Babri Masjid Issue

Siddharth Shankar Ray and Babri Masjid

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Lucknow: Siddharth Shankar Ray died on Nov 6, at an age of 90, at his residence at Beltolla, in South Kolkata, West Bengal. His whole life, perhaps, encapsulated everything political, which the nation saw while making of the new nation. He was 27 when India became independent. Thus, his career is one which displayed well all the political nuances, which of course, he dutifully obliged as an able actor. Sometime, earning a name for unpopular moves too, which were an obvious outcome of his political compulsions. His role during the Indira Gandhi imposed emergency in which he stifled the media is still remembered as a brutal gag. The freehand given to police by him during the Naxalite movement is also his high controversial mark.

A small recoup of his official life is that he was the Union Minister of Education from 1967 to 1972, later became the Chief Minister of West Bengal from 1972 to 1977, followed by tenure as Governor of Punjab during the turbulent times of Khalistan movement between 1986 and 1989. Finally, he served as an Indian Ambassador to the USA from 1992 to 1996. He was also a barrister at the Supreme Court.

Ray was born (in 1920) as a maternal grandson of Chittaranjan Das Munshi, the veteran Congress leader who had drafted the Nehru Report in 1928, and which had became the prelude to India's independence. Ray was educated at Presidency College in Kolkata and took the higher studies of Law in England.

His passing away after a prolonged and protracted illness, as he was permanently on dialysis due to a chronic kidney malfunction, earned him obituary notes, by his friends and comrades, but a very visible and a well-deserving part of his life, has been deliberately consigned to the din! Yes, his role in the cause of Babri Masjid by practically all the newspapers and frontline magazines was deliberately eclipsed.

"I have every inkling that he wanted to fight the case for Babri Masjid ever since the locks of Babri Masjid were made open on Feb 1, 1986. He had expressed that to Syed Shabuddin and when suddenly he became the Governor of Punjab he lost touch. We however, had met him at Punjab House, Delhi in 1988. We apprised him of the whole issue, he was a patient listener and in the end had replied and we needn't worry as all we were to do was to carry him and his wife from Delhi to Lucknow and vice-versa," informs Zafaryab Jilani. His wife would never leave him owing to his security concerns after his tenure in Punjab. Jilani had also organised a meeting to console his death at Amir-ud-Daula, Islamia Degree College, Lucknow.

"He never took a single rupee when he appeared for the Babri Masjid, out of his dozens of visits to Lucknow, where the title suit of Babri Masjid was being contested. His last appearance was in Oct 2007 during the final arguments," recollected Mushtaq Ahmed Siddiqui. Siddiqui is an advocate who actually had fought the Babri Masjid case, ever since 1986, and is credited to have laid the foundation of the Babri Masjid case but does not often come to the media fore.

"I have the credit to ferry him from his hotel to the Court and has always been privileged to have served him in the cause of Babri Masjid. I would wait in the lobby and would also look around for his security apparatus whenever he was here," reflected Muhammed Haseen Khan, who runs a transport business. He even once hosted a dinner for him.

Zafaryab Jilani, while speaking at the condolence meeting, also delved out that on Dec 6, 1992, when Babri Masjid had been demolished, Ray had called him, in which he had expressed his grave sorrow over the sordid demolition of Babri Masjid and had minced no words to condemn the act of vandalism in the harshest terms. "He volunteered to resign from the rank of Indian ambassador to US then. I would advise that it was to be better for him to stay back there and tell the world about the tragedy," said Jilani.

Jilani found him a secularist in toto. Apart from his engrained qualities of being efficacious, erudite, laborious, and one armed with utmost dedication to the cause of Babri Masjid. It was Oct 15, when he had called Jilani to express his willingness, to help Muslim side, make appeal in the Supreme Court, after the controversial 'faith over fact' Ayodhya verdict of Sep 30. But, as destiny would have had it. He might be not there today but his undying spirit would live and help survive India as a secular nation.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 December 2010 on page no. 16

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