The preparatory actions taken by the Ministry of Home Affairs to avert the tragedy and to save the Babri Masjid have been fully brought out in the earlier discussion. What was wanting was the decision of Prime Minister [Narasimha] Rao to permit action under Article 355 of the Constitution to begin with, followed by the dismissal of the state government under Article 356. I have analysed in the previous section the futile and unconvincing defence adduced by Rao. Rao was, all along, looking to other institutions to bail him out.
First, he was hoping that the National Integration Council (NIC), in its meeting held on 23 November 1992, would pass a resolution suggesting imposition of the President’s Rule and dismissing the UP government under Article 356. But, the NIC preferred to leave the decision to the Prime Minister.
Second, one would have expected that with such a serious situation developing in the country, the Prime Minister would not have left to attend the G-15 meeting in Senegal. But, Rao seemed to consider G-15 meeting more important and left for Senegal. Perhaps he hoped that his colleagues would take the decision to impose President’s Rule in UP during his absence. But, clearly this was Rao’s wishful thinking. His colleagues were not fools to take such a decision, knowing Rao’s reluctance in the matter.
Third, then he turned to the judiciary which had, in a way, played into his hands by holding hearings on a day-to-day basis and giving the much-publicised orders to deal with the explosive situation in Ayodhya. Rao could, in these circumstances, conveniently take a position saying, ‘How can I take a decision when the Supreme Court is seized of the matter?’
In my discussion with the Prime Minister, I had brought to his notice that on 25 November 1992, the Court had stated that the Central government was at liberty to make its own assessment and to take such action on its own, as may appear proper. But this did not sway him into action. And as he himself argued later, not taking a decision was also a decision.
India takes pride in the fact that its Constitution provides for a strong Centre. After the demand for Pakistan was conceded by the British government, the founding fathers hastened to change their position in regard to the powers of the Union government. To cite a few instances: Article 1 describes India as a Union of States (and not a federation of states). The powers of formation of new states and alteration of areas, boundaries or names of the existing states vest in the Centre. Residuary powers are with the Centre. An elaborate listing of subjects has been done in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution. A number of emergency powers are devolved on the Centre. For example, Article 356 of the Constitution provides for takeover of state administration by the Centre. There is no corresponding provision for imposition of President’s Rule and super-session of the Central government. In certain circumstances, the Centre is empowered to take over functions and responsibilities in the State List.
Inevitably, during the debates in the Constituent Assembly, there were apprehensions that the states had been reduced to the status of municipalities. Replying to the debate and moving the motion for adoption of the Constitution on 25 November 1949, B.R. Ambedkar conceded the point that the Centre had been given extensive powers under the Constitution. But he stressed that ‘these overriding powers do not form the normal feature of the Constitution. Their use and operation has been confined to emergencies only … There can be no doubt that in the opinion of the vast majority of the people, the residual loyalty of the citizen in an emergency must be to the Centre and not to the constituent states. For it is only the Centre which can work for a common end and for the general interests of the country as a whole.’ Rajendra Prasad, President of the Constituent Assembly, had also allayed the fears of the members by saying: ‘I can only say that we cannot be too cautious about our future, particularly when we remember the history of this country extending over many centuries. But such powers as we have given to the Centre to act within the sphere of the states relate only to emergencies, whether political or financial and economic’ (Shiva Rao, Vol. IV, 941-42, 955).
The founding fathers must not have visualised a situation, as in 1992, when the ‘strong’ Centre would be reluctant to use its powers due to the political considerations of pandering to the Hindu votebank. The emergency powers given to the Centre are meant not just for the defence of the country but are also meant to keep the country’s unity and cohesion intact. The Preamble to the Constitution stresses the importance of fraternity which means a sense of common brotherhood of all Indians—of Indians being one people. What was at stake in the Babri controversy was the principle of fraternity, assuring the unity and integrity of the nation.
The Central government clearly failed in its responsibilities under the Constitution.
Finally, mention must be made of an important handicap experienced by the Centre during that critical period, namely, the difficulties faced by the MHA in preparing proposals for banning of some communal organisations (Godbole 1996: 392-95). Substantial data on the concerned organisations was collected from the state governments for the first time. At that time, I was struck by the fact that the Intelligence Bureau (IB) had paid little attention to the activities of Hindu communal organisations. Till then, the main thrust of the IB was on Muslim and Sikh communalism and leftist parties, Naxalism, etc. It is imperative that a Central intelligence agency keeps track of all political activities and schools of thought in the country.
While the IB was successful in keeping the government informed of the danger to the Babri Masjid, it has to be admitted that the IB failed to find advance information on the conspiracy to demolish the Masjid. There is no doubt that without meticulous planning, and possibly the use of explosives, the massive Babri Masjid could not have been razed to ground by the kar sevaks within a few hours. Unfortunately, the Liberhan Commission did not look into this matter. In fact, the Commission has observed: ‘The state and Central intelligence agencies were both over-optimistic in their assessments and guilty of gross failure, or in the alternative they withheld crucial records and analyses from the Commission’ (para 3.4, pp. 6–7).
In the recent ghastly bomb attacks on churches and five-star hotels which led to deaths of nearly 360 persons and injury to over 500 persons, a news-item gives credit to the Indian intelligence agencies for having given advance information to the Sri Lankan authorities (The New York Times, 24 April 2019). This shows how well equipped and capable the Indian intelligence agencies can be. However, it was unfortunate that the IB was unable to alert the GOI of the conspiracy to demolish the Babri Masjid. If this vital information had become available in advance, the wavering Prime Minister Rao might have been persuaded to dismiss the UP government and to impose President’s Rule in the state, thereby saving the Masjid from demolition.
This excerpt from The Babri Masjid-Ram Mandir Dilemma: An Acid Test for India’s Constitution by Madhav Godbole has been published with permission from Konark Publishers.