You said the role of Congress has been treacherous. Can you explain?
Muslims have earned a bad name in the Shah Bano case. The truth is Indira Gandhi had arrived at a pact with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). To please the Muslims, Rajiv Gandhi passed the Muslim Women Bill, which led to the opening of locks. But they were opened through a prior agreement. The VHP stopped the agitation because of the assassination of Indira Gandhi. The pact was renewed by Rajiv Gandhi. Muslims got a bad name needlessly. I had conveyed a message to the Rajiv Gandhi government through an emissary. I had said open the definition of divorce according to sharia laws, which would have meant three periods and conciliation, not Anglo-Mohammadan law. Had that been done, all sting would have been taken out. But then Rajiv Gandhi had a deal behind him.
The demolition of Babri Masjid was a watershed in Indian history. How has it impacted Indian polity?
Yes, it was a watershed moment. It propelled LK Advani into a position of leadership and it seemed he would become the Prime Minister. The BJP fouled the atmosphere. But such was the backlash that the Congress could not return to power in 1996. If it had not been for the mistakes on the part of Congress leadership, the BJP would not have come to power in 1998. The entire country was shocked and disgusted by the demolition. President Shankar Dayal Sharma had issued a strong statement. So the BJP didn’t gain from it. But it did help spread the message of Hindutva and that caught on. The BJP reaped the harvest. It did not last long as could be seen in the election results of 2004 and 2009.
Do you mean to say that the message of Hindutva has lost its relevance and it did not capture the Hindu imagination?
The point is they needed a person like Narendra Modi to carry things further. If it had not been for the UPA’s mistakes, the BJP would not have come to power. I want to emphasise there were considerable mistakes on the part of the Muslim leadership. The Babri Masjid Action Committee’s stupid call of boycott of all official functions of Republic Day was bound to have a negative impact.
This is your third volume on Babri Masjid encompassing recent history. Can you give us a glimpse of what you have recorded in this volume?
The evidence in this book nails Narasimha Rao, shows his culpability. He was the man who knew what was happening and he kept his eyes shut. Rao was the prime culprit and he acted in such a way that he would not be blamed. But he was responsible. From the record which I had laid hands on, it is very clear that he was communal-minded. He had a record of communal-mindedness when he was the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh. He had a bad record during the struggle against the Nizam in Hyderabad. At one time, Advani also praised him, called him fantastic. I must mention also that it required a chief justice like Justice Venkatachaliah to make the demolition possible. I have documented that Venkatachaliah facilitated demolition by giving those court adjournments and after the demolition, Attorney General Milon Banerjee reminded him, “I had warned your lordship.” Venkatachaliah went so far as to say, “I hope you are looking after the health of the kar sevaks.” And sure enough, because of this he was appointed chairman of the Constitution Review Committee by the BJP government.
From the contents of the book, it appears you are arguing that the Judiciary and the Executive virtually colluded. And even the secular SP and BSP governments riding on Muslim votes also didn’t show the stamina to pursue cases against the accused?
Yes, they had virtually colluded. I wouldn’t go into technicalities. The court was set up by the UP government without the requisite notification, and without the consent of the high court. They had only to issue a notification and the trial would have proceeded. And the CBI had also played a deceitful role. When Advani was in power, they had one role, and when he was not in power, they played a different game.
You have been a strong defender of secular ideals and values. The demolition of Babri Masjid harmed secularism the most. What is the future of this ideology in the country?
The fabric of secularism has been impaired. The fact of the matter is Narendra Modi has won votes and popularity because of his record. We have to face realities. Every day reports show RSS is infiltrating institutions with the encouragement of the current government. It is a fearful situation. The worst thing today is the communal polarisation.
You have also said Babri Masjid should not have been allowed to be made a Muslim issue alone.
That is right. It was an issue of statute and law. On this basis, we should have demanded that possession should be restored.
The Allahabad high court judgment had almost sanctified that it was a place of birth of Lord Ram. How do you view this judgment?
The ball is now in the Supreme Court. And on past performance, really, we can’t say, when the case will be heard. By the way, the Allahabad high court judgment has been referred to a larger bench. Elections have come and gone, but the Supreme Court has not found time to decide the issue of Hindutva before it. The judgment was delivered by Justice JS Verma interpreting Hindutva (as often quoted by BJP) without taking recourse to Veer Savarkar’s book. He referred to Maulana Wahiduddin Khan’s book and some stray observations to validate his case.
Back to the high court judgment, according to it, Hindu faith triumphs over the law of the land. The law of the land involves law of limitation. They said limitation cannot run against a Hindu temple. But a Hindu temple can acquire right to property by adverse possession. Now it need not be an established deity, it can be a leaf, a stone and if it is a matter of faith, that faith must be respected. The implications are so far reaching, I need not to spell them out.
In Mumbai, there is a traffic island. In that there is a mosque, a temple and a church. And they exist peacefully. Before the idols were planted, there was a proposal to build a temple within the complex, but outside the mosque. It was actually at the chabutra that the worship was conducted. If that solution had been pursued by Rajiv Gandhi, the problem would have been over. The gates were opened by KM Pandey, the judge, who said he saw monkeys on the roof of his house and he was inspired.
Historians have recorded Muslim rulers having demolished temples in the past and many Hindus feel that the demolition of Babri Masjid is justified.
The majority judgment of the two Hindu judges of the high court recalled the cases of those demolitions by Muslim rulers as if that sanctifies demolitions now. Romila Thapar has documented extremely well how Buddhist places of worship were demolished by Hindus and vice versa. A Hindu Kashmiri King Harshdev looted temples to fill his coffers. But the question is: Are you going to open history to take revenge. Then there would be no end to it.
You have mentioned the accountability of demolition has not been fixed and political parties in UP have colluded.
Neither Samajwadi Party nor Bahujan Samaj Party has taken a stand on Babri Masjid. Muslims should realise who their friends are.
How do you rate writing of history in this country?
I must say there is a band of historians Sushil Srivastava and Romila Thapar and many others who are good. At the same time there is a group of historians which is propagandist. I have mentioned it without showing why. But it is remarkable these judgments of the high court running into hundreds of pages were produced at short notice. A propagandist produced material to these judges and they relied on that.