It is mischievous to suggest that Rajiv capitulated to the mullahs. It was not just the mullahs who were against this judgement but also ordinary, devout and religious Muslims. They were deeply affronted. He honoured the wishes of the average Muslims. Had he not got Parliament to pass a law upturning the SC judgement, it would have led to not just riots and a serious law and order problem, but also to a state of siege in the minds of the Muslim community. They would have been left sulking, hurt, insecure, who would have felt that the promise of the founding fathers of the Constitution of the country was betrayed. It would not have led to any improvement in the status of women at all.
It would have been a black-chapter in Indian history. If gone unchanged, it would have exacerbated the in-built insecurity of the Muslims. They would have felt that they were not getting justice from the judiciary, nor from the executive and the legislature. It would have been seen not just as an attack on the Holy Quran but also an attack on the beleaguered minority religion per se.
That the majority of Muslim women were in favour of the SC judgement in the Shah Bano case is just a canard spread by some so-called feminists and self-styled liberals. They were all combined at best a minuscule minority. Overwhelming number of Muslim women were against it, and felt equally deeply insulted. Their view was not similar to that of Shahbano. As a result of Parliament's intervention, the lot of the Indian Muslim women is in fact better today. It is mischievous to suggest that Rajiv Gandhi capitulated to the Mullahs.
What if the Babri Masjid had not been unlocked by Rajiv Gandhi in 1986?
What would have happened? Nothing would have happened. It was a deliberate attempt by some over-smart advisors to an inexperienced but well-meaning young PM who wanted nothing else but communal harmony. Little did he realise that he was letting the genie out of the bottle and creating a monster, much like Frankenstein. He was probably counseled that his act would please the Hindus, and that the charge of "appeasement" levelled against him by the so-called liberals on the Shahbano case would be neutralised, "ki aam Hindu khush ho jaayegaa". I am happy to say that the common Hindu was actually outraged. The secular Hindu could see the politics behind the issue.
No matter what the BJP/VHP types say, I don't think it would have led to any riots if the Masjid gates had not been opened. After all, it had been a functioning Masjid till 1949 when the statues suddenly "materialised" - when they were actually surreptitiously sneaked in. The point is, why weren't there any riots in the period 1949 to 1986?
This was perhaps Rajiv Gandhi's biggest blunder after the rational decision taken in the Shahbano case, which was legitimately to redress a real grievance under constitutional provisions. This opening the locks of the Babri Masjid, on the other hand, was not based on any real grievance. There may have been a dispute, but it was only at a local level. Even in and since 1949, the issue had never created any waves. There was no question of any religious hurt in the national conscience. I have great love and respect for the religious feelings of my Hindu brothers and sisters, and if I was convinced that they were then actually feeling hurt because the birthplace of their revered Ram was under dispute, I would be the first to speak on their behalf. But let's not forget facts. Ayodhya itself has a large number of temples, each of them claiming to be the real birthplace of respected and worshipped Lord Rama.
But in political terms, yes, had Rajiv Gandhi not given in to this misdirected move, the Congress would not have lost out on both the Hindu and the Muslim votes. Isn't that the biggest irony of it all? Remember that the BJP at that time had been reduced to only 2 seats. The Hindus, because they could see that Congress was trying to politically exploit the situation, and because they were against politicisation of a local problem. The rest of them got taken in by the BJP propaganda.
Also, look at the tremendous cost that has been paid by the country, because of the revival of this controversy. None of this would have happened. The lives of -- Muslims, Hindus, children, women -- innocents would not have been lost because of resulting riots and chaos. The country's energies would not have been dissipated and diverted to a local issue that has not only created a tremendous rift among communities who have lived peacefully for centuries, but also cost us loss of international face. India perhaps could really have shone even brighter, because all this religious and political tension has kept insecurities alive and kept us from addressing real issues like education, poverty, reforms in personal laws, population, growth..
What if the Satanic Verses had not been banned?
First of all, we have to understand that even more than other religions, for Muslims, the status of the Prophet [PHUH] is supreme. No Muslim, even those who call themselves very modern and liberal, can tolerate any insult or even a perceived insult against the persona of the Prophet [PBUH]. They are willing to lay down their lives if they feel that their revered Prophet [PBUH] has been insulted, mocked, or made fun of or shown to be something that he just was not.
We do have freedom of speech, but it should not be confused with freedom to abuse or to hurt the religious sensitivities and sentiments of the devout. And in my personal view this applies to all religions, not just Islam. Some Christians may laugh or be liberal about a film on Jesus. You so-called liberal and secular Hindus in particular cross all limits in depicting or discussing your own gods. I fully sympathise with those whose feelings are hurt when mocking articles about revered Lord Krishna or Ganesha or Lord Rama of the Hindus and other such, are written. They should be equally stopped forthwith.
Not banning would not have changed anything. Controversies are always there and I am totally against all controversies such as those involving the painter Husain. He has absolutely no right to hurt any sentiments by his obscene paintings. In fact, the Holy Quran explicitly prohibits doing any such thing which might cause hurt to Any religious sentiments. Not just Islamic. So all his controversial paintings are deeply un-Islamic.
I understand your argument that banning of one book may lead it to be cited as a precedent and it may become difficult to draw a line in deciding as to what is legitimately real or perceived hurt and what is being mischievously claimed as one so as to create trouble. But since we all are mature, educated people, we should all openly discuss such issues as to how to handle this very delicate question.
But now to come back to your question, I think the ban on Rushdie's Satanic Verses was totally valid. Because of the background I have provided above, you would know why. Had the ban not been placed, there indeed would have been great and grave danger to the law and order situation. Not only riots but bloody riots would have taken place. It is difficult for you to comprehend how viscerally we feel about such matters. It would have been unimaginable. The law and order would have collapsed. Just thinking about it is scary ['bhyankar']. It was an intolerable offence.
Those who claim as to how do I know and that those banning the book do not understand the simple fact that the advisor to Penguin India who would have published the book advised them very strongly not to do so. He is an educated, learned and experienced man. He had read the book. If he, who is not a Muslim, felt that, you can imagine what would have happened. There would have been blood baths. We do not need to eat cyanide by the spoonfuls to know that it would be fatal. Just a little speck is enough. So what was abusive and insulting need not be read in detail. It is a mischievous argument.
And even if you think that somehow the law and order machinery could have coped with the protests, just imagine the hurt and hatred such a thing would have left in the hearts and minds of Muslims. Imagine 150 lakh hurt people who feel that their ultimate object of veneration has been insulted. I am not at all condoning violence or painting an imaginary threatening scenario. I am saying it with full responsibility that not banning the blasphemous book would have led to unimaginable trouble.
So it was one of those cases. While it is true that the Sangh Parivar and others have been able to politicise even this sensitive religious issue. They invoke it to justify each act of violence that they perpetrate. I am against all violence. As I said above, I am also equaly against the so-called "modern" liberal Hindus who think that by abusing their own religious figures or mocking them, they are somehow able to paint a very grand picture of imagined tolerance and greatness in Hinduism. Yes, there is great tolerance, but they should be grateful for it and not abuse it in hurting the sensibilities of their more devout, traditional and conservative co-religionists.