The morning after the Babri mosque was demolished on December 6, 1992, the Union Council of Ministers met and when they tried to convey how they all felt for the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao, he retorted: "Please spare me your sympathy."
This anecdote finds mention in senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid's new book "Sunrise over Ayodhya: Nationhood in Our Times".
Khurshid says the immediate shock of the "unthinkable happening" gradually settled down to a kind of numbness.
The demolition happened on a Sunday and on the morning of December 7, the Council of Ministers gathered in a crowded ground-floor room at Parliament House, he says. The mood was sombre, and a pall of gloom hung on the gathering.
"Understandably, most were at a loss for words, but Madhavrao Scindia broke the ice to say how we all felt for Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. The reaction of the embattled PM took us by surprise when he retorted, ''Please spare me your sympathy''," Khurshid recalls.
He also says after Rao's "curt response", there was no further opportunity for discussing the subject again and the meeting ended.
The Uttar Pradesh government of Kalyan Singh was dismissed on December 6 itself and a week thereafter, the BJP governments in Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh were dismissed by the President, as advised by the cabinet, he says.
Khurshid also writes that on the night of December 6, he and some other young ministers, "gathered at the residence of Rajesh Pilot to take stock, and then proceeded together to CK Jaffer Sharief -thus two bold voices in the government were roused".
He says calls were "made to Principal Secretary AN Verma, who suggested that we speak to the PM. We got through to the PM and suggested to him that Rajesh Pilot be included in the group that was flying to Faizabad".
Rao "in turn asked us to speak to AN Verma again, and thus the chase continued for a while, until we were told that the PM would not be available, having turned in for the night. The urgency was for a senior functionary of the government to intervene before the idols, which had been shifted during the demolition of the mosque, were reinstalled on the site", he writes.
The reinstallation was eventually done, but when it appeared the next morning that a roof would be placed above the idols, the government moved to disperse the conspicuously reduced crowd of karsevaks, he adds.
According to Khurshid, the politics shaped by the temple-mosque contest drove the Congress to an existential crisis in Uttar Pradesh and, after temporary empowerment of the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samajwadi Party, gave the BJP a springboard for dominance in the state and in Centre.
"The Ayodhya saga was undoubtedly related to certain organised groups among Hindus and Muslims trying to secure leadership of their respective communities by tilting the scales in favour of a mandir and a mosque, respectively," he says.
The Supreme Court, Khurshid claims, has "put its stamp on history and in a sense turned the last page. It has, in the process, written itself into the history" of Ayodhya.
If that has laid the foundation of a grand reconciliation or perpetuated the stress of majoritarian might versus right, or a mixture of the two, only time will tell, he adds.
Khurshid feels the greatest opportunity the judgment offers is for a reaffirmation of India as a secular society.
"It is a decision that refutes the idea of Hindu Rashtra and amplifies the practical handling of sensitive religious concerns in a secular system. Upholding the purpose and effect of the Places of Worship Act, among other matters, is a clear indication that the secular edifice of India and the commitment of its highest court to the Constitutional principles we cherish have not only remained undisturbed but have indeed been fortified," he writes.
Khurshid says his book, published by Penguin Random House, is an "attempt to see hope in what might be a judicious decision, even if some people think it was not entirely fair. When people begin to disagree about what is fair, there are cracks that need attention beyond all sentiments natural to human beings".