File photo of Chandra Shekhar at his Bhondsi farmhouse | Praveen Jain/ThePrint
File photo of Chandra Shekhar at his Bhondsi farmhouse | Praveen Jain/ThePrint
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Chandra Shekhar called together the main leaders of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas (RJN), a trust formed by the VHP to supervise construction of a temple at Ayodhya, and the All India Babri Masjid Action Committee (AIBMAC), as a prelude to a series of confidential negotiations, supervised by Sharad Pawar, who spoke to the Hindus, and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, a personal friend of the PM, and considered a BJP moderate, who dealt with the Muslims. 

The meetings were in the PMO, and Kamal Morarka had a front row seat. He says: 

First, these VHP people came. So Chandra Shekhar starts off very casual—he’ll put you off guard, actually. He asked them: ‘Tell me, what is to be done about this Ayodhya?’ This question is so casual that the [VHP] fellow took it that he could bully him. 

He replied: ‘Ayodhya—what is the issue? It is a Ram mandir, everybody knows it. It’s already a Ram mandir.’ 

After two or three minutes Chandra Shekhar said: ‘OK. Now, let’s be serious. I am prime minister today, I don’t know how long I’ll be here, but while I am prime minister nobody will touch that structure.’ Then he adds, in his own style. ‘I am not VP Singh, who will depend on the state chief minister. I will give orders to shoot anybody who touches that mosque. India is a poor country. We are spending so much money on this—we can’t have it. And why should you bother? If 500 sadhus die, they are dying for God’s cause and going to heaven.’ 

I could see them thinking. ‘This is a funny prime minister. He’s threatening us in a room. He’s not in a public rally. He means it.’ Then Chandra Shekhar said: ‘Listen. The Muslims also want to come and meet me now. Think it over.’

Also read: Who should’ve been the weakest, but turned out to be most decisive Indian prime minister?

Then the Muslim delegation came. He said: ‘Listen, I have told them. Your structure is safe, till I’m sitting here. But, there are five lakh, six lakh villages in the country. There are Hindus and Muslims living side by side everywhere. If tomorrow there are nationwide riots, I don’t have enough police to control them. So, tell me what you think.’ 

In two days, both of the groups came with their tails between their legs, saying they were prepared to settle. ‘OK,’ Chandra Shekhar said. ‘Let’s make ground rules. You start negotiations. Bhairon Singh and Sharad Pawar will sit with you. Whatever you two sides and they agree [on], my government will implement. This is my promise. But there are conditions. About the negotiations, nothing is to be told to the press, except that we are talking. No contents to be leaked to the press till the final agreement.’ 

The talks went on, for about fifteen-twenty days. Bhairon Singh then came to me. He was laughing. 

He said: ‘Both the sides are saying that the matter can be settled, but they are worried they have pumped up their supporters so much, now they don’t know how to bring them down!’ 

And then the two sides came up with a settlement. The broad agreement was this. The Muslims said: ‘We agree to hand over the structure to the Hindus, in keeping with their sentiments. But this structure we hand over on two conditions. First, you give us some other land, to make our masjid. Second, you pass a law, that after this no other issue will be reopened. As of 15 August 1947, what is a masjid is a masjid, what is a temple is a temple.’ This was what both sides agreed. 

Then Narasimha Rao became prime minister. He could have easily sealed this. 

He pauses, and waits for the obvious question. ‘So, why didn’t he?’ He shrugs. 

Ask me another. One and a half years after Narasimha Rao took over, that mosque was gone. The agreement was all there. There was a deal—on paper. The home ministry must have it.

Also read: When Chandra Shekhar’s Young Turks beat Congress old guard with Indira Gandhi’s support

This account is supported and expanded by Sharad Pawar’s own version of events, contained in his memoir, On My Terms. He believes that Chandra Shekhar’s bid to solve the temple issue is not better known for two reasons: that the effort was entirely unofficial, and that it came to nothing. He reveals that the RJN negotiator was Moropant Pingale, an RSS leader from Maharashtra. Pawar also, very generously, gives credit to Bhairon Singh Shekhawat for playing the major role in the process, recalling that the BJP leader said ‘a few tough things, even to the RSS’.

