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HVK Archives: In December '92 Rao had his own agenda

In December '92 Rao had his own agenda - The Asian Age

Seema Mustafa ()
14 February 1997

Title : In December '92 Rao had his own agenda
Author : Seema Mustafa
Publication : The Asian Age
Date : February 14, 1997

By the first week of December, all sources of information,
intelligence reports, police surveillance and political assessment,
had a common message for the then Prime Minister, Mr P.V. Narsimha
Rao: only urgent pre-emptive action could prevent the demolition of
the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1996.

The denouement had begun a few months earlier, with VHP leader
Ashok Singhal's call to start construction of the 'Ram mandir' from
July 8. This prompted the human resource development minister Arjun
Singh to write two letters urging Mr Rao to invoke Article 355 and
to prevent the demolition through direct intervention.

There was no response from Mr Rao. At a Cabinet meeting the matter
was raised by senior minister M. L. Fotedar who said that inaction
of responsibility. Mr Rao, as usual remained non-committal but
privately used his emissaries to effect a compromise with the BJP
and VHP leaders who agreed to postpone the Kar Seva for three
months at his request. Godman Chandraswami is believed to have been
involved in the discussions with the VHP.

On August 2, Mr Arjun Singh wrote his well publicised letter to Mr
Jitendra Prasad (then political secretary to Mr Rao) in which he
outlined the steps he believed were necessary to prevent the
expected demolition. The letter went unanswered. In fact, at one
stage Mr Fotedar asked Mr Singh to refrain from raising the issue
in public as it was proving to be counterproductive. In hindsight
several Congressmen who were ministers in Rao's Cabinet told this
correspondent that they suspected the former Prime Minister of
wanting the mosque to be demolished. But they admitted that no one
had ventured to raise such an opinion in the Cabinet meetings.

In November 1992, the Babri Masjid issue became the focus of
activity at both Ayodhya and Delhi. At Ayodhya the VHP held
district and block level meetings where anti-Muslim slogans were
raised and Kar Sevaks were urged to build the 'Ram Mandir' come
what may. Slogans were painted on walls in Ayodhya. Audio cassettes
on the same theme were sold freely and openly in Ayodhya.

The government was in full possession of all the facts, most of
which did not need more than an open pair of eyes to note down in
any case. Intelligence reports and local police information with
full details were with the Union home ministry, where Mr S.B.Chavan
was the home minister. There was definitive evidence from all
sources that the mosque was going to be demolished.

At Ayodhya, according to the reports available with the Union
government at the time, the Kar Sevaks began gathering from
November 24. The BJP and the VHP held a series of meetings to
finalise their plans for the demolition. As the crisis gathered
momentum, a strong security contingent, which reached 1 0,000
central forces personnel, was posted at Faizabad amid reports that
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh had decided that his
government would not allow the use of force on the Kar Sevaks.

This statement, incidentally was made by Mr Kalyan Singh after he
had been taken to Delhi by Mr Sharad Pawar for a meeting with Mr
Rao. That nothing came of the meeting is evident from Mr Singh's
subsequently belligerent posturings.

A meeting of the National Integration Council was called on
November 23, 1992 (it has not been summoned since that impotent
event). An initial draft presented by the government expressing
general concern about the situation was rejected by the members.

CPI(M) leader Harkishen Singh Surjeet drafted the resolution that
was unanimously passed by all present. It authorised Mr Rao
unequivocally to take any action 'be thought fit to protect the

In their speeches the various leaders of political parties
antagonistic to the Congress gave their full support to any action
the government might take to protect the mosque.

Outside, the war of statements was hotting up with the BJP-VHP
leaders becoming more assertive with each passing day. The number
of security personnel at Faizabad had gone upto 29,000 by the end
of November.

The BJP was expecting President's Rule to be imposed in the state
and said as much at their meetings: the party was not convinced
that it would be allowed such freedom of action on December 6. Mr
Jyoti Basu and Mr V.P. Singh went on record to state that dismissal
of the Kalyan Singh government had become necessary.

On November 25, Mr Surjeet met Mr Rao and rate, told that there was
nothing to worry about as nothing would happen to the mosque. On
November 29, a meeting of the Cabinet Committee for Political
Affairs was held. It had been made clear to the Prime Minister by
then that a decision, in one form or the other, was necessary to
contain the tension that was mounting at Ayodhya.

