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When and How Ram Vilas Paswan made a strong pitch for the Places of Worship Act, 1991

A powerful leader from Bihar, unkindly known as the shrewd weatherman of Indian politics, Ram Vilas Paswan, then a member of the National Front, spoke powerfully from the Opposition benches, in support of the proposed law and scathingly of the BJP’s destructive politics of demolishing places of worship (Babri masjid, December 6, 1991) while not sparing the Congress either

Teesta Setalvad 19 May 2022

Ram Vilas paswan

Barely 15 months before that fateful Sunday when India and the world watched, in anger and helplessness, as the 400-year-old, Babri Masjid was brought down in cold daylight even as 3,000 members of India’s paramilitary mutely looked on, the Narasimha Rao government had done little to protect shrines other than the one that Hindutva groups had then trained their guns on. Ram Vilas Paswan, a member of parliament (MP) from Rosera, Bihar, as Opposition member on behalf of the National Front at the time, had made one of the most forceful speeches in support of the proposed law.

The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act was passed by the Parliament and enacted into law in 1991 during the peak of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.  LK Advani’s blood-filled rath yatra had wound its way through the country, leaving violence and isolation in its wake. Then, the media, made of different orientations and characted, had warned of the dangerous build-up that was being cynically allowed to unfold.

The Places of Worship Act was brought by the Congress government of Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao at a time when the Babri Masjid was still standing. While introducing the Bill in Parliament, then Home Minister S B Chavan said, “It is considered necessary to adopt these measures in view of the controversies arising from time to time with regard to conversion of places of worship which tend to vitiate the communal atmosphere… Adoption of this Bill will effectively prevent any new controversies from arising in respect of conversion of any place of worship…”

Last president of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) before he expired in 2020, Ram Vilas Paswan, a five-time Member of Parliament from Bihar during the term of the Narasimha Rao government (that assumed office in June 1991) made a powerful speech supporting the need for such a law on September 9, 1991. Then finance minister, Manmohan Singh had introduced the bill in the Rajya Sabha and Uma Bharati (BJP), Ram Naik (BJP) and Madanlal Khurana (BJP) had, predictably opposed its passage. Paswan has had the unique distinction of holding a central ministry throughout his political career under different government except between 1991-1996.

Elected then from the Rosera parliamentary constituency in Bihar, Ram Vilas Paswan said that such a law was long overdue and chastised the Indian National Congress for not bringing in such a legislation earlier he said, “The Ram Janam Bhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute would not have been arisen here at all. There cannot be two opinions in this regard. I have been pointing towards this matter earlier also and you might have felt offended then. This Bill indeed has a very laudable objective.”

Paswan had also made some prescient points in his speech about the strange and sudden emergence of the politics of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. He had stated in his September 9, 1991 address in Parliament that, in 1969, there was a Samyukta Vidhayak Dal (SVD) Government in UP, and in 1977, there was Janata Party Government at the Centre. He asked, “Both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Shri Lal Krishna Advani were Ministers in that Government, but why didn't they raise that issue at that time? Why it has been raised only during the last two years?” He then criticised the erstwhile Congress government under prime minister Rajiv Gandhi for allowing such forces to raise their heads for “allowing them to conduct the 'Shilanyar' ceremony, and today the country is suffering on account of that.”

Ram Vilas Paswan also pointed how that, secularism, social justice and power to the poor constitute the very backbone of the country and it has been made amply clear in the 1989 manifesto of the National Front (when he was in were in the Janata Party) he had raised a demand that August 15, 1947 should be treated as a cut-off date to determine the ownership of religions places, so that all disputes relating to places to worship are settled permanently.

