President blames PV Narasimha Rao, Rajiv Gandhi for Babri demolition

Pranab Mukherjee also rubbished rumours that he tried to be PM when Indira Gandhi died.

New Delhi: President Pranab Mukherjee has tried to scotch the long-standing speculation about his aspiration to become interim Prime Minister after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in October 1984 and termed these stories as “false and spiteful”. He also said opening of the Ram Janmabhoomi site in Ayodhya was an “error of judgment” by then PM Rajiv Gandhi and the demolition of Babri Masjid an act of “absolute perfidy” that destroyed India’s image.

In the second volume of his memoirs, The Turbulent Years: 1980-96, that was released on Thursday by vice-president Hamid Ansari, Mr Mukherjee says: “Many stories have been circulated that I aspired to be the interim Prime Minister, that I had staked claim and had to be persuaded otherwise.”

“And that this created misgivings in Rajiv Gandhi’s mind. These stories are completely false and spiteful.” In the book published by Rupa Publications, the President has written in detail about the conversation he had with Rajiv Gandhi in a bathroom about the prime ministership on that fateful day of October 31, 1984.

“Time was ticking away and I was very keen to talk to him. I went near the couple (Rajiv and Sonia) and gently touched Rajiv on the back of his shoulder to indicate that I had some very urgent work with him. He released himself from Sonia’s arms and turned around to talk to me,” he wrote.

“Knowing that I would not have disturbed him unless the matter was very urgent and confidential, he quickly led me to the bathroom attached to the room so that we could talk without being noticed by anyone else who may enter the room,” Mr Mukherjee said.

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The two had a discussion on the political situation and the views of partymen about appointing Rajiv Prime Minister, which he had agreed to become. Later, “I came out of the bathroom and conveyed Rajiv’s decision to everyone”.

On the Ram temple issue, he says: “The opening of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple site on 1 February 1986 was perhaps another error of judgment. People felt these actions could have been avoided,” the President wrote.

Elsewhere, he said: “The demolition of the Babri Masjid was an act of absolute perfidy... It was the senseless, wanton destruction of a religious structure, purely to serve political ends. It deeply wounded the sentiments of the Muslim community in India and abroad. It destroyed India’s image as a tolerant, pluralistic nation.”

Mr Mukherjee says implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations “contributed to reducing social injustice in society, though it also divided and polarised different sections of our population”. The 1989-91 period, Mr Mukherjee says, was a phase dominated by violence and bitter divisions within Indian society.

“Insurgency and cross-border terrorism broke out in Jammu and Kashmir; the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue rocked the nation. Finally, a suicide bomber brought Rajiv’s life to an abrupt and tragic end on 21 May 1991,” he says.

Talking of the circumstances that led to his ouster from Rajiv Gandhi’s Cabinet and then from the Congress Party, Mr Mukherjee admitted he had “sensed Rajiv’s growing unhappiness and the hostility of those around him and taken pre-emptive action”.

“To the question of why he dropped me from the Cabinet and expelled me from the party, all I can say is that he made mistakes, and so did I. He let others influence him and listened to their calumnies against me. I let my frustration overtake my patience,” he said.

Mr Mukherjee was forced to leave Congress in April 1986, after which he formed the Rashtriya Samajwadi Congress (RSC). However, Mr Mukherjee feels he could have avoided the RSC fiasco. “I should have the wisdom to realise that I was (and am) not a mass leader. Those who left the Congress rarely succeeded. I could have been of some help to the Congress Party and the government during those crucial years of 1986 and 1987 when everything seemed to go wrong for Rajiv,” said Mr Mukherjee, who then returned to Congress after two years.

Mr Mukherjee said Rajiv was a “reluctant politician” who was forced by circumstances to become Prime Minister at the age of 40. “He was ahead of his times. He wanted rapid change and saw the old guard in the Congress as an obstacle to his vision. He was forward-looking, tech-savvy and welcomed foreign investment in India as well as enlargement of the market economy.

“In contrast, I was a conservative, conventional political leader who favoured the public sector, a regulated economy and wanted foreign investment only from NRIs,” the President writes. The “unconscionable” anti-Sikh riots, which broke out in the name of revenge for Indira Gandhi’s assassination, caught the Rajiv government unprepared, he writes.

“The government was just not ready for an eventuality such as Mrs Gandhi’s assassination and the riots that followed. Every mature government has mechanisms to deal with a crisis such as this. Unfortunately, overwhelming grief overtook the nation and miscreants took advantage of the situation, causing loss of life and suffering,” Mr Mukherjee says.

Recalling the Shah Bano case, the President says Rajiv Gandhi’s action eroded his image as a modern man. “Rajiv’s actions on the Shah Bano judgment and the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Bill drew criticism and eroded his modern image,” the President said.

In the book, he also said imposition of President’s Rule can be liable to misuse but procedural changes over the years have somewhat reduced that possibility. This assumes significance as the President had on Tuesday signed a proclamation bringing Arunachal Pradesh under Central rule on the grounds of a “constitutional breakdown”.

Known for his “elephantine” memory, Mr Mukherjee said that some facts from his years in governance will be “buried” with him. “Many people in their memoirs, including Churchill (Winston Churchill, Britain’s famed wartime leader and PM) and many others have written (about) state facts, but I had a bit conservative approach ... As and when (these) facts will be released by the government, then people should come to know, not from somebody’s account who was in the government,” the President said.

Speaking at the launch of the book at Rashtrapati Bhavan on Thursday afternoon, the President referred to his old habit of writing a page every day in a diary, which holds a lot of his secrets. “That is why I have advised my daughter, who is the custodian of this diary, that (she should) never release this. You should digitise this, but never release it. If you digitise it, as and when the government will find it necessary, they (can) be released”, the President added.

( Source : deccan chronicle )
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