SPE­CIAL: Af­ter TRIPLE TALAQ ver­dict, RECALLING ra­jiv gandhi’s blun­der

The BJP’S emer­gence can be traced to his ca­pit­u­la­tion to Mus­lim fun­da­men­tal­ists

Governance Now - - FRONT PAGE - ajay@gov­er­nan­cenow.com Ajay Singh

His­tory could have re­peated it­self as a farce, but in the triple talaq case, there has been no re­play. A his­toric blun­der has been un­done, though it has taken three decades. The supreme court has once again taken a stance in favour of in­di­vid­ual free­dom and against fun­da­men­tal­ism – just as it did in 1985, when it de­clared in­stant triple talaq in­valid in the shah Bano case.

The coun­try was then pass­ing through tu­mul­tuous times. Prime min­is­ter in­dira gandhi was as­sas­si­nated in 1984, trig­ger­ing an orgy of com­mu­nal vi­o­lence and killings in delhi, Bokaro, Kan­pur and other parts of the coun­try. Her son ra­jiv gandhi, with his charm­ing smile, was the new crown prince who got demo­cratic anoint­ment by win­ning elec­tions with an un­prece­dented num­ber of seats. The sc de­ci­sion came against a po­lit­i­cal back­drop that would have set­tled the mat­ter once for all. Pro­gres­sive mus­lims were quite en­thu­si­as­tic about the ver­dict, which was seen more as a gen­der-equal­ity is­sue than a re­li­gious is­sue.

ra­jiv, as prime min­is­ter, had then cho­sen Arif mo­ham­mad Khan as one of his trusted lieu­tenants to ar­tic­u­late the gov­ern­ment po­si­tion on mus­lim is­sues. And Khan, dur­ing a de­bate in par­lia­ment, had spo­ken elo­quently about the pro­gres­sive march of mus­lims. But that was the end of the mat­ter. ra­jiv soon ca­pit­u­lated be­fore mus­lim fun­da­men­tal­ists and brought in a law in 1986 that over­turned the supreme court ver­dict. A frus­trated Khan re­signed – but not with­out recit­ing an urdu cou­plet:

Tu id­har-ud­har ki baat na kar, yeh bata ke kaafila kyon loota, Mu­jhe rah­jano se gila nahin, teri rah­bari ka sawaal hai

[don’t talk about this and that, tell us who looted the car­a­van. We don’t have any com­plaint against passers-by, but your lead­er­ship is in ques­tion.]

With this cou­plet, Khan pinned the blame squarely on ra­jiv for giv­ing in to is­lamic fun­da­men­tal­ism. Khan main­tains to this day that ra­jiv’s de­ci­sion was a great set­back for the mus­lim com­mu­nity’s em­brace of sec­u­lar and pro­gres­sive val­ues (read his in­ter­view on page 8). sub­se­quently he chose a dif­fer­ent path.

In fact, with the ben­e­fit of hind­sight that gives you per­fect vi­sion, it can be said that if ra­jiv had not over­turned the shah Bano ver­dict, the Ay­o­d­hya-ram Jan­mab­hoomi move­ment would not have gained trac­tion. And those watch­ing the po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ments of those times would tes­tify that ra­jiv’s folly in the shah Bano case was the prime cause resur­gence of Hindu na­tion­al­ism.

if you have any doubt, please re­fer to this anec­dote usu­ally re­counted by lk Ad­vani, the chief ar­chi­tect of the Ay­o­d­hya move­ment. Just af­ter the shah Bano ver­dict, ra­jiv came un­der in­tense pres­sure from mus­lim fun­da­men­tal­ists, who in­ter­preted the ver­dict as in­ter­fer­ence in their re­li­gious be­liefs. Syed Sha­habud­din, an EX-IFS of­fi­cer, was lead­ing the front against the gov­ern­ment and ral­ly­ing fun­da­men­tal­ists against the ver­dict. ra­jiv then came to see Ad­vani on a cour­tesy visit, and sought his ad­vice. And Ad­vani gave him the right ad­vice of not ca­pit­u­lat­ing be­fore mul­lahs and fun­da­men­tal­ists as such a move would take the coun­try on a dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal tra­jec­tory.

need­less to say, ra­jiv chose to ig­nore Ad­vani and in­tro­duced the leg­is­la­tion in par­lia­ment that over­turned the ver­dict. With brute ma­jor­ity, his gov­ern­ment steam­rolled the op­po­si­tion. one mis­take led to an­other, and ra­jiv’s re­main­ing term, till 1989, be­came a saga of dal­liances with com­mu­nal­ism of all hues. in or­der to pacify Hin­dus who were up­set with his ca­pit­u­la­tion in the shah Bano case, he per­suaded then ut­tar Pradesh chief min­is­ter Vir Ba­hadur singh to open the locks of the ram tem­ple within the Babri mosque in Ay­o­d­hya in Fe­bru­ary 1986. This was fol­lowed by the foun­da­tion lay­ing cer­e­mony at the dis­puted site, os­ten­si­bly at his in­stance.

There is no deny­ing the fact that ra­jiv had sown the seeds of the congress’s de­struc­tion in this suc­ces­sive ac­tion. The rise of the RSS-BJP-VHP com­bine and their emer­gence later as the prin­ci­pal pole of in­dian pol­i­tics can be traced back to these com­plex po­lit­i­cal events.

The apex court’s de­ci­sion on Au­gust 22 to in­val­i­date triple talaq has once again reaf­firmed the ju­di­cial and le­gal ten­abil­ity of the shah Bano case. His­tory is al­ways re­plete with in­stances where the big ‘if’ be­comes quite crit­i­cal. in this con­text, if ra­jiv had not sur­ren­dered be­fore mus­lim fun­da­men­tal­ists and al­lowed the ju­di­cial ver­dict to pre­vail, the tra­jec­tory of in­dia’s pol­i­tics would have cer­tainly been dif­fer­ent. It would not have been bogged down by the po­larised sec­u­lar­ism/com­mu­nal­ism de­bate or the Babri mosque/ram Jan­mab­hoomi de­vel­op­ments.

And per­haps the congress would not have lost its po­lit­i­cal pri­macy.

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