“… such a legislation had to be brought forward because India is the home of people belonging to many religious denominations. Our country is like a garden and here not one, but all the flowers will be given the opportunity to blossom. People belonging to many communities have made India their home. When Babar invaded India, which Hindu king was ruling the country? It was Ibrahim Lodhi, who was ruling the country at that time. Who came to India before Babur? The Aryans. There was no Hiudu-Muslim clash at that time. According to the religious people, there was war between the Gods and demons when churning of the ocean took place. Now, who were these Gods and who were these demons? Why was there a fight between Vishnu and Shiva? If we go deep into the history of all this, we won't be able to safeguard the unity and integrity of this country. Therefore, this chapter has to be closed somewhere. We have far more important problems before us - the problem of poverty that of unemployment that of illiteracy, that of rural water supply. This country cannot affort to squabble over trifling issues like Mandir or Masjid,” said Paswan.

Reminding parliament and the country of the wise words of Smt. Savita Ambedkar, Ram Vilas Paswan had told Parliament that she had stated clearly that the “disputed site” was neither a temple, nor a Mosque, but a Buddhist place of worship and these people were saying that the site belongs to them.

Likening the situation to an episode in the Mahabharata, wherein Karna says that his funeral pyre should be lit at a place, where nobody has been cremated before and Krishna was in a predicament and he had to ultimately use his hand as a cremation site, Paswan stated that the present situation too is quite similar. He said, “Today, it is impossible to say, whether a place of worship, was a temple, a mosque or a Buddha Vihar. India attained Independence on August 15, 1947 and at that time, we had 56 crore Gods.”

Paswan added, “When we didn't have a population of even ten crores. There are five Gods for one person, yet we have not been able to make arrangement for potable water in 5,76,000 villages in the country, but a country where there is only one God, everyone is prosperous and that country is progressing like anything. This is a religious issue. I have already said that I am not a believer. Let people believe in places of worship, according to their faith.”

“The country gained Independence on August 15, 1947. Before that, who were the masters at this country? We don't want to go into history, and August 15. 1947 was a momentous day in the country's history. It is such a date in the nation's history that many among us... During the course of my speech, I have neither referred to any political party nor any political leader by name and nor do I intend to do so. The very objective of religion is to remove darkness and provide light and knowledge. A lamp can be used to light up a house as well as to burn it down. Unfortunately, today, religion is being used to spread hatred and disharmony. We will have to give a serious thought to it.”

“Mr. Chairman, Sir, ours is a country where we have people belonging to various faiths and walks of life and each of one of them should be given an opportunity to realize his maximum potential. I believe that this Bill is a right step, towards fulfilling this objective.”

“Every day, some or the other issue is raked up here. Arguments are put forward in defence of definitions of natives and foreigners. I believe that this matter is beyond the scope of argument. Today, we hear slogans like 'Garva se kaho, hum Hindu hain', ‘Garva se bolo, hum Musalman hain', 'Garva se bolo, hum Sikh hain', but where is that soul-stirring slogan of 'Garva se kaho hum Bharatiya hain? We are first Indians.”

Facing some interruptions from agitated sections among the BJP, Paswan’s speech is worth a read.

Paswan recalls examples of shared citizenship and sacrifice saying, “…Can anyone say that among our freedom fighters, the sacrifice made by Sardar Bhagat Singh was inferior to anyone. During the 1965 war, many of our jawans were decorated with 'Vir Chakras', but Abdul Hameed received the highest honour of 'Paramvir Chakra'. Was his sacrifice, less than that of anyone? Will his sacrifice be underestimated just because be happened to be a Muslim? We attained independence on August 15, 1947. While some people chose the new State, the rest preferred to stay back. It is a fact that the country does not apprehend as much danger from Pakistan as from those within the country, who indulge in espionage and sell the country for a few silver coins. They are the worst enemies of the country.”

He spoke very presciently of the dangers of labelling sections of the Indian population anti-national and questioning their loyalty.

