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Several opportunities for saving Babri Masjid were lost: Ex-Home Secretary

Shahabuddin proposed that Babri Masjid should be taken over by the government and be retained as it is under an Act as a monument

Sunday July 21, 2019 4:04 PM, Ranjana Narayan, IANS

Babri Masjid Demolition

New Delhi: Several opportunities for saving the Babri Masjid were lost, as neither the Rajiv Gandhi government, the V.P. Singh government nor that of P.V. Narasimha Rao was "receptive" about finding a solution to the sensitive issue, says Madhav Godbole, who quit as Union home secretary after the demolition of the 16th century mosque, and has penned his thoughts on the simmering Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue in a new book.

Godbole, who quit in March 1993 -- 18 months before his retirement -- says that "successive governments did not really pay attention to the subject".

"It is surprising that a number of very sensible suggestions were made during the time of Rajiv Gandhi, and according to me, any one of those suggestions would have met the demands of both Hindus and Muslims, and also preserved the masjid," he said.

"But I am unable to understand why Rajiv Gandhi did not find time to attend to any of the suggestions. Discussions with the concerned parties could have been taken further in terms of arriving at an understanding," Godbole, whose new book 'The Babri Masjid Ram Mandir Dilemma: An Acid Test for India's Constitution' is being released next month, told IANS in an interview.

Elaborating on the suggestions put forth to Rajiv Gandhi, who was Prime Minister from 1984 to 1989 when the Babri Masjid issue was burning, Godbole said of the three main suggestions, one came from Syed Shahabuddin, who was member of the Babri Masjid Action Committee.

Shahabuddin made a proposal that Babri Masjid should be taken over by the government and be retained as it is under an Act as a monument, and the remaining area on the outskirts of the masjid should be given for construction of a Ram temple. "This would also have met with the point of view of the Hindus and Muslims. A similar proposal was made by Karan Singh, who was a minister at the time, and considered a staunch Hindu."

Karan Singh's proposal was that a Ram temple should be constructed "where the Ram Padukas are there, on the outskirts of the masjid area, and the masjid should be retained as it is."

Then, Kamlapati Tripathi, who was very close to the top Congress leadership, wrote to Rajiv Gandhi, saying the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue is a very important and "cannot be ignored".

"If this dispute continues, the possibilities of the division of the country will increase," Tripathi wrote.

"But even then the letter was not paid attention to. And Rajiv Gandh in all his wisdom allowed shilanyas to take place (in 1989) and started his own election campaign from there," says Godbole.

The V.P. Singh government, which followed, passed an ordinance according to which the Masjid was to be retained as it is with a wall constructed around it to preserve it, and the remaining area was to be given for construction of a Ram temple. "And this was an ideal suggestion. But I don't know why there was such opposition to it. And obviously, V.P. Singh decided to cancel the ordinance the very next day."

"Obviously, there were people within the government alliance, the allied parties, who were not in favour of this. So it is not just the Congress that was reluctant to take any steps to resolve the issue; most of the other parties who at one time or the other were in the government did not want to take any decision. And this, quite frankly, gives me an impression that they were all pro-Hindu parties. They did not want to say it in so many words, but they did not want to do anything which would make Hindu opinion go against them."

In Chapter 6, the Afterword, Godbole writes: "However, Rajiv Gandhi remained focussed on pleasing the fundamentalists among the Muslims and the Hindus; the Muslims by getting the Muslim Women's Divorce Act enacted, and later, the Hindus, by getting the locks of the 'temple in the mosque' in Ayodhya opened, permitting 'shilanyas' (foundation stone-laying) of the new temple, and even starting the Congress party's Lok Sabha election campaign from Ayodhya to usher in Ram Rajya.

"I would unhesitatingly call Rajiv Gandhi the second most prominent kar sevak, after Nayar, the district magistrate of Faizabad, who encouraged the clandestine placement of the Ram Lalla idol in the Babri Masjid on December 22, 1949.

"Against this background, it was surprising to read the ludicrous claim made by Rahul Gandhi that if someone from Nehru-Gandhi family was in power, the Babri Masjid could have been saved! India has paid a heavy price for these missed opportunities".

On whether he feels the Narendra Modi government would be able to find a solution, Godbole told IANS: "At Present, quite frankly nobody has any idea what the government view is. We have seen a lot of what the RSS view is, what the VHP view is, but what the government view is, at least I have not seen any public pronouncements of it. As far as I can see, nobody is thinking in terms of permitting Muslims to build on the ground (disputed area); they want it outside that, and they want it as a Supreme Court decision so that they are not blamed for it for having denied Muslims their right."

In his latest book, published by Konark Publishers and set to be released next month, Godbole says he deals with "how do you look at the problem now, in terms of what has happened over a period, and if there is a similar kind of contingency again, in terms of Mathura (Krishna Janmasthan temple) or Varanasi (Kashi Vishwanath temple) or whatever it is, are we better equipped to handle it today than what we were at the time?"

"No we are not. That is what I have categorically stated in the book, in chapter three, in which I have said that Babri Masjid could have been saved and the whole lessons to be drawn from this episode. I have discussed in great detail, what happened to each of the constitutional/institutional functionaries at the time which failed, including the government, central and state, the judiciary, the police, the governor, the civil services, everybody. And so, if the Constitution is let down by each one of these functionaries, so how does the country survive? That is my question that I have dealt with in the book."

(Ranjana Narayan can be reached at ranjana.n@ians.in)

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