reasons that are given. He was a devout religious
Hindu himself. He spoke Sanskrit. People never mention that he also
spoke Urdu and Persian. He definitely came from a deeply syncretic
culture, but he was a scholar of Hinduism. I think at some level he felt
that he could handle these guys. That he could meet Ashok Singhal and
talk to him in Sanskrit and convince him.
The second reason is
that he didn’t have the sense of the BJP’s rise, the way someone like
Arjun Singh or Sharad Pawar or N.D. Tiwari, who were dealing with the
BJP in their states, had. Whereas Narasimha Rao’s opposition in the
early years, when he was in Andhra Pradesh, had been the communists and
then had been the rise of regional parties. So he did not have a feel
that BJP was not just the movement of misguided religious Hindus, but it
was fundamentally a political movement. He didn’t have a feel for how
transformational the BJP was in north India at the time.
Why did Narasimha Rao not impose President’s Rule?
That was something that was discussed every day throughout India from
October 30 to December 6: should President’s Rule be imposed? And
Narasimha Rao’s own law secretary said that it would probably be
unconstitutional to impose President’s Rule when law and order has not
yet broken down, saying that there is anticipation of a breakdown in law
and order. If you accept the principle that there is going to be an
event that will portend a collapse of law and order, and in anticipation
of that we have to dismiss Kalyan Singh, imagine how other central
governments can misuse that interpretation of Article 356. Today, the
Modi government can say that in Tamil Nadu, in ten days we apprehend
that an event will take place that will lead to breakdown of law and
order, and as a preventive mechanism we should dismiss the government.
That creates its own problem. Narasimha Rao was well aware that he would
be judged on this and that is why he made this a deeply collective
decision and the tragedy of India is that nobody else wanted to step up.
Any politician, including Mani Shankar Aiyar, who tells you that the
demolition of the Babri Masjid was inevitable. Ask them, show me your
public statements before the mosque fell. I was with Mr. Chidambaram in a
talk about my book and he was saying that it was obvious that the
mosque was going to fall, that suicide groups of the VHP were being
trained. Well, if you knew it, then why did you not speak up? You had
the whole of November to say this. Why did everyone discover their voice
after the mosque fell, including Narasimha Rao?
Rao was well aware that he would be judged on this and that is why he
made this a deeply collective decision and the tragedy of India is that
nobody else wanted to step up.
It was at your book launch that
Mani Shankar Aiyar said that Rao’s pro-Hindu mindset led to the
demolition. Do you agree? He also said Rao once told him that “he did
not agree with my definition of secularism as India is a Hindu-majority
Let me put it this way. Both Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha
Rao and Indira Gandhi as a second-term prime minister had a deep sense
that Hindus, especially upper-caste Hindus, were leaving the Congress
party through the 19080s. I certainly agree with Mani Shankar’s
description that Narasimha Rao saw that Congress cannot win without
getting the Hindu vote, but that analysis was also shared by Indira
Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. In fact, on this count, Rajiv Gandhi, who is
Mani Shankar Aiyar’s idol, did far worse on communal questions in India.
It is astonishing how much of a free pass he gets.
We know about
Shah Bano. The Indian government was the first government, much before
Iran, to ban Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. Here’s a man who first
opened the locks for prayer at Babri Masjid in 1986, who allowed the
brick-laying or Shilanyas ceremony in 1989, much before the BJP did any
of this, because he was interested in the Hindu vote. It’s fair to make
that claim but the Congress has broadly believed this since the 1980s
for electoral reasons: you cannot win in India without getting the Hindu
Rajiv Gandhi did far worse on communal questions in India. It is astonishing how much of a free pass he gets.
With Rajiv Gandhi, one can sense that in appeasing both Hindus and
Muslims, he was politically and electorally driven, but with Narasimha
Rao was it just electoral or ideological as well?
I don’t think
so. That Rao was Brahmin, he was a Hindu scholar, that he wore a lungi,
he went to temples. This is true. But it is also true that he could
quote the Koran by heart, people don’t talk about that. He grew up in
the Nizam’s Hyderabad state, he grew up with Muslims. When he used to
speak with the Pakistan president, he used to speak in Urdu that many
people felt was better than the Pakistan president’s Urdu.
say, yes he was. It’s hard to answer. Even as a biographer, it’s hard to
get into his mind. He wasn’t an elite, English-speaking liberal like
Rajiv Gandhi. It’s also fair to say that he was playing a double game,
he wanted Muslims to come back to the Congress and he wanted Hindus to
come back. He didn’t take a clear principle.
The CPM government
in Kerala today has taken a clear principle on Sabarimala, whether you
like it or not, it has taken a clear secular principle. Look, there is a
court order and it has to be implemented. Whereas the Congress in
Kerala is playing a double game. At one end, it is saying that women’s
rights should be protected. At the other, it is saying Hindu majority,
and that’s an electoral game. And that is pretty much what Rao was
playing too. I don’t think his actions were motivated by being
ideologically communal and there is no evidence of that. He was a
diehard Congressman within the Congress system. And in that sense, no
different from the broad Congress worldview about the role Hinduism has
electoral politics in India. This is not to say that he did not make a
serious error in Babri Masjid and his analysis was erroneous. It is the
single most defining event in post-independence history, and Narasimha
Rao, who I feel was on the right side of history when it comes to
India’s economy, foreign policy and welfare schemes, he was definitely
on the wrong side of history when it comes to the Babri Masjid. But the
question is how much of the blame is apportioned to him and the question
of mala fide.
What is at the heart of the confusion over Narasimha Rao’s role?
Everybody was trying to protect themselves rather than the mosque. It
is an institutional tragedy of India. As I say in the book, I would go
one step further. The BJP comes to power in UP in June 1991, and they
come on the back of the Ayodhya movement, and Kalyan Singh is the OBC
face of the Ayodhya movement and now he is chief minister, so
constitutionally sworn to protect the mosque. I would say from June 1991
itself, the days of the mosque were numbered. At the heart is a clash
between the constitutional principles of secularism and of democracy.
It’s a hard question to answer. Can you say that you can’t be a chief
minister of Uttar Pradesh unless you swear not to demolish the mosque?
That’s not feasible, right? Or should Narasimha Rao have dismissed
Kalyan Singh the day he became chief minister. It becomes a very hard
question to answer in India’s federal system when the police report to
the state government. And that is the core question, what happens when
democracy and secularism clash, and it’s not an easy needle to thread.
At the heart is a clash between the constitutional principles of
secularism and of democracy. At what point do you prioritize secularism
If the Babri Masjid was under threat today, do you think it would have been easier to take a call on imposing President’s Rule?
You tell me. The lead-up to Babri Masjid was like watching a cricket
match. Australia may win, India may win, there was no certainty. At what
point should you say that the danger is clear and present? It’s much
harder to do. The real question is, can you have a party like the BJP
running a state or central government? That’s the real question. Again,
as I said, when Kalyan Singh came to power in 1991, he came to power on
the demand that the Babri Masjid be demolished. There was no ambiguity
here. The people of UP voted them in on the Ayodhya issue. At what point
are you going to step in using counter-majoritarian measures and say
‘look, this is unacceptable in a country like India’? Where do you draw
the red line? At some point, do you think democracy, especially
electoral democracy, must be curbed in the interest of secularism? It is
this deep question. At what point do you prioritise secularism over