As for the settlement, Pawar supplies some important details: ‘In one part of the structure, as it stood at the time, Hindus offered prayers to a small idol of Lord Ram, while Muslims used the other part of the structure to perform namaaz. Keeping this in mind, the solution being hammered out suggested retention of the disputed structure and providing access to Hindus and Muslims from different sides to offer prayers as per their respective religious practices.’ 

But once news of the discussions moved out from the shelter of the PMO, the regular political pressures began to tell. 

Sharad Pawar gave Rajiv Gandhi an update on the progress of the talks and told him that a deal was about to be done. Morarka remembers: ‘Sharad Pawar told Rajiv, so Rajiv rang up Chandra Shekhar. “I am very happy that you have done this. Give me two days.” He wanted two days to read the deal and think about it. And then he brought down the government in two days. He thought that if Chandra Shekhar settles the Babri Masjid, he’ll become so popular in the country. He didn’t want the credit to go to him. Very petty, if you ask me. Had that thing been settled, Hindu-Muslim relations today would have been much better.’ 

A settlement of the temple dispute by others threatened to damage Rajiv politically; he could not stand by and let it boost others in prestige. Resolving the dispute was a card he still hoped, one day, to play for himself. 

This excerpt from ‘Chandra Shekhar And The Six Months That Saved India’ by Roderick Matthews has been published with permission from HarperCollins India.

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  1. Theprint, I love you. The entire team. All the people who are working hard so that we know the facts. Please do something for mainstream news channels too. Please replace the shitty news channels with your amazing content. Please come up with a news channel guys. You people are amazing.

  2. Muslims of India always act as DOG IN THE MANGAT POLICY. THERE will be no peace unless they are shunted to their home land across the border

    • Shunted across which border Mr Mhendra Dev? To the West to Pakistan or to the East to Bangladesh? And then what happens to Christians ? Where will they be shunted across to ? And then shouldn’t Parsis be shunted to Persia, i.e. modern day Iran?

      And then shouldn’t North Indians like you who come with your begging bowls to work in the South be shunted back to your caves and goshaalas in UP and Bihar? After all, Bal Thackeray wanted the “kaala madrasi” and later the Bihar out of Bombay didn’t he? And Thackeray famously said: “ek bihaari, sau bimaari” !

      If ethnic cleansing that you advicate on the basis of religion gets going in India, it will soon lead to ethnic cleansing on the basis of language, caste and so on. Brace yourself for the break-up of India following the exactl pattern of former Yugoslavia – civil war, bloodshed, concentration cam and overall poverty.

      Be careful what you wish for.

  3. Chandrasekhar was nothing more than a ‘useful idiot’ for Indira Gandhi and next for her son Rajiv. So much for his ideology, progressive views etc. a belief system that caused untold harm to India bringing it to the brink of economic disaster, which ironically he himself was called upon to resolve by mortgaging India’s gold reserves. All these bunch of incompetents have ensured that even after 70 years of political independence India remains at the bottom in every area of human development.

  4. That Rajiv Gandhi brought down Chandrashekar’s government, when he was on the verge of success is hardly surprising. It is in keeping with petty mindedness of Nehru clan. That proposal is more or less what the supreme court decided some twenty nine years later. But, guess how much bad blood flowed in the country because of Rajiv Gandhi’s jealousy of Chandrashekar.

    There is also another version to the dialog arranged by Chandrashekar. This is not secret. Chandrashekar officially arranged negotiations between AIMPLB and VHP reps. While VHP reps came up with solid documentary evidence, the left-liberals who supported AIMPLB attended only the first meeting, delivered some xerox copies of articles and opinions and never attended the subsequent meetings. So, the official negotiation also failed because of left-liberals.

    Left to the Hindus and Muslims, the matter would have been resolved.. It is these helpful people like Left-Liberals and AIMPLB who successfully prolonged the matter.

