Two years before the demolition of the Babri masjid in 1992, the then Congress-backed Chandra Shekhar-led government was “on the cusp” of resolving the Ayodhya dispute by promulgating an ordinance, according to a book written on the former prime minister by Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman Harivansh.
The book titled Chandra Shekhar—The Last Icon of Ideological Politics, says in 1990, the former prime minister, along with then chief ministers Sharad Pawar, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, had mediated between Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Muslim leaders on the sensitive issue.
Quoting veteran journalist Ram Bahadur Rai, a close associate of Jayaprakash Narayan, the book states that it is widely believed that the Chandra Shekhar government was “on the cusp of solving the Babri mosque-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute by promulgating an ordinance”.
After getting the information of preparation of such an ordinance, then Congress president Rajiv Gandhi and his “coterie of advisers panicked” as they “did not want Chandra Shekhar to gain in stature” by resolving such a complex problem, the book states.
Harivansh, in his book, further says that Chandra Shekhar, during his tenure as the prime minister, did not hesitate from taking some of the boldest initiatives to reduce the overt belligerence between the purported leaders of the Hindu (VHP) and Muslim communities (BMAC—the Babri Mosque Action Committee).
He adopted an innovative yet straightforward approach to look for a peaceful and permanent solution to the dispute by engaging openly with the conflicting parties.
“Chandra Shekhar managed to get both the groups of claimants to sit across the negotiating table and explore avenues for mutual agreements to bring about a peaceful solution to the issue,” the book states.
In a bid to resolve the dispute, the former prime minister invited his old friend Shekhawat, a senior BJP leader and then the incumbent chief minister of Rajasthan, another old friend from the Congress and then the incumbent chief minister of Maharashtra, Pawar, and the serving chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yadav, to work out a mutually acceptable solution.
“Amidst discussions with the three chief ministers, the leaders of the VHP and the BMAC agreed to refer the dispute to the Supreme Court. It was a very significant and positive development from both the sides to agree to accept the Supreme Court’s decision,” Harivansh said in the book, which he has co-authored with Ravi Dutt Bajpai.
He further said the Muslim leaders had even considered the possibility of shifting the mosque, if it was desired by a court verdict based on historical facts.
Chandra Shekhar organised two meetings between the leaders of the VHP and the BMAC in December 1990, the book says, adding that the former prime minister also directed a debate in Parliament on one specific question—was the Babri mosque constructed after demolishing an existing temple on that site?
In a major breakthrough, Chandra Shekhar’s government instituted four experts’ committees to go into historical, archaeological, legal and revenue records, and examine in depth the evidence submitted by the VHP and the BMAC, the book says.
Quoting from Pawar’s autobiography, it says Chandra Shekhar had worked out an agreement between the VHP and the BMAC that the disputed site in Ayodhya would be retained as a memorial and that land would be allotted for the construction of both a temple and a mosque.
The Babri masjid was demolished on October 6, 1992 by Hindu activists. Harivansh, a Janata Dal (United) member in the Upper House of Parliament, worked as an additional information commissioner in the Chandra Shekhar government.