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The Dynasty - Book Extract - Part 3 of 3 - Rajiv - The Asian Age

S S Gill ()
10 December 1996

Title : The Dynasty - Book Extract - Part 3 of 3 - Rajiv
Author : S S Gill
Publication : The Asian Age
Date : December 10, 1996

Rajiv was as free of communal bias as his grandfather.
But he had little appreciation of its deadly nature. For
him, it was one of the several counters in the game of
politics, and he handled it rather casually. Ghulam Nabi
Azad, Indira's minister of state, once invited him, the
two Aruns and Arif Mohammad Khan to dinner. Someone
happened to mention the writ filed by some crazy fellow
in the Calcutta high court for banning the holy Koran, as
it contained passages offensive to other religions.
Rajiv suggested that an agitation should be started
against the Jyoti Basu government on this issue. When
Arif pointed out that the state government was in no way
responsible for this writ, Rajiv replied that, in any
case, it will help embarrass Jyoti Basu!

The persistence with which Rajiv played up the secession-
ist role of the Sikh extremists and lambasted the Anand-
pur Shaib Resolution during his 1984 election campaign
deeply hurt the Sikhs, as the entire community was being
tarred with the same brush. For Rajiv it was a volte-
catching gimmick, and he was unaware of the forces of
communal discord he was releasing. His reluctance to
initiate action on the Mishra Commission Report on anti-
Sikh riots of 1984 was again dictated by self-defeating
expediency.

Rajiv Gandhi'_handling of the Shah Bano controversy shows
his confused approach to the issues. Shah Bano's plea for
grant of maintenance by her ex-husband was granted by the
court under section 125 of the Criminal Procedure Code,
and the Supreme Court had upheld it in appeal. Rajiv was
strongly in favour of the enlightened stand taken by the
Supreme Court and wrote on the home ministry's file,
"There cannot be any compromise with the
fundamentalists."

The Assam accord was signed during that period, and Prime
Minister Rajiv Gandhi had invited the Assamese delegation
for a cup of tea. Arif Mohammad Khan, minister of state
for home, was also there. Rajiv, knowing his progressive
views, asked Asif, "why don't you speak on the subject."
In his 100-minute intervention in Parliament, Arif put up
a brilliant defence of the Supreme Court judgment, quot-
ing chapter and verse from Koran in support of his stand.
After the speech Rajiv scribbled, "Congratulations for a
wonderful performance" on a slip of paper and passed it
to him.

But a few days later Cabinet minister Z.A. Ansari mounted
a virulent attack on the Supreme Court judgment. He could
not have done so without clearance from the Prime Min-
ister. In a volte-face the government enacted the Muslim
(Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act under pressure from
the Muslim clergy, amending sections 125 and 127 of the
Criminal Procedure Code. The new law laid down that
unless both husband and wife agree to be governed by the
Code, their personal law will prevail. In a refreshing
departure from the established Congress culture of stick-
ing to office like a limpet, Arif Mohammad Khan resigned
in protest. This episode inevitably put paid to all talk
of framing a uniform civil code for all Indian citizens.

Two riots of the Rajiv era deserve special mention. One,
the Meerut riots of 1987, in which hundreds of innocent
lives were lost and property worth tens of crores de-
stroyed. Particularly reprehensible was the case of
Maliana where the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC)
shot in the back nearly 50 muslims who were fleeing in
panic, and threw their bodies in the nearby canal. When
the Rajiv visited Meerut, he was greeted with the slogans
of "PAC zindabad." Subsequently, when the Cabinet Commit-
tee on Political Affairs was discussing this outrage, the
concerned officer in attendance recommended deterrent
action against the PAC. After some whispering he was
gently told to wait outside, as the Committee wanted to
discuss a confidential matter.

Then there was the vicious anti-Muslim rioting in Bhagal-
pur when the 1989 election campaign was in progress.
There was good reason for the Muslims to feel that the
government had failed to protect them, and this cost the
Congress a heavy loss of votes.

Nothing exposes Rajiv Gandhi's opportunistic approach to
the communal issue as his handling of the Babri Masjid-
Ramjanmbhoomi dispute. Controversy over the Muslim Wom-
en's Bill had not only strengthened Muslim fundamental-
ism, it also gave a handle to the Hindu chauvinists.
Though the Act in no way hurt the Hindus, it was repre-
sented as a refusal of the Muslim community to become
part of the national mainstream.

During the routine morning briefing one day, Rajiv was
informed by his intelligence agencies that the Hindus
were much agitated over this issue. Arun Nehru, who was
also present, suggested that the Ayodhya issue had been
lying dormant for a long time, and it would be a good
idea to arrange reopening of the shrine. Then and there
Rajiv rang up Vir Bahadur Singh, chief minister of Uttar
Pradesh, to take necessary action. In separate meetings,
Muslim leaders were told that as a quid pro quo for the
Muslim Women's Bill, the shrine gates will have to be
unlocked. This was a deal to which the Muslim spokesmen
willingly agreed. Arun Nehru later confirmed to a jour-
nalist that Ayodhya "was supposed to be a package deal...
a tit for tat for the Muslim Women's Bill." So a petition
was arranged to be filed on this issue and the obliging
court ordered reopening of the gates in February 1986.

Little did anybody foresee that this thoughtless act of
rank expediency would ultimately lead to the destruction
of the Babri Mosque in 1992. Encouraged by this victory,
the Vishva Hindu Parishad zealots stepped up their cam-
paign to build the Ramjanmbhoomi Temple at the disputed
site. A move to bring consecrated bricks from all over
the country was launched, and nearly 1,50,000 bricks
stacked at the site. As the government felt unequal to
the task of containing the Hindu communal onslaught, it
made a reckless attempt to extract maximum political
mileage from this operation.

Buta Singh, home minister, lent his good offices to
evolve a face-saving device, and the government went so
far as to twist a high court judgment and misrepresented
a part of a disputed plot as undisputed. This was the
portion where VHP had decided to lay the foundation
stone. The modalities for this strategy were worked out

in the office of the UP chief minister. Consequently,
the Shilanyas was performed on November 9. Emboldened by
this triumph, VHP leader Ashok Singhal boasted, "If the
government thinks it has been bulldozed into allowing the
foundation stone laying ceremony, we can bulldoze them
further." To cap it all, Rajiv started his election
campaign from Ayodhya with the declaration that "main Ram
Rajya sthapit karunga." But the entire strategy boomer-
anged. On the one hand he lost the Muslim vote and on the
other he could not dent the BJP constituency. In the BJP
score in the new Parliament shot up from 2 to 86, and a
part of the credit for this spectacular rise must go to
Mr Gandhi, who managed to have the worst of both worlds.


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