“Now, if people of my age, like Kumari Uma Bharti or myself start accusing the Indian Muslims of being Pakistani agents or the Indian Christians as British agents, it cannot be justified, on any ground. If one goes to U.S.A. and search for an original American, everyone would proudly say that he or she is an American. The Americans are a very united and patriotic people, irrespective of their enthnic origins. It's high time, we too realized it and drew a dividing line between the patriots and traitors. That line cannot be drawn on the basis of religion or community, nor in the name of Ram. The issue of Ram is theirs and of those who believe in him. Dr. Ambedkar has also said a lot about Ram. I don't want to go into that, including the fact that Sham-book was killed during Ram's regime…”

“I want to say that there should be no objection if anyone wants to build a Ram temple, a mosque, a gurudwara or a church, But one wonders, where do these people want to take the country, by demolishing an existing structure and building a temple at that place. Do we want to take the country towards savagery?”

Uma Bharati, also a member of parliament had spoken uninterrupted before Paswan made his speech.

Paswan then said, “Madam Chairperson, I want to point out here that the proponents of Hindutva tend to forget the fact that Hindus are there not only in India but also all over the world. When on 30th October, a rumour spread that the Babri Masjid had been demolished, some people in Bangladesh went to attack temples there. But when it came to be known that the Babri Masjid has escaped damage, the police opened fire on the rioters and about 20 people killed in the incident. But no temple was allowed to be damaged. Have the advocates of Hindutva ever thought of the repercussions on the Hindus in foreign countries, if a church or mosque is demolished in this country? Therefore, please don't intermix politics with religion to the extent that it would prove disastrous for our own brethren...”

“Therefore, Madam Chairperson, through you, I would like to say that today the question is not of Hindu-Muslim, nor or temple, mosque or gurudwara. Today, the issue at stake is our Constitution. The issue is to save that India, for whose freedom, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians had fought together and it is the duty of every citizen to safeguard our Constitution. The issue involves not only Hindus and Christians, but each and every citizen of this country. This is a matter concerning the Constitution and I believe that whichever Government comes to power, will have to go by the Constitution. No decision can be taken by putting the Constitution at stake. On behalf of the National Front and the Left front, I would like to warn the Union Government of disastrous consequences, if it allows the Constitution, to be subverted, constitutional provisions to be violated or if it surrenders before those forces which are aiming at subverting the Constitution. We at the National Front and Left Front would from a human chain around the Babri Masjid to protect it from those intending to demolish it. They will have to walk over our dead bodies to reach the mosque. Therefore, I would like to appeal to my countryman that those who have complete faith in our Constitution and the cardinal principals of secularism should come forward, for today our very Constitution is at stake. Yunus Saheb, Shri Syed Sahabuddin and others will tell the House about the loopholes and drawbacks of this legislation, but we support this Bill, as it is in consonance with our demand in this regard, although we, too, believe that this Bill does not carry within itself, a complete solution to this problem.”

“However, it would prove effective in checking the growing communal feeling within the country and attempts by certain forces to incite violence by declaring certain structures belonging to one community has their own. I would like to repeat that so far neither the Government's policies not its intentions were sincere and it has had its far-reaching consequences. At least now, the Government should rise above petty politics and formulate such policies that would act as a check on those forces, which till the other day, had abused Bhindranwale for mixing politics with religion and for using the Golden Temple for political purposes. But today they are themselves indulging in politics from temple and also justifying it. Therefore, no loopholes should be left in this law.”

“Hindus are in majority in this country and the secular forces within that community have very well seen through the games of the communalists and have understood the linkage between Ram and Politics.”

“The National Front is committed to protect secularism and I urge you to follow suit. I am thankful to you for bringing forward a legislation in this regard and I extend my support to this Bill.”

Re-visiting legislative history at a time when Indian Parliament has been held complete hostage to an autocratic majoritarianism is not just crucial; it could well help temper the winds that threaten to fan uncontrollable fires.
 

*Teesta Setalvad is a Human Rights defender, journalist and educationist. She is the co-founder of SabrangIndia and Secretary, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP).

Related:

Activists denounce Babri Masjid demolition judgment

Babri Masjid demolition judgment shocks India!

The Verdict: Is there closure?

