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Did Rao fiddle as masjid fell?

Speculation continues over whether the M.S. Liberhan commission report also captures the response of the then Congress government headed by PV Narasimha Rao and whether it failed to take adequate measures to protect the disputed structure despite several warnings, writes Pankaj Vohra.

india Updated: Jul 06, 2009 01:16 IST
Pankaj Vohra

Now that the M.S. Liberhan commission has submitted its report on the Ayodhya issue, the Bharatiya Janata Party has developed cold feet. The party has gone on the defensive. The manner in which the BJP spokespersons appear to be expressing regret over what happened on December 6,1992 clearly indicates that the party’s leaders are very worried about the findings of the four-volume report submitted nearly 17 years after the incident took place. Though, former BJP leaders like Uma Bharti and Kalyan Singh appear to be in a combative mood, the party’s line has been extremely docile. Several top leaders have expressed the view that the country has moved on. One only wonders why every June 26, BJP leaders make it a point to recall the Emergency.

Attempts are also being made to rubbish the commission’s report. Questions are being raised on the concept of appointing commissions of inquiry. But those who are raising these questions found the Shah Commission fully justified and also demanded action against the Congress following the release of the controversial Nanawati commission’s report on the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi.

The central government has so far not indicated when it plans to table the Liberhan report. But delay has virtually killed the actionable part to a large degree except that the findings will become the subject of a new slanging match between the BJP and the secular parties.

Knowledgeable sources say that the Commission may be soft on both the then leader of the opposition, L.K.Advani and the then BJP president Murali Manohar Joshi. The two also apparently received a virtual clean chit from Gandhian Nirmala Deshpande who was in Ayodhya that day.

But speculation continues over whether the report also captures the response of the then Congress government headed by P.V.Narasimha Rao and whether it failed to take adequate measures to protect the disputed structure despite several warnings. After Rao had completed one year in office, Advani as the leader of opposition in June, 1992 described him as the ``best Prime Minister India has had’’. The certificate was aimed at depriving the Nehru-Gandhi family’s role in the country’s development and at the same time provided an indication that there could be some kind of complicity between the Prime Minister and the leader of Opposition. Rao was running a minority government. He was trying to consolidate his position both within the party and in Parliament. He had emerged stronger from the Tirupati session of the AICC and in the BJP he found ``foolish and abiding allies’’. His friend Atal Behari Vajpayee had been marginalised but through him he obviously had been assured support of some kind.

In June, M.L.Fotedar, a senior member of the Cabinet had warned Rao that the BJP may try to create some kind of mischief in Ayodhya and he should engage its leaders in a dialogue. A dialogue took place subsequently and the issue was put on the backburner for 100 days.

But the build-up to the agitation resumed in November and Fotedar again cautioned Rao who asked paramilitary forces to be deployed. On the basis of information obtained from N.D. Tewari that the then UP Chief Minister was getting his personal house in Lucknow renovated, Fotedar once again told Rao that Kalyan Singh was preparing for life without power and that something was brewing. His warning was again ignored.

On December 6, a journalist informed Fotedar that the disputed structure had been demolished. He called up Rao who did not react. The Prime Minister was told that this could lead to widespread riots and he should order the arrests of all the top BJP leaders. But he failed to act. On the same evening, Fotedar met the then President Shankar Dayal Sharma and apprised him of the developments. Meanwhile Rao had convened a Cabinet meeting where ministers were sought to be kept in dark over the resignation of Kalyan Singh (at 11 a.m.) but were to take a decision on imposition of President’s Rule. Barring Fotedar who asked Rao to accept moral responsibility, no other minister spoke.

Subsequently, riots broke out and the country was on the brink of a civil war. Rao who was shaky initially got support from a number of Muslim leaders within the Congress and consolidated his position. Fotedar who differed with the Prime Minister thus became the only front-ranking minister to submit his resignation.

The Liberhan report may help throw some light on many developments. But whether it will lead to any action being taken is doubtful. Between us.