Releasing a book on late Prime Minister Narasimha Rao during whose tenure Babri mosque was demolished, Vice President Hamid Ansari today said while the good that Rao did to the country lives after him, the harm too lives on and continues to extract a heavy toll.
The book “Half-Lion”, authored by Vinay Sitapati, defends Rao’s role at that time and seeks to debunk theories that the former Prime Minister deliberately did not act to stop the demolition.
The author also alleged that Congress was “unkind” to Rao and put the blame on him to attract Muslim votes.
In a panel discussion that followed the book release and was attended by former foreign minister K Natwar Singh, senior journalist Shekhar Gupta, columnist and foreign policy analyst C Raja Mohan and political scientist Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Sitapati argued that Rao’s role was more serious in anti-Sikh riots of 1984 when he was the Home Minister and was directly responsible for taking action.
Sitapati said along with the Babri demolition, simultaneously Rao’s demolition was also attempted.
Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, who was present among the audience, however, took strong objection to the charge his party tried to “demonise” Rao to attract Muslim votes and rued that Rao did not act in time to prevent demolition.
“We tried to persuade the Prime Minister to wake up to the danger and the man refused to wake up to the danger,” he said.
Releasing the book, Ansari said two of its sections relating to the management of Parliament and to the demolition of Babri Masjid would invite commentary.
Quoting extensively from the book, he said, “The first was a nightmare by any standard. The Congress was around 10 seats short of a majority. The Opposition was split between a right- wing BJP and a left-wing National Front. The Prime Minister was perceived to be weak. So his focus was on wide ranging consultations with the opposition to ascertain issues and seek a consensus on the parliamentary agenda.
“This was facilitated by the extensive personal contacts he had developed over years. The nemesis came with the trust vote of July 26, 1992. Survival at all cost was the government’s objective. Unethical tactics were resorted to.
These were eventually also found to be beyond the pale of law. The author’s judgement is unequivocal that it it was the worst political decision of Narasimha Rao’s career.”
On the demolition of Babri mosque, Ansari quoted the book’s assessment in which Sitapati said, “Rao wanted to protect the mosque and protect Hindu sentiments and protect himself. He ended up with the mosque destroyed, Hindus un-attracted to the Congress, and his own reputation in tatters.”
While asserting that there is no question that Rao made the wrong decision, Sitapati tried to blame this to the circumstances prevailing then and the unwillingness by everyone including Rao to take a decision about imposing President’s Rule.
Elaborating on it, Ansari said the conclusion is unavoidable that the hesitation to act was propelled by political, rather than constitutional considerations.
He cited various resolutions, including in Parliament, adopted after the incident to condemn the demolition noting “nor has passage of time diluted the gravity of the error of judgement and tactics.”
“To conclude, the good that Narasimha Rao did to the country lives after him and has changed the very surroundings in which we live and work; the harm too lives on and continues to extract a heavy toll,” he said.
At the same time, Ansari hailed Rao’s role as the initiator for change in basic economic policies.
“The crisis of 1991 was the catalyst. To him goes the credit for grasping the opportunity, for making commendable judgements on selection of personnel, and for manoeuvring the changes very deftly through the shoals and rapids of a divided polity,” he said.