When and How Ram Vilas Paswan made a strong pitch for the Places of Worship Act, 1991

A powerful leader from Bihar, unkindly known as the shrewd weatherman of Indian politics, Ram Vilas Paswan, then a member of the National Front, spoke powerfully from the Opposition benches, in support of the proposed law and scathingly of the BJP’s destructive politics of demolishing places of worship (Babri masjid, December 6, 1991) while not sparing the Congress either

Ram Vilas paswan

Barely 15 months before that fateful Sunday when India and the world watched, in anger and helplessness, as the 400-year-old, Babri Masjid was brought down in cold daylight even as 3,000 members of India’s paramilitary mutely looked on, the Narasimha Rao government had done little to protect shrines other than the one that Hindutva groups had then trained their guns on. Ram Vilas Paswan, a member of parliament (MP) from Rosera, Bihar, as Opposition member on behalf of the National Front at the time, had made one of the most forceful speeches in support of the proposed law.

The Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act was passed by the Parliament and enacted into law in 1991 during the peak of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.  LK Advani’s blood-filled rath yatra had wound its way through the country, leaving violence and isolation in its wake. Then, the media, made of different orientations and characted, had warned of the dangerous build-up that was being cynically allowed to unfold.

The Places of Worship Act was brought by the Congress government of Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao at a time when the Babri Masjid was still standing. While introducing the Bill in Parliament, then Home Minister S B Chavan said, “It is considered necessary to adopt these measures in view of the controversies arising from time to time with regard to conversion of places of worship which tend to vitiate the communal atmosphere… Adoption of this Bill will effectively prevent any new controversies from arising in respect of conversion of any place of worship…”

Last president of the Lok Janshakti Party (LJP) before he expired in 2020, Ram Vilas Paswan, a five-time Member of Parliament from Bihar during the term of the Narasimha Rao government (that assumed office in June 1991) made a powerful speech supporting the need for such a law on September 9, 1991. Then finance minister, Manmohan Singh had introduced the bill in the Rajya Sabha and Uma Bharati (BJP), Ram Naik (BJP) and Madanlal Khurana (BJP) had, predictably opposed its passage. Paswan has had the unique distinction of holding a central ministry throughout his political career under different government except between 1991-1996.

Elected then from the Rosera parliamentary constituency in Bihar, Ram Vilas Paswan said that such a law was long overdue and chastised the Indian National Congress for not bringing in such a legislation earlier he said, “The Ram Janam Bhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute would not have been arisen here at all. There cannot be two opinions in this regard. I have been pointing towards this matter earlier also and you might have felt offended then. This Bill indeed has a very laudable objective.”

Paswan had also made some prescient points in his speech about the strange and sudden emergence of the politics of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. He had stated in his September 9, 1991 address in Parliament that, in 1969, there was a Samyukta Vidhayak Dal (SVD) Government in UP, and in 1977, there was Janata Party Government at the Centre. He asked, “Both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Shri Lal Krishna Advani were Ministers in that Government, but why didn't they raise that issue at that time? Why it has been raised only during the last two years?” He then criticised the erstwhile Congress government under prime minister Rajiv Gandhi for allowing such forces to raise their heads for “allowing them to conduct the 'Shilanyar' ceremony, and today the country is suffering on account of that.”

Ram Vilas Paswan also pointed how that, secularism, social justice and power to the poor constitute the very backbone of the country and it has been made amply clear in the 1989 manifesto of the National Front (when he was in were in the Janata Party) he had raised a demand that August 15, 1947 should be treated as a cut-off date to determine the ownership of religions places, so that all disputes relating to places to worship are settled permanently.

