If President Pranab Mukherjee’s remarks during the launch of his memoirs are anything to go by, the man is the keeper of many secrets, including those which must never be told. However, developments in the Bofors scandal and the Ramjanmabhoomi site in connection with prime minister Rajiv Gandhi’s do not appear to fall in this category.
“The opening of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple site on 1 February 1986 was perhaps another error of judgement. People felt these actions could have been avoided,” the President has written in the book titled “The Turbulent Years: 1980-96”, released by Vice President Hamid Ansari.
“The demolition of Babri Masjid was an act of absolute perfidy…It was the senseless, wanton destruction of a religious structure, purely to serve political ends. It deeply wounded the sentiments of the Muslim community in India and abroad. It destroyed India’s image as a tolerant, pluralistic nation,” he says.
Mukherjee says implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations “contributed to reducing social injustice in society though it also divided and polarised different sections of our population”.
The period of 1989-91, Mukherjee says, was a phase dominated by violence and bitter divisions within Indian society.
“Insurgency and cross border terrorism broke out in Jammu and Kashmir; the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir-Babri Masjid issue rocked the nation. Finally, a suicide bomber brought Rajiv’s life to an abrupt and tragic end on 21 May 1991,” he says.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s campaign by mobilising activists to collect bricks from all over the country and take them in a procession to Ayodhya caused communal tension, he said.
Recalling the Shah Bano case, the President says Rajiv Gandhi’s action eroded his image of a modern man.
“Rajiv’s actions on the Shah Bano judgement and the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Bill drew criticism and eroded his modern image,” the President said.
Shah Bano, a Muslim mother of five children, was divorced by her husband in 1978. She filed a criminal suit in which the Supreme Court ruled in her favour and she won the right to alimony from her husband.
However, the then Congress government, enacted the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986. The most controversial provision of the Act was that it gave a Muslim woman the right to maintenance for the period of iddat (about three months) after the divorce, and shifted the onus of maintaining her to her relatives or the Wakf Board. The Act was seen as discriminatory as it denied divorced Muslim women the right to basic maintenance which women of other faiths had recourse to under secular law.
Mukherjee says Rajiv Gandhi has been criticised for his excessive reliance on some close friends and advisers who installed the so-called ‘babalog’ government. “Some of them turned out to be fortune seekers.”
Touching on the Bofors scandal, Mukherjee said that it proved to be one of the causes for Rajiv Gandhi’s undoing in the 1989 Lok Sabha elections, though no charge has been substantiated against him till date, Mukherjee writes.
Mukherjee also said he did not deliberately speak on matters which are highly confidential and it was for the readers to read and come to their own conclusion.
“Many people in their memoirs including Churchill (Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom) and many others have written many of the State facts but I had a bit conservative approach as and when facts will be released by the government that people should come to know not from somebody’s account who was in the government,” the President said.
He made a mention of his old habit of writing a page daily in a diary, which has some secrets.
“That is why I have advised my daughter who is the custodian of this diary that never release this. You should digitise this but never release it. If you digitise it as and when government will find it necessary to release then they will release.
“Even some time I have been confronted with but I avoided that. But I would like to stick to this view and, as I more than often say, some facts are to be buried with me and this can never be revealed and I stick to it,” Mukherjee said.