For perhaps the first time in months, Mr Rao shed his reticence on
this particular issue to state that he was in favour of imposing
President's Rule in Uttar Pradesh. He was convinced there was no
other way. He asked the home secretary to prepare the necessary

Mr Rao was going out of town for the day and said that he would
convene another meeting the same evening to finalise the details.
He returned in the evening as scheduled but the meeting was not
called. An emissary, not a politician, who had been sent to meet
RSS chief Balasaheb Deoras at Nagpur had returned with some "good
news." Mr Deoras had agreed to issue a statement that would obviate
the necessity of imposing President's Rule. Mr Rao believed Mr
Deoras. Incidentally, he did not inform his Cabinet colleagues
about this development. They learnt of it later.

Going by the large gathering of Kar Sevaks at Ayodhya, it was
fairly obvious that the Babri Masjid will be demolished on December
6. Senior political leaders met the then Prime Minister, Mr P.V.
Narasimha Rao, during the first five days of December 1992 urging
him to acquire the disputed land or impose Central rule in Uttar
Pradesh. Mr Rao's only response was to intensify informal
discussions with some BJP-VHP leaders.

Senior journalists Nikhil Chakravarty, R.K. Mishra and Prabhash
Joshi took it upon themselves to mediate with RSS leader Rajendra
Singh and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat. The proposal put forward by the
journalists was that all should wait for the judicial verdict, that
until that time Kar Seva could take place outside the disputed
territory and that all efforts would be made for the Allahabad high
court to expedite its decision. Mr Shekhawat and Nanaji Deshmukh
were nominated to meet Mr Rao. On December 2, 1992, Mr Rao informed
Mr Nikhil Chakravarty over telephone that the talks had gone well,
and that everything was under control. The above conditions had
been agreed to by the RSS leaders. However there was no statement
to support this optimism from any BJP-RSS leader. In fact the
speeches at the public meetings at Ayodhya became more and more
offensive with over 150,000 Kar Sevaks at the spot on December 5.
Muslim homes and graves were attacked by the Kar Sevaks from
December 1 onwards and the minorities had started leaving Ayodhya.
Intelligence and police information from this date onwards began
to speak of the Kar Sevaks determination to destroy the mosque. In
fact on December 3, a public announcement that the Kar Seva would
begin at 12.15 pm on December 6 was made at Ayodhya.

On December 2, CPI(M) leader H.S. Surjeet telephoned Mr Rao from
Lisbon asking him if he was going to act. The confident reply from
Mr Rao was "this afternoon." Nothing happened.

On December 3, a delegation of senior Opposition leaders led by
former Prime Minister V.P.Singh met Mr Rao. He was urged by all
the leaders to immediately take over the site. He was also assured
full support for the imposition of President's rule in the state.
The leader who met him then recall that Mr Rao seemed completely
unperturbed and calm. He insisted that he had everything under
control as there was sufficient force on the spot. He had spoken
to Mr Rajinder Singh who had assured him that nothing would happen.
It was clear to the Opposition delegation that the then Prime
Minister was in no mood for a confrontation and hence quite willing
to ignore his own official sources of information for the informal'
assurance from RSS-BJP leaders.

Union home minister S.B.Chavan went to Lucknow at this time only to
return with yet another assurance, this time from UP chief minister
Kalyan Singh. He made a statement that there was no reason to
disbelieve Mr Kalyan Singh who had assured Mr Chavan that no harm
would come to the mosque. Mr Kalyan Singh's public statements
insisting on the demolition, and the home ministry's own recorded
information were ignored in favour of personal conversations. A
Cabinet meeting was held. The Babri Masjid was not on the official
agenda but was raised not by Mr Rao, but by senior minister Mr
M.L.Fotedar who briefly reminded his colleagues about the December
6 deadline. Mr Rao said there was no need to worry and he was
completely seized of the matter. That was all. lee entire Cabinet
accepted him at his word, as if the issue was a personal matter and
only the Prime Minister and not the government was accountable.
The Rao Cabinet dismissed the issue in seconds on what was
virtually the eve of the demolition.

On December 5 the secular opposition led by Mr V.P. Singh,
organised a peace march to Ayodhya. They were arrested en route.
At the same time, despite the heavy deployment of security forces,
there were no such restrictions on the kar sevaks who reached the
spot without any hindrance. VHP chief Mr Ashok Singhal and Bajrang
Dal leader MY Vinay Katiyar spent the day at Ayodhya where at press
conferences and meetings, they made it clear that they were
committed to the decision of demolishing the mosque. There was no
reaction from Delhi despite the detailed intelligence information
available to the government from Ayodhya.

