President Pranab Mukherjee says the opening of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple site in Ayodhya was an “error of judgement” by the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the demolition of the Babri Masjid was an act of “absolute perfidy, which should make all Indians hang their heads in shame”.
“The opening of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple site on 1 February 1986 was perhaps another error of judgement. People felt these actions could have been avoided,” the President has written in the book titled The Turbulent Years: 1980-96 , released by Vice-President Hamir Ansari at a function attended by senior BJP leader L.K. Advani, who was at the helm of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement that resulted in the destruction of the mosque.
Mr. Mukherjee, who details over several chapters on his own role in getting P.V. Narasimha Rao elected leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party (CPP) and hence as Prime Minister in 1991 after the death of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, called the Masjid demolition “PV’s [Narasimha Rao’s] biggest failure.” “The inability to prevent the demolition of the Babri Masjid was one of PV’s biggest failures. He should have entrusted the task of tough negotiations to other political parties to a more senior and seasoned politician familiar with politics in U.P., like N.D. Tiwari,” the President wrote in his book.
The news of the demolition was conveyed to Mr. Mukherjee, who was then Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, by his then Officer on Special Duty (OSD), former Minister Jairam Ramesh. Mr. Mukherjee was in Bombay at that time.
President Mukherjee later, in a private meeting with Rao asked him, “Was there no one who advised you of the dangers? Did you not understand the global repercussions of any damage to the Babri Masjid? At least now take concrete steps to quell communal tensions and assuage the feelings of Muslims through affirmative action.”
Mr. Mukherjee recalls that “the Foreign Minister of an important Islamic country pointed out to me that such damage had not been inflicted on a mosque even in Jerusalem, which has seen religious conflicts for centuries.”
He also recalls the controversy over stories that he wanted to succeed as Prime Minister after the death of Indira Gandhi. “...Many stories have been circulated that I aspired to be interim Prime Minister, that I had staked claim and had to be persuaded otherwise … these stories are completely false and spiteful,” he writes.
The President says that former President Giani Zail Singh wrote in his memoirs that Narasimha Rao and Mr. Mukherjee gladly assented to Rajiv Gandhi being sworn in as Prime Minister. While Mr. Mukherjee then goes on to quote former Principal Secretary to Indira Gandhi, P.C. Alexander, as bearing out this view, he also takes him gently to task on claiming that the idea of swearing in Rajiv Gandhi as PM was a suggestion that Alexander had put to him. “It is surprising that a civil servant who had assumed authority on his own and a person who had no official position in the party ended up playing a major role in determining the course of events on that tragic day. This is now a matter for historians and scholars to debate,” he writes.
Mr. Mukherjee recalls June 3, 1984 vividly in his memoirs. “Pranab, I know of the consequences.’ She understood the situation well and was clear that there was no other option. Aware that her own life was at risk, she [Indira Gandhi] took the conscious decision to go ahead in the best interest of the nation,” he writes.