Of Ayodhya and the Congress

Published : Dec 08, 2001 00:00 IST

Former Prime Minister V.P. Singh's deposition before the Liberhan Commission of inquiry throws fresh light on the events leading to the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

EVEN die-hard critics of the Liberhan Commission, set up to inquire into the events that led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, were silenced by the startling depositions made before it by former Prime Minister V.P. Singh, which threw fresh light on the nexus between the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Congress(I) in the build-up to the demolition of the 16th century mosque.

Deposing before the Commission on November 20, V.P. Singh asserted that the VHP's international president Ashok Singhal had opposed his efforts to solve the Ayodhya dispute through peaceful means by stating that the Congress had offered his organisation a better deal by permitting shilanyas. According to V.P. Singh, "Somehow the news of a settlement leaked to the Congress and it prompted it to offer shilanyas." He further said: "What I heard is that Ashok Singhal said that on one hand you (V.P. Singh) want to make a statement that it should not be demolished, and on the other, Congress is offering me shilanyas. And that way everything got blown up."

V.P. Singh said this in response to Commission counsel Anupam Gupta's suggestion that he reveal in detail the train of events leading to the demolition on December 6, 1992. It said he had appealed to both the VHP and Muslim leaders to come forward to settle the issue amicably. "The Muslim leaders led by Syed Shahabuddin approached me with a proposal that they would comply with the court orders. Second, they said that we have made a claim over the entire area, but, as a matter of accommodation, we are willing to give up our claim to the adjoining area. There is a Ram chabutra at the boundary of the campus of the Babri Masjid and the temple can be constructed there. So with these two assurances I felt that negotiations would be possible."

V.P. Singh referred to a meeting that took place at newspaper baron R.N. Goenka's flat, attended by Bhaurao Deoras representing the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, journalist Prabash Joshi and Goenka himself. According to V.P. Singh, the RSS proposed that it would issue a statement that though the Ramjanmabhoomi belonged to their people it did not behove of the Hindu ethos to demolish any place of worship. "This," said V.P. Singh, "seems to my mind to have been a very positive step. This had come from Bhaurao Deoras and had his complete approval. Not only was it orally said, but a written statement was typed out in R.N. Goenka's flat itself." According to V.P. Singh, it was then, when both sides had come so close to a settlement, that the "Congress proposed to allow shilanyas by the VHP". The news of a settlement had leaked to the Congress, he said.

Further, in his deposition, V.P. Singh agreed that the opening of the locks of the disputed structure in 1989 was a "landmark" in the Ayodhya movement. He felt that the Congress had allowed shilanyas to be performed with the intention of winning over the Hindu vote because it saw the formation of an axis between the Janata Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party with the Left's support as a serious threat. He said that the Rajiv Gandhi government had asked the VHP to go in for shilanyas because Congress circles were concerned about the possibility of a swing of the Hindu vote.

In his June 11 deposition before the Commission, Union Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi had blamed V.P. Singh for not issuing an ordinance in 1990, which, according to him, would have solved the Ayodhya issue (Frontline, August 17, 2001). In his opinion, L.K. Advani was agreeable to a solution. When questioned by Gupta on his reaction to Joshi's demand made on October 22, 1990 for a revocation of the ordinance in toto V.P. Singh asserted that he "did not remember his (Joshi's) reaction to the ordinance". In his opinion "nothing would have come out of the ordinance... P.V. Narasimha Rao also referred the matter to the Supreme Court (later) and the Supreme Court refused to go into it. Had I withdrawn the ordinance, it would have met the same fate." Further he asked: "If the ordinance is such a panacea for them (Joshi and Advani) why don't they issue it now when they are in power?"

While remaining critical of Advani's role in the Ayodhya movement, V.P. Singh owned up responsibility for prompting Advani's rath yatra. He said: "To my mind, it was the implementation of the Mandal report that led to the rath yatra. It was at that point that the BJP abandoned its stand that the Ayodhya issue is not on their agenda and it was to counter Mandal that they took Ayodhya on their agenda." Advani, in his deposition before the Commission, had asserted that it was the Rajiv Gandhi government's vote bank politics as evidenced by its handling of the Shah Bano case that prompted him to espouse openly Hindu interests vis-a-vis the Ayodhya movement.

However, V.P. Singh held that it was not the Shah Bano case but the implementation of the Mandal recommendations announced by him that triggered Advani's rath yatra. He said: "So far as the Ayodhya dispute is concerned, it existed much earlier. I feel that it was Mandal which triggered off the rath yatra."

Extremely critical of the philosophy espoused and the modus operandi used by the BJP during the temple movement he said that the party sustained itself on two things - nurturing a sense of "togetherness" amongst the Hindus and instilling in them a sense of "otherness" towards religious minorities. "At the ground level it (BJP) goes on with its hate propaganda. When you build an atmosphere of that nature, some person or persons are bound to resort to violent action," he said. Holding the BJP entirely responsible for the destruction of the mosque, V.P. Singh said that in the pre-rath yatra period the VHP might have led the Ayodhya issue but after the rath yatra the BJP took over the leadership. He emphasised that in the post-rath yatra period, the sadhus and the sants had been used by the BJP.

IN all his three depositions before the Commission, V.P. Singh consistently emphasised two things - the similarities between the BJP's ideology and the Nazi ideology and the role of such philosophy in the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. The BJP's strategy, he said, was to carry on a hate propaganda against the minorities. "This is nothing new in history. The Nazi party used the Jew as a hate object; the same tactics are being used to unite Hindu society." He read out a passage from Christophe Jaffrelot's The Hindu Nationalist Movement and Indian Politics: 1925-1990s where M.S. Golwalkar eulogises Germany for illustrating that it was impossible for races and cultures that are as divergent as the Aryan and Jew to be assimilated into a united whole and exhorts Hindustan to learn from it. V.P. Singh said: "This is the real dilemma. The psyche which endorses what the German race did to the Jews is confronted with a reality which does not come into the Hindu fold. The philosophy which is being developed over a period of time is either to deal with them (minorities) as the Nazis dealt with Jews or absorb them into the Hindu fold."

V.P. Singh has also consistently held Sangh Parivar organisations responsible for Mahatma Gandhi's assassination. He said: "Same explanations are given of the death of Mahatma Gandhi and of the demolition of the Babri Masjid - that Gandhiji's assassination was an expression of people's anger and so was the destruction of the Babri Masjid."

However, V.P. Singh was less articulate while clarifying his stand on the debate between secularism and pseudo-secularism. He said: "What we have generally understood by secularism over a period of time is that it implies equal respect for all religions. It is a little different from the Western concept of the state having nothing to do with religion. Just because we say that we have to give respect to all religions, it has a generalising effect, which is compatible with our concept of nationalism as developed by Gandhiji and the freedom movement which was of taking all the people together as a nation."

V.P. Singh's next deposition before the Commission, slated for December, promises to answer more questions. Earlier, one such question posed was whether he was in favour of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, took a neutral stand, or was against it. He said: "So far as it violated or intended to violate the Supreme Court's order, I was against it. So far as it meant to build a Ram temple in Ayodhya, I was in favour of it."

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