He may go down in history as the Prime Minister who put India on the path of liberalisation but P V Narasimha Rao will also always be remembered as the man under whose watch the Babri Masjid was demolished, jolting the foundations of secularism in the country.
Could he have stopped the demolition? The troubling question has been at the centre of a 30-year debate that continues till today. The spotlight returned to the key political players -- the BJP’s L K Advani, Uma Bharti and Murli Manohar Joshi for putting their party on the arc of electoral wins. And inevitably, Narasimha Rao, the Congress’ first non-Gandhi leader to complete a five-year term as Prime Minister.
Rao, who passed away in 2004, was accused by several quarters of inaction in the face of the gathering movement for the demolition of the mosque. Though his tenure saw many landmark developments, the demolition is writ large on his legacy.
According to Madhav Godbole, who was Home Secretary at the time, the Ministry of Home Affairs prepared a comprehensive contingency plan for the takeover of the structure by invoking Article 356 of the Constitution.
It was emphasised that in order for central paramilitary forces to successfully take over the Babri Mosque and the surrounding area, ensuring its security, timing and the element of surprise were of essence, he writes in his book “The Babri Masjid-Ram Mandir Dilemma: An Acid Test for India’s Constitution”. But Rao felt the contingency plan was not workable and dismissed it, Godbole says in the book.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and ex-President Pranab Mukherjee, at an event earlier this year, expressed the hope that history will judge Rao in a better manner than it has done till now.
“I do sincerely believe that Narasimha Rao ji was a great son of our country. History will be much more kind to him than has been thus far. I am quite sure the history will record his immense contribution to the building of modern India,” Singh said at an event recently.