Barring Jawaharlal Nehru, it is unusual for Indian Prime Ministers to have authored books giving their political perspectives. P.V. Narasimha Rao was an exception. He authored a novel, The Insider during his own lifetime. The book under review Ayodhya 6 December 1992 appears posthumously.
…this book attempts to examine the broad factual, Constitutional, judicial, legal and political aspects of the events that culminated in the tragedy of 6 December 1992. It is not intended as an exercise in self- righteousness or justification of anything done or not done.
It is a tribue to PV as a writer that he has distilled from a vast amount of material to put together a racy, 188 page book without compromising the seriousness of the topic. There are less than a dozen pages that are tedious- mainly because of the long quotes from judicial and other reports whose complete text has been incorporated in the appendices.
PV does a meticulous job in the first six chapters recounting the history of the dispute, interspersing what could have become a dry narrative with perceptive insights. He points out, for example, that the RJM was already gathering significant momentum at the time of Indira Gandhi’s assassination that brought the DCM Toyota yatra to a grinding halt inflcting a temporary setback to the movement.
He is also fair enough to credit Mulayam Singh Yadav’s firm handling of the Ayodhya crisis in 1989 when he effectively used Central forces to halt Advani’s jaggernaut.
It is in the later chapters, specially, ” Ayodhya 6 December 1992″ and “Why was Article 356 not invoked” that PV’s book is at its weakest as it loses its initial promise of not being a self justification on the inaction of the Central government to thwart the destruction of the Babri Masjid on the fateful day.
Paragraph after paragraph, PV gets into hair splitting details as a defence for his and his government’s inaction. The objectivity of the initial chapters gives way here to repetitive citing of facts, rhetorical questions and labyrinthine arguments.
In not too subtle a language, he indicates that he was “betrayed” by the Kalyan Singh government, that there were insincere machinations by leaders of his own party, the unique and unprecedented situation that 6 December presented in the history of the Republic, the dubious role played by the non Congress, non BJP parties and the perceived lapses on part of the Supreme court.
In other words, all the stars conspired to paralyse the government into inaction.
Even as PV swings from one argument to another, sometimes contradicting himself (for example, on the “crucial” role of logistics on page 174 only to point out, a few pages later, that it was not the crucial factor), he slips in a sentence that this reviewer feels is central to understanding the reasons for the paralysis of his government. PV here lets the cat out of the bag as it were.
He indicates that the BJP leaders stepped up the aggressiveness of the movement when they felt that PV was getting too close to the sants and the sadhus, in the four months before 6 December. These sants and sandhus consitituted the vast and dispersed middle leadership that expanded the reach of the previously urban based party.
This “subtle aspect of the RJM”, as PV terms it, not only indicates that PV was hobnobbing with these elements, but in the very next sentence shows his own susceptibilities to the Hindutva cause: ” … the undeniable fact that while Hindu masses were swayed by their devotion to Ram and their intense desire for the temple, the political forces behind the issue could not care less for the temple.”
Earlier, he had promised to construct a Ram temple in his Independence Day speech.
In other words, he was trying to display a holier than thou attitude with the BJP and hijack its agenda. He clearly failed in his calculations or machinations, the BJP trumped him in any case. He evidently had no workable backup plan.
This political failure lies at the heart of the problem- the beginning of the 1980s was marked by Indira Gandhi’s tilt away from the Left, if not to the Right, progressing during the years of Rajiv Gandhi to a confused dalliance with both Hindu and Muslim communalism.
PV’s era marked a consolidation of this swing towards Hindutva- culminating in the destruction of the Babri Masjid. Interestingly, PV does not use the word “Babri Masjid” anywhere in the book (though he does in his speeches in the appendices)- it is referred to as a “structure” or as the “Babri structure”.
Despite the scholarly collection of facts, that well document the main events culminating on the single biggest attack on Indian secularism after Partition, PV’s defence is unconvincing and one cannot but help recall Shakespeare:
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Related posts: review of “The Anatomy of a Confrontation: The Babri masjid- Ram Janmabhumi Controversy”
Cross posted at Desicritics.