Very thoughtfully Shashi Tharoor said that no good Hindu would like to see a Ram temple being built by destroying a mosque. He was obviously referring to the promised construction of a temple in Ayodhya on the site of the Babri Masjid, an ASI-protected historical monument which was destroyed by invoking Hindutva. What Shashi Tharoor said is consistent with the vision of Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi.

Only a few weeks back the country celebrated the 125th anniversary of Swami Vivekananda’s famous Chicago address, delivered on September 11 1893. In that address Vivekananda celebrated tolerance and the acceptance of all faiths, urging humanity to eschew “sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant fanaticism”, and never to persecute anyone either by sword or pen.

The demolition of the Babri Masjid based on hatred and a demonic demonstration of majoritarianism was contrary to that noble vision of Swami Vivekananda.

He was given a rousing welcome upon returning to India, and he responded by delivering a series of speeches later published in the volume Lectures from Colombo to Almora.

In one he famously says, “It is here in India that Hindus have built and are still building churches for Christians and mosques for Mohammedans.” In fact Swamiji underlined the point that Hindus would continue to do so, even if they faced scorn and contempt from those communities, “until we conquer through love, until we have demonstrated to the world that love alone is the fittest thing to survive and not hatred, that it is gentleness that has the strength to live on and to fructify, and not mere brutality and physical force.”

In emphasising the cementing element of love, Swamiji used it as an anchor to forge unity and understanding among different faiths. He said, “the world is waiting for this grand idea of universal toleration. It will be a great acquisition to civilisation. Nay, no civilisation can long exist unless this idea enters into it. No civilisation can grow unless fanaticism, bloodshed and brutality stop. No civilisation can begin to lift up its head until we look charitably upon one another; and the first step towards that much-needed charity is to look charitably and kindly upon the religious conviction of others. Nay more, to understand that not only should we be charitable, but also positively helpful to each other, however different our religious ideas and convictions may be. And that is exactly what we do in India, as I have just related to you.”

What Shashi Tharoor said is compatible with that articulation of Swamiji.

In fact, the demolition of the Babri Masjid was in a way a demolition of the ideals of Hinduism, and constituted a serious assault on Sarva Dharma Sambhav, the coexistence of all faiths, which remains central to secularism. During the partition of India, when many refugees came from Pakistan, and some mosques in Delhi were occupied by several Hindus, with a view to demolishing them in order to create space for the settlement of Hindus, it was Mahatma Gandhi who raised a voice against it, saying that if mosques were occupied and demolished in the name of Hinduism, that would be the end of Hinduism. And Gandhi was an exemplary Hindu.

After the destruction of the Babri Masjid, when there was a din and commotion in the Rajya Sabha, Shri K.R. Narayanan who was presiding over it as its chairman said with pain and anguish that the demolition of the Babri Masjid was the worst tragedy India had faced since the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.

Shashi Tharoor’s remarks are compatible with what Gandhiji stated and what K.R. Narayanan formulated.

In my view, the demolition of the Babri Masjid, with a view to constructing a Ram temple on the site, was certainly contrary to the ideals of Hinduism, and fundamental tenets of law and jurisprudence. It was against our very Constitution, which is the fundamental law of our country.

With the destruction of the Babri Masjid, the onward march of our civilisation has been impeded. It is, therefore, quite correct to say that no good Hindu, and no citizen wedded to the ideals of the Constitution, would like to see a temple come up on the site where the Babri Masjid once stood, before it was destroyed out of fear, hatred and contempt.

Let Shashi Tharoor’s statement be understood in harmony with the vision of both Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Gandhi.

(S.N. Sahu served as officer on special duty and press secretary to President of India late Shri K.R. Narayanan).