  5. Yes. Not only this issue, he also handled the J & K problem swiftly when it was burning with violence & terror. He warned the neighbour, Pakistan, to stop interference & support to the terrorist otherwise Pakistan has to face the consequences. He was straight & stern in his warning. So within a week’s time, the J & K becomes so peaceful & normal. This made Rajiv & the Congress unnerve for the same reason that he will get popularity.
    on another occasion when the IPKF is returning from Sri Lanka he suggested the Karunanidhi, then C.M. of Tamil Nadu to accord welcome to them by personally receiving them in a one-on-one meeting insisted to maintain confidentiality. But soon after the meeting, the CM Karunanidhi made it public through print media. Consequently, his Government was brought down. Defending his action the then PM Chandrasekhar said I have brought down the Tamil Nadu Government for not maintain the confidentiality on the talk between PM and the CM.
    It is really sad we lose such a great & decisive leader. As opposition leader when Atal Ji visited PM/ him he stood up and received him by welcoming him by addressing as ‘Gurudev’ It is countries loss.

  6. If this story is true, then SC judgement is on the similar lines except that many other unpleasant and unnecessary events have happened in between. There is now land for both the temple and the mosque. We should now look to the future ensuring that political parties do not get involved in religious issues. In future, any of such issues can be sorted out by the Court based on hard evidence as was done by SC in this case but the parties to the disputes will be religious entities on both the sides and the political parties will not meddle in.

  7. Chandrasekhar was the real statesman. He has friends in all parties. He was the real force, as one of the #YoungTurks of the time behind Indira Gandhi when she was facing the old guards . But when she got strength, she ditched and imprisoned him. Even the all the stalewards of that time although rejected him, but also feared him, because of his honest policies. Had he been given enough time, he certainly would have solved not only the Ayodhya issue, I hope he might have found some solution for the JK also. But at least Congress cannot tolerate such persons. That is why his government was felled, the very next day, Rajiv heard about his personal programme on Ayodhya solution with the approval of all concerned.

  8. What blatant lies masquerading as some kind of authoritative first hand accounts. The last paragraph sums up what a lie this is, chandra shekhars government was brought down because he was the petty and insecure one who sent cbi officials to snoop on Mr Gandhi outside his residence. Stop distorting history to suit new agendas and motives.

  9. So glad it did not happen. For the first time, thank you Rajiv Gandhi.

    Indian Arabs were foresighted in making the deal in sharing community center, built by their mongol ancestors, with ram Janmabhoomi. In return they would have saved 30000 community center built on mandir.

    And senile Hindu side were ready to give up these 30000 mandir in return for sharing a place of worship with community center.

    No wonder nandi baiil is facing gyanvapi community center instead of Mahadev. What a travesty these so called owners of bhartiya dharohar.

    Now to mission bhartiya Renaissance with kashi, mathura, aatla Devi, bhojshala, dhai din ka jhopda, rudra mahalya, bijamandal, rudrakali, adinath.

    Thank you again Rajiv Gandhi.

    • Mr Neil: You use the term “Indian Arab” frequently in your comments and in a pejorative sense as fas as I can tell. About time you defined this term Mr Neil.

      We have recently commemorated the 40th anniversary of the passing of India’s best playback singer Mohammad Rafi (RIP). Was Rafi an Indian Arab Mr Neil? What about cricketers Nawab of Pataudi, Zahir Khan, Syed Kirmani, Abid Ali, Irfan Pathan and many other Muslims who played for India? Are they “Indian Arabs” too? And then what about President Abdul Kalam? Another “Indian Arab” Mr Neil?

      In any case, you ought to remember that India with its massive unemployment has about 10 million Indians working in the Arab Gulf. Theys send back a whopping 55% of the USD 70 billion that flows to India as remittances. So India does need the Arabs doesn’t it Mr Neil?

  10. All members of Gandhi clan are stupid and cannot see and feel what the people want.Congress is a failure and won’t come to power at the center.

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