In defence of P V Narasimha Rao
Posted December 15, 2009on:
Poor P.V.Narasimha Rao! The pro-Temple Hindus –- not necessarily only those who are members of the BJP — were convinced that the Telugu Brahman had adroitly, and deliberately, manoeuvred demolition of the Babri Masjid while pretending to do everything to prevent it. The few in the Congress, who were loyal to Narasimha Rao, were stunned at the demolition and sad. The others in the Congress, who considered Narasimha Rao as a usurper, were also stunned, but happy, hoping this might herald Narasimha Rao’s early exit. Foremost among them was Arjun Singh, then number two in the Narasimha Rao cabinet.
The heated debates on the Liberhan Commission report are becoming much too polemic and sidestepping the real issue: the collective failure of the system at political, administrative and judicial levels. Arjun Singh’s role in the tragic developments has gone completely unnoticed.
Sanctity of Affidavit
First the judiciary. Uttar Pradesh had a democratically elected government and its chief minister, Kalyan Singh, had assured the highest court in the country through a duly sworn affidavit that no harm would be inflicted on the monument. An affidavit before a court of law is a sacred document. Is the Prime Minister of the country supposed to ignore it? Sadly, the sworn assurances to the courts are losing gravity because of the frivolous attitude of the judiciary itself. When a contempt petition was filed in the Supreme Court against Kalyan Singh for deliberately misleading the highest court through a sworn affidavit, Singh was awarded merely a day’s imprisonment. Was misleading the Supreme Court on a matter of monumental importance to the nation such a trifling affair?
In spite of his Machiavellian qualities, Narasimha Rao had shown in the early days of his new responsibilities as Prime Minister and Congress president, a propensity to run the party on democratic lines and restore values in public life. His desire to take along all was reflected when he made Arjun Singh, his bete noire, the Leader of the House (till he was elected to Lok Sabha) and gave him number two slot in his cabinet. He had tried to do away with the culture of nominated party chiefs in the States and to hold organisational elections from the grassroots level, though he could not fully succeed in this because of the well-entrenched vested interests in the party at various levels.
Digvijay Singh, who was the first Congress leader to blame Narasimha Rao for the Babri demolition after the Liberhan Commission report was out, could become the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh because of Narasimha Rao’s desire to inject democratic functioning at every level. Digvijay Singh had the support of the Arjun Singh camp in the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) while Narasimha Rao’s preference was for Shyama Charan Shukla. A secret head count showed that the number of the MLAs supporting Digvijay Singh was slightly more than the number of those supporting Shukla. When the AICC observer sought a direction from Narasimha Rao, the latter was said to have told the observer: declare Digvijay Singh as the leader even if he has the majority of one.
(Compare this with Arjun Singh’s election in 1980. Shivbhanu Singh Solanki, a tribal leader from Jhabua, was the clear winner against Arjun Singh. The AICC observer contacted Sanjay Gandhi (who was the real Boss in those days). His directive was: let Arjun Singh be the chief minister (and he became the chief minister).
Narasimha Rao was being egged on by his colleagues to dismiss the Uttar Pradesh government. He believed in the assurances held out by the elected government of the State. As the pressure mounted, he sent Arjun Singh, his seniormost cabinet colleague, to go to Ayodhya and see for himself if the situation really warranted intervention of the Centre. Arjun Singh went to Lucknow, had a closed-door meeting with Kalyan Singh, returned to Delhi and reportedly told the Prime Minister about Kalyan Singh’s assurance. He did not go to Ayodhya, not even up to Faizabad whereas his reported brief was to see the situation in Ayodhya for himself and give his report. (Neither he nor Kalyan Singh has so far revealed what “deal” they had struck during that hour-long closed-door meeting on the eve of the Babri demolition).
What was the basis on which Narasimha Rao could have acted against an elected government? Arjun Singh could have probably provided it, had he been honest enough to go up to Ayodhya?
After the demolition, Narasimha Rao was pressured to dismiss the four BJP governments in the States. Though he withstood the pressure in respect of Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan, he had to dismiss the Madhya Pradesh government of Sunderlal Patwa along with the Kalyan Singh government. The Madhya Pradesh High Court, where the dismissal of the Patwa government was challenged, ruled against the Central action. The High Court judgement said, “the presidential proclamation dated 15-12-1992 is hereby quashed. All consequential effects thereon shall follow”. It was probably this embarrassing situation that Narasimha Rao had been trying to avoid.