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India is a Hindu country, former PM Rao told Iyer

India is a Hindu country, former PM Rao told Iyer

NEW DELHI: Days before the destruction of the Babri masjid by Hindu extremists in 1992, then prime minister P. V. Narasimha Rao refused to staunch the rightwing upsurge. In fact, he told former Congress minister Mani Shankar Iyer that India was a Hindu country, a claim that shocked Iyer, regarded as the secular-liberal face of the Congress party.

“Given that PVNR (Rao) was repeatedly warned by his parliamentary and cabinet colleagues of the nefarious plans being hatched for the destruction of the mosque, most especially by former Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar on the floor of the house as early as July 1992 that building materials and demolition equipment had arrived and was being stored in the vicinity of the mosque, it cannot be said that there was no imminent threat to the mosque,” Mr Iyer wrote in his blog for NDTV on Saturday.

Mr Iyer organised a nationwide march to Ayodhya to prevent the mosque’s demolition but he was summoned by the prime minister from Bhubaneshwar.

“He told me he had no objection to my yatra but disagreed with my definition of secularism. Taken aback, I asked where I had gone wrong in my understanding of secularism. ‘Mani,’ he patiently explained, ‘you don’t seem to realise that this is a Hindu country.’ I was astonished. I had thought ours was a secular country! So, I was left muttering, ‘But, Sir, that is exactly what the BJP says”.

He chose not to answer and let me return to my yatra.’ Mr Iyer said that Mr Rao could have easily invoked a legally tenable constitutional provision to dismiss the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh to throw a security ring around the mosque. But Mr Rao dithered.

“The basic reason for PVNR’s hesitation was his mind-set. He genuinely believed that this was not a political problem but a religious one. That is why he recruited an army of sadhus and sants to intermediate between his government and Hindutva forces to persuade them to desist from illegally demolishing the mosque... He just blinded himself to the political dimension.

“So profound was his commitment to religious appeal rather than political action that after the mosque was brought down, he justified his performance to the Congress parliamentary party by saying that in ancient times, kings always consulted sadhus and sants. He had only followed tradition.

But, he ruefully added, once the king had made up his mind, the sadhus and the sants followed the king.

Alas, this had not happened in Kalyug. I could barely believe my ears. Had I been elected to a 20th-century parliament or appointed to a durbar dating back to Vedic times?”

Published in Dawn, July 10th, 2016

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