Could Babri Masjid Demolition Be Avoided? Sharad Pawar, Shashi Tharoor And Others On ‘How Prime Ministers Decide’

At the book launch of veteran journalist Neerja Chowdhury's book 'How Prime Ministers Decide', senior politicians Sharad Pawar, Shashi Tharoor, Dinesh Trivedi and Prithviraj Chavan discuss what goes on inside the power corridors of top leadership.

At the launch of veteran journalist Neerja Chowdhury's book 'How Prime Ministers Decide'

“Personally, I was there, then Home Secretary Madhav Godbole and then Home Minister Shankarrao Chavan were there -- all three of us suggested that don’t depend on the BJP leadership; anything can happen,” said Sharad Pawar, the veteran politician who served as the Defence Minister during the Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya in 1992. The Nationalist Congress Party chief hinted that the missed warning could possibly have changed the course of history that followed.

The NCP chief was speaking at a panel discussion in Delhi’s Teen Murti Bhawan after launching award-winning senior journalist Neerja Chowdhury’s new book titled ‘How Prime Ministers Decide’, published by Aleph Book Company.

"There was a group of ministers. I was one of the members... It was suggested that the Prime Minister should call a meeting of senior leaders of the respective parties. In that meeting, Vijaya Raje Scindia suggested that nothing would happen to the Babri Masjid. (She said) ‘we will take all precautions and Prime Minister should not take extreme steps’… Vijaya Raje’s suggestion (on Babri Masjid) was accepted by Narasimha Rao… the Prime Minister preferred to listen to these (BJP) leaders and we know exactly what ultimately happened," Pawar said when asked about his opinion on PV Narasimha Rao’s decision, or rather his non-decision, that eventually led to the culmination of the Ram Janmbhoomi movement.

The evening was politically charged as a panel of Congress leaders Shashi Tharoor and Prithviraj Chavan, and BJP leader Dinesh Trivedi participated in a discussion before an audience full of parliamentarians, academicians, journalists and author Neerja Chowdhury’s “sources” who gave her the riveting details and information that helped her craft the pages of the unputdownable book. Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan was the chief guest at the event.

The discussion was moderated by senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai who said that Neerja Chowdhury’s book has “brought together the entire power corridors to life” by reflecting on the “little people as well as the big people” who take decisions around the prime ministers.

Dinesh Trivedi recalled the time when Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister, and the role of Arun Nehru, who was one of Gandhi’s key advisors, calling it “one of the best periods”. “India was modernising…If that period continued, things would have been very different.”

“Not many people know that Rajiv and Arun met at my residence,” he revealed.

Prithviraj Chavan, who served as a Union minister in the UPA government, when asked by Sardesai if he still thought a coalition government is better than a single-party government, said that in the case of the UPA government, although there were difficulties in bringing consensus among the major allies in a coalition, once the consensus was reached, the decisions become very easy to implement. He noted that one of the key decisions that was taken during the Manmohan Singh government was the nuclear deal.

He, however, admitted to the errors made in handling the Anna Hazare movement, that caused the downfall of the Congress-led alliance. "What caused that downfall of the Manmohan Singh government in 2014 was what happened immediately before that. 2G scam, Commonwealth Games... We couldn’t handle Anna Hazare rightly and that's what spelt the end to the Congress government," the ex-Maharashtra CM said.

“Mr Modi happened to be at the right place at the right time and he took advantage of the situation,” Chavan highlighted.

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor made a poignant remark about Singh’s governance, saying that it is not entirely a fair impression to call him a weak prime minister. “He was weak on coalition matters because he had no choice. A coalition is something which Mr Modi has not had to contend with. If the situation changes after 2024, you might see a different Mr Modi,”

He also spoke on the vulnerabilities of prime ministers, some of which are explored in Chowdhury’s book. Tharoor said, “Every prime minister has their own set of vulnerabilities… perhaps with Mr Modi, we have not seen all the vulnerabilities yet.”

‘How Prime Ministers Decide’ traces the operating styles and analyses the key decisions of six Indian prime ministers, starting with Indira Gandhi that significantly impacted the narrative of Indian politics. Former PM Indira Gandhi's return to power in 1980 following her defeat post the Emergency, Rajiv Gandhi's decision in the Shah Bano case, VP Singh and Mandal Commission Report, Narasimha Rao's role during the Babri Masjid outrage, along with the governments under Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh are discussed in the book.

She stops at the second run of the UPA government, carefully avoiding the current government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, what she calls a “work in progress” that may be explored in the future.