On December 6, 1992 the then Prime Minister, Mr P.V. Narsimha Rao,
and his entire Cabinet went underground, surfacing only in the late
afternoon after the Babri Masjid was demolished by the kar sevaks
at Ayodhya. In sharp contrast, the scene at Ayodhya was one of
frenetic activity, the day beginning for the kar sevaks and their
leaders at 6 am.

Mr Narasimha Rao, no matter what his erstwhile Cabinet colleagues
might state now, had managed to convince everyone that no damage
would come to the mosque. He never gave a reason for this
confidence, merely hinting at the successful conclusion of talks
with leaders of the Sangh combine. The fact that no pre-emptive
action was taken by the Rao government till the morning of December
6 should have caused more concern than it did in the political

It was as if the government had gone to sleep. Nothing was heard
from Mr Rao till the afternoon, when that attack on the mosque had
already begun. Union home minister S. B. Chavan did not make any
effort to intervene directly with the result that the massive
contingent of security Ayodhya remained bystanders to the event.
Senior officials of the Rapid Action Force told this correspondent
said that they had never felt more frustrated in their lives than
on that eventful day in 1992, waiting for the orders that never
came. 'We were in complete readiness, we knew what was happening,
we were equipped to handle the situation but the government just
did not let us move," said a senior officer.

A subsequent intelligence-made video film of the demolition was
shown to a select group by the then chief minister of Maharashtra,
Mr Sharad Pawar, in a futile bid to distance himself from the
event, Mr Pawar was one of those who while talking to the RSS-BJP
leaders was of the view that their assurance of keeping the
monument intact, should be taken at face value. This film,
incidentally, showed that as soon as women and children were asked
to leave the premises in preparation for the demolition, a large
section of the local police deployed around the mosque left with

The first slogans for building the Ram temple were raised at 6 am.
Two hours later the strategy was discussed at Bajrang Dal leader
Vinay Katiyar's house. Senior leaders like L.K. Advani, Ashok
Singhal, H.V. Seshadri and K.S. Sudarshan were present. Fifteen
minutes later, RSS cadres began forming a protective cordon around
the disputed 2.77 acres. Attacks on Muslim houses began, and
continued throughout the day. There is evidence of phone calls
made by local citizens of some influence to the Prime Minister's
residence but they could speak only to his PA.

At 10.30 am, Mr Advani and Mr M.M. Joshi arrived at the Babri
Masjid site. It was at this time that the Ram Lalla idols were
removed from the site. Speeches inciting the crowds were made by
Mr Advani, Ms Uma Bharati and others. At this point the district
magistrate revealing a certain bent of mind told journalists that
the situation was under control and they should go home. The
assault on the masjid began at 11.45 am. The first dome of the
Babri Masjid fell at 2.55 pm, the right dome at 16.35 pm and the
central dome at 16.50 pm. Senior leaders of the Sangh combine were
present, supervising, raising slogans, dancing.

Delhi began to wake up when the attack on the mosque was well
underway. It is clear that the senior ministers made no effort to
keep in touch with the events of the day. One senior leader was
away in Punjab during the crucial day. Another admitted that he
learnt of the assault from senior lawyer R.K. Garg and confirmed
the news, not from government sources, but a news agency . This
minister tried to contact the home minister "who was just not
available." Finally he got through to Mr Rao after 1.30 pm, who
calmly re-confirmed the news.

The BJP was far more organised and its chief minister. Kalyan
Singh resigned at 17.45 pm, before the Cabinet met in Delhi. In
fact the Cabinet meeting began only at 6 pm after the entire Babri
Masjid had been reduced to rubble. Agitated opposition leaders
hurriedly formed a delegation and met President Shanker Dayal
Sharma at 5 pm. The President responded with an immediate statement
to the press and an address to the nation at 8 pm on Doordarshan.
There was no reaction from the then Prime Minister and his Cabinet.

Minutes after the Cabinet meeting began in Delhi, the Ram Lalla
idols were brought back to the site at Ayodhya. A smaller group of
kar sevaks began clearing the rubble and constructing a makeshift
temple where the Babri Masjid had once stood. This work continued
throughout the night, even though President's rule was notionally
imposed in the state at 9.10 pm. There was no move by the
government to even restrict this activity.

Former home minister S.B. Chavan recently stated in a television
interview that then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao was
responsible for the demolition of the Babri Masjid. When news of
this was carried in the print media just before the telecast, Mr
Chavan reacted by stating that he had not said this at all. When
it was made known to him that the relevant portions had been
recorded by the camera, he claimed he had spoken off the record.