“… such a legislation had to be brought forward because India is the home of people belonging to many religious denominations. Our country is like a garden and here not one, but all the flowers will be given the opportunity to blossom. People belonging to many communities have made India their home. When Babar invaded India, which Hindu king was ruling the country? It was Ibrahim Lodhi, who was ruling the country at that time. Who came to India before Babur? The Aryans. There was no Hiudu-Muslim clash at that time. According to the religious people, there was war between the Gods and demons when churning of the ocean took place. Now, who were these Gods and who were these demons? Why was there a fight between Vishnu and Shiva? If we go deep into the history of all this, we won't be able to safeguard the unity and integrity of this country. Therefore, this chapter has to be closed somewhere. We have far more important problems before us - the problem of poverty that of unemployment that of illiteracy, that of rural water supply. This country cannot affort to squabble over trifling issues like Mandir or Masjid,” said Paswan.

Reminding parliament and the country of the wise words of Smt. Savita Ambedkar, Ram Vilas Paswan had told Parliament that she had stated clearly that the “disputed site” was neither a temple, nor a Mosque, but a Buddhist place of worship and these people were saying that the site belongs to them.

Likening the situation to an episode in the Mahabharata, wherein Karna says that his funeral pyre should be lit at a place, where nobody has been cremated before and Krishna was in a predicament and he had to ultimately use his hand as a cremation site, Paswan stated that the present situation too is quite similar. He said, “Today, it is impossible to say, whether a place of worship, was a temple, a mosque or a Buddha Vihar. India attained Independence on August 15, 1947 and at that time, we had 56 crore Gods.”

Paswan added, “When we didn't have a population of even ten crores. There are five Gods for one person, yet we have not been able to make arrangement for potable water in 5,76,000 villages in the country, but a country where there is only one God, everyone is prosperous and that country is progressing like anything. This is a religious issue. I have already said that I am not a believer. Let people believe in places of worship, according to their faith.”

“The country gained Independence on August 15, 1947. Before that, who were the masters at this country? We don't want to go into history, and August 15. 1947 was a momentous day in the country's history. It is such a date in the nation's history that many among us... During the course of my speech, I have neither referred to any political party nor any political leader by name and nor do I intend to do so. The very objective of religion is to remove darkness and provide light and knowledge. A lamp can be used to light up a house as well as to burn it down. Unfortunately, today, religion is being used to spread hatred and disharmony. We will have to give a serious thought to it.”

“Mr. Chairman, Sir, ours is a country where we have people belonging to various faiths and walks of life and each of one of them should be given an opportunity to realize his maximum potential. I believe that this Bill is a right step, towards fulfilling this objective.”

“Every day, some or the other issue is raked up here. Arguments are put forward in defence of definitions of natives and foreigners. I believe that this matter is beyond the scope of argument. Today, we hear slogans like 'Garva se kaho, hum Hindu hain', ‘Garva se bolo, hum Musalman hain', 'Garva se bolo, hum Sikh hain', but where is that soul-stirring slogan of 'Garva se kaho hum Bharatiya hain? We are first Indians.”

Facing some interruptions from agitated sections among the BJP, Paswan’s speech is worth a read.

Paswan recalls examples of shared citizenship and sacrifice saying, “…Can anyone say that among our freedom fighters, the sacrifice made by Sardar Bhagat Singh was inferior to anyone. During the 1965 war, many of our jawans were decorated with 'Vir Chakras', but Abdul Hameed received the highest honour of 'Paramvir Chakra'. Was his sacrifice, less than that of anyone? Will his sacrifice be underestimated just because be happened to be a Muslim? We attained independence on August 15, 1947. While some people chose the new State, the rest preferred to stay back. It is a fact that the country does not apprehend as much danger from Pakistan as from those within the country, who indulge in espionage and sell the country for a few silver coins. They are the worst enemies of the country.”

He spoke very presciently of the dangers of labelling sections of the Indian population anti-national and questioning their loyalty.

