New Delhi: Former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao's "pro-Hindu mindset" encouraged the destruction of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992, senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar said on Monday.
Speaking at a book launch here, many others, including former Congressman Natwar Singh who also worked closely with Rao, described the Babri Masjid demolition on December 6, 1992, as "the biggest failure" of the then Prime Minister Rao, who otherwise, according to them, took bold and timely decisions on economic reforms.
"Rao was completely convinced that by talking to the sadhus and saints he could solve the problem (Ayodhya's Ram temple issue)," Aiyar said at the release of 'Half Lion -- How P.V. Narasimha Rao Transformed India' penned by Vinay Sitapati.
Aiyar recalled that on November 14, 1992, his "Ram-Rahim yatra" for peace and communal harmony was stalled at Faizabad and he was arrested by Uttar Pradesh Police.
"I was summoned by Rao, he told me he had no problem with my yatra but he did not agree with my definition of secularism as India is a Hindu-majority country. I told Rao that's exactly how the BJP argues," Aiyar said while countering contentions from the book author.
Author Sitapati, a product of National Law School at Bengaluru and Harvard University, maintained that Narasimha Rao had actually only "erred" in judging the situation and that "it was only the Congress creation that Rao conspired for the mosque's demolition".
Senior journalist Shekhar Gupta said the ploy to "demonise" Rao on the Babri issue was a Congress attempt only to win over the Muslims by saying that "look, Rao is responsible for the Babri demolition and not the party".
"The Muslims of UP are not fools; they knew pretty well who opened the locked gates of the disputed structure," Gupta said in reference to a decision of the then Rajiv Gandhi government.
Aiyar, however, maintained that even after the mosque's demolition, Rao told a Congress Parliamentary Party meeting in Delhi that "even kings in ancient India used to consult sages and sadhus and so did I".
"Was this a mindset of a 20th century Prime Minister or 12th century? This mindset actually encouraged the destruction of Babri Masjid," Aiyar said.
The Congress leader maintained that Rao could have dismissed the then Kalyan Singh government and imposed President's Rule in Uttar Pradesh.
"In fact, there was a precedent of such President's Rule. In apprehension that things can go out of control in Tamil Nadu, the then DMK government was dismissed and central rule imposed earlier without recommendation from the state Governor."
However, former bureaucrat and ex-Cabinet Secretary Naresh Chandra strongly defended Rao's decision not to impose President's Rule in Uttar Pradesh as that would have been an act with constitutional flaw.
"The then UP Governor did not recommend President's Rule but in the case of Tamil Nadu, as argued by Mani Shankar Aiyar, the Governor (Surjeet Singh Barnala) had only said he is unable to make up his mind whether to impose President's Rule or not," Chandra said.
Speaking on the occasion, Natwar Singh described the demolition of the Babri mosque as "the biggest failure" of Rao's tenure.
He said that after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, Shankar Dayal Sharma was the first choice of Sonia Gandhi for prime ministership.
"On the advice of P.N. Haksar, Sonia Gandhi sent me and Aruna Asif Ali to meet Shankar Dayal Sharma, but he declined the proposal," Natwar Singh.
Natwar Singh also threw light on and shared anecdotes about tension in relations between Congress leader Arjun Singh and Narasimha Rao and also between Sonia Gandhi and Rao, especially in the context of probe into Rajiv Gandhi's assassination.
"Rao completely denied the charge and said he had sent others, including P. Chidambaram, to Sonia Gandhi with the information on the probe," Singh said.
The book 'Half Lion -- How P.V. Narasimha Rao Transformed India' is published by Penguin Books India.