When the history of the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement is written, the role of one man will always remain an enigma. A soft-spoken man, P.B. Narasimha Rao was known to have the resolve necessary to enforce his writ when circumstances demanded it. However, on the 6th of December, 1992, the Prime Minister of India famous for ushering in an era of economic reforms watched silently as the Babri Masjid at Ram Janmabhoomi was brought crashing down by Karsevaks with hammer and tongs.
His detractors within the Congress party claim PV Narasimha Rao was hand in gloves with the key conspirators accused in the Babri Masjid Demolition case. It is alleged that he was fully aware of what was to happen and yet, he chose not to act and permitted things to unfold as per Rama’s writ. There appears to be a silent admission of this from the Bhaktas of Rama as well since he enjoys great respect among the top leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
It is true, of course, that during the latter stages of his life and even after his death, PV Narasimha Rao enjoyed greater support from the politicians in the opposition camp than within his own party. It is under these circumstances that we must evaluate his actions on the fateful day of the destruction of the Babri Masjid.
It is a known fact that during the months leading to Demolition Day, he had considered dismissing the BJP government in the state. In his book ‘Ayodhya: 6th December 1992’, Narasimha Rao says that it is the prerogative of the Governor to inform the central government in case of law and order situation getting out of hand in the state and seek centre’s intervention.
However, Narasimha Rao said that as recently as five days before the eventual demolition, then Governor of Uttar Pradesh Satyanarayan Reddy communicated to the Centre the general law and order situation, especially on the communal aspect of things, were indeed satisfactory. The governor report, apparently, went so far as to state that although Karsevaks were gathering at Ayodhya in large numbers, they were peaceful.
The report stated, “There are reports that a large number of Kar Sevaks are reaching Ayodhya, but they are peaceful. In my opinion, at present, the time is not ripe for taking any drastic step like the dismissal of the UP government or the dissolution of the state assembly or the imposition of President’s rule in the state.”
The governor had apparently warned that should President’s rule be imposed in Uttar Pradesh, then the disputed structure might be damaged and communal riots may follow nationwide. “The Supreme Court’s refusal even to make the Central government a receiver for the limited and specific purpose of giving adequate protection to the disputed structure at Ayodhya is also a meaningful pointer,” Narasimha Rao stated, attempting to shift some of the blame to the Judiciary as well.
Narasimha Rao also pointed fingers at Rajiv Gandhi. “Indira Gandhi had various plans to develop Ayodhya. The political potential of this emotive issue was not lost on Mrs Gandhi. After her death, her son took over as the Prime Minister. From then on, a series of disastrous steps followed,” he said. Thus, as per Rao, he was bound by constitutional norms and historical precedent. He is said to have told his personal secretary, ‘How could a democratically elected Government be dismissed as a precautionary measure without any valid reason? Would it be constitutional? Won’t we attract the odium of having resorted to a blatantly unconstitutional act?’
K. Srinath Reddy, who was his personal physician then, believes that Narasimha was genuinely distressed the day when Babri Masjid was demolished. He recalled how he had rushed to meet Narasimha Rao after he watched the disputed structure being brought down, worried about the Prime Minister who was known to suffer from ailments related to the heart.
Reddy recalled much later, ‘As I expected, his heart was racing away… pulse was very fast… BP had risen. His face was glowering red, he was agitated.’ He stated further, ‘I am fairly convinced as a doctor that his personal reaction to the demolition was one of honest agitation. It is not that of a person who would have planned it or been complicit in it.’
If his physician’s description of his prevailing health situation is accurate, then it does appear that Narasimha Rao had no knowledge of what was to happen. It is known that he was personally trying to mediate a solution between the two sides and was trying to convince leaders of the Hindu organisation to provide assurances that the Masjid would not be damaged.
It is said that Narasimha Rao spent much of the November of 1992 holding secret talks with leaders of the BJP. It could never be said with certainty what was discussed in these talks. It is for these negotiations that many of his detractors believe that he was complicit in what transpired on the 6th of December, 1992.
As it is with a lot of other episodes during the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement, Rao’s role in the demolition too will likely remain an enigma for a long time to come and perhaps, for eternity.