“Now, if people of my age, like Kumari Uma Bharti or myself start accusing the Indian Muslims of being Pakistani agents or the Indian Christians as British agents, it cannot be justified, on any ground. If one goes to U.S.A. and search for an original American, everyone would proudly say that he or she is an American. The Americans are a very united and patriotic people, irrespective of their enthnic origins. It's high time, we too realized it and drew a dividing line between the patriots and traitors. That line cannot be drawn on the basis of religion or community, nor in the name of Ram. The issue of Ram is theirs and of those who believe in him. Dr. Ambedkar has also said a lot about Ram. I don't want to go into that, including the fact that Sham-book was killed during Ram's regime…”

“I want to say that there should be no objection if anyone wants to build a Ram temple, a mosque, a gurudwara or a church, But one wonders, where do these people want to take the country, by demolishing an existing structure and building a temple at that place. Do we want to take the country towards savagery?”

Uma Bharati, also a member of parliament had spoken uninterrupted before Paswan made his speech.

Paswan then said, “Madam Chairperson, I want to point out here that the proponents of Hindutva tend to forget the fact that Hindus are there not only in India but also all over the world. When on 30th October, a rumour spread that the Babri Masjid had been demolished, some people in Bangladesh went to attack temples there. But when it came to be known that the Babri Masjid has escaped damage, the police opened fire on the rioters and about 20 people killed in the incident. But no temple was allowed to be damaged. Have the advocates of Hindutva ever thought of the repercussions on the Hindus in foreign countries, if a church or mosque is demolished in this country? Therefore, please don't intermix politics with religion to the extent that it would prove disastrous for our own brethren...”

“Therefore, Madam Chairperson, through you, I would like to say that today the question is not of Hindu-Muslim, nor or temple, mosque or gurudwara. Today, the issue at stake is our Constitution. The issue is to save that India, for whose freedom, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians had fought together and it is the duty of every citizen to safeguard our Constitution. The issue involves not only Hindus and Christians, but each and every citizen of this country. This is a matter concerning the Constitution and I believe that whichever Government comes to power, will have to go by the Constitution. No decision can be taken by putting the Constitution at stake. On behalf of the National Front and the Left front, I would like to warn the Union Government of disastrous consequences, if it allows the Constitution, to be subverted, constitutional provisions to be violated or if it surrenders before those forces which are aiming at subverting the Constitution. We at the National Front and Left Front would from a human chain around the Babri Masjid to protect it from those intending to demolish it. They will have to walk over our dead bodies to reach the mosque. Therefore, I would like to appeal to my countryman that those who have complete faith in our Constitution and the cardinal principals of secularism should come forward, for today our very Constitution is at stake. Yunus Saheb, Shri Syed Sahabuddin and others will tell the House about the loopholes and drawbacks of this legislation, but we support this Bill, as it is in consonance with our demand in this regard, although we, too, believe that this Bill does not carry within itself, a complete solution to this problem.”

“However, it would prove effective in checking the growing communal feeling within the country and attempts by certain forces to incite violence by declaring certain structures belonging to one community has their own. I would like to repeat that so far neither the Government's policies not its intentions were sincere and it has had its far-reaching consequences. At least now, the Government should rise above petty politics and formulate such policies that would act as a check on those forces, which till the other day, had abused Bhindranwale for mixing politics with religion and for using the Golden Temple for political purposes. But today they are themselves indulging in politics from temple and also justifying it. Therefore, no loopholes should be left in this law.”

“Hindus are in majority in this country and the secular forces within that community have very well seen through the games of the communalists and have understood the linkage between Ram and Politics.”

“The National Front is committed to protect secularism and I urge you to follow suit. I am thankful to you for bringing forward a legislation in this regard and I extend my support to this Bill.”

Re-visiting legislative history at a time when Indian Parliament has been held complete hostage to an autocratic majoritarianism is not just crucial; it could well help temper the winds that threaten to fan uncontrollable fires.
 

*Teesta Setalvad is a Human Rights defender, journalist and educationist. She is the co-founder of SabrangIndia and Secretary, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP).

Related:

Activists denounce Babri Masjid demolition judgment

Babri Masjid demolition judgment shocks India!

The Verdict: Is there closure?

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