The flip flop so evident in Mr Chavan's reactions to fits own
statement has characterised the Congress reaction to the
demolition. The two Cabinet meetings held on the evening of
December 6. 1992 and the next day explain why Congress leaders,
particularly those who were in positions of power then, have been
so reticent about the demolition which figures only in off the
record conversations.

On December 9, Mr Rao called a meeting of the Cabinet at 6 pm only
when it became apparent to him that he could delay it no longer.
There was no pressure on him to hold the meeting from his
colleagues who were quite happy to leave the decision to Mr Rao.

The meeting convened without any preliminary statement from Mr Rao
about the day's events. One former minister remembers Mr Rao as
being "very calm" at the meeting. Another minister recalls him as
being "very agitated and nervous." Obviously factional affiliations
have distorted even these recollections. The Prime Minister was not
held accountable for the incident by his Cabinet. Not a single
minister then asked Mr Rao why the central government had been
reduced to the role of a bystander, and why the promised action was
not taken to pre-empt the action. These questions were not even
indirectly posed as the Cabinet went into what was essentially a
damage control exercise.

The demolition was seen as a threat to the survival of the
government, and the discussion that went on for three hours was
about how the immediate reaction from the people could be
countered. One of the first suggestions was that the Uttar Pradesh
government should be dismissed. To this Mr M.L. Fotedar pointed out
that Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh had already
resigned. Mr Rao expressed surprise and asked the officials present
to find out. They returned to confirm the news stating that it had
been announced over the radio and television. The Prime Minister,
judging from this tell-tale response, had not kept himself
sufficiently informed about the events at Ayodhya and Uttar
Pradesh. Mr Fotedar told this correspondent that he had pointed out
the government must accept moral responsibility.

"We have failed as we have abdicated our responsibility to fulfil
the mandate given to us," he recalls having said. Several other
leaders who were ministers then. however. seem to be suffering from
amnesia. A minister wanted to know why the foreign secretary was
not present as it was imperative to discuss how the news would be
circulated to the missions abroad. Mr Fotedar suggested that the
BJP governments be dismissed. Mr Sukh Ram felt it would he counter
productive. Mr Madhav Rao Scindia and Mr V.C. Shukta, both with a
vested interest in Madhya Pradesh, supported Mr Fotedar. Mr Rao
did not utter a single word. The attention turned to a possible
broadcast to the nation by My Rao. This was supported by all. Mr
Rao asked the officials to show the speech to Mr Arjun Singh. The
meeting adjourned with the decision to meet next morning.

Meanwhile at Ayodhya, the construction of the makeshift temple
continued through the night, although President's Rule was imposed
at 9.10 pm. On December 7, despite the fact that the government
had supposedly woken from its slumber, the carnage continued.
Attacks on Muslims continued throughout the day.

Advisers to the governor reached Lucknow before noon and were told
that directions to the security forces to remove the kar sevaks
from the spot could be given only after clearance from the Centre.
The records show that the Centre's permission came seven hour
after it was sought. At 8 pm the construction of the temple
stopped. Even at 11 pm. police records show, 500 kar sevaks were
on the site. The second and a shorter third Cabinet meeting on
December 7 and December 8 were even more farcical. The damage
control exercise acquired an exaggerated hue with the Cabinet
clearing the arrests of BJP-VHP leaders, dismissal of BJP
governments and other such action. Mr Rao declared that his
statement would include a commitment to re-build the mosque. Some
ministers were against the arrest of senior leaders like Mr Advani,
pointing out that such leaders were detained not arrested. Mr
Arjun Singh spoke a bit about the demolition with rude
interruptions from Mr Santosh Mohan Dey and Mr Jagdish Tytler.
There was discussion about the Prime Minister's statement, the
initial draft being turned down as being nothing more than a
narration of the sequence of events. Mr Ran broke his silence to
agree with this view and authorised Mr Arjun Singh. Mr Scindia, Mr
Jaffer Sharief and Mr Chavan to prepare the it afresh. One of the
ministers involved in the drafting said that Mr Rao's included the
promise to rebuild the mosque on his own initiative. It remained
an empty gesture.

Senior journalists met Mr Rao on December 8 to lodge a strong
protest against government inaction. The former. Prime Minister's
only response was: "You are getting very agitated.

The RAF took charge of the masjid site only at 4 pm on December 8.
It was only then that the last of the kar sevaks were, removed from
the site. On December 9, Mr Rao announced his decision to rebuild
the destroyed mosque. The rest is history.

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