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Current Affairs ( 4 Jul 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Babri Mosque Demolition: Does justice matter after 17 years?

By MJ Akbar

5 Jul 2009

The first inquiry into the demolition of the Babri mosque on December 6, 1992 was completed within seven days. On the morning of Sunday, December 13, Sharad Pawar, then defence minister, invited a group of friends and colleagues to the home of an associate MP. He watched a film - live footage of the whole episode, taken by some government agency, possibly intelligence. Those antique reels should still be somewhere in the archives. There was little that any inquiry committee could have added about the sequence of events on December 6 that ended with the fall of the mosque by the evening.

The causes of this historic event were also a matter of public record. L K Advani's rath yatra was not a surreptitious journey. Indeed, extensive media coverage may have been part of the purpose, since he wanted to create mass momentum for his political project. Neither was there any secrecy when Congress laid the foundation stone of the temple to Lord Ram in the middle of the 1989 polls. Babri was a central theme, along with Bofors, of those dramatic elections. The 1989 BJP versions of Varun Gandhi were full-throated, not muted, in their slogans as parties sought votes with a rhetoric that has been subsequently banned: Mandir wahin banayenge! and Mussalman ke do sthaan, Pakistan ya kabristan! No one hid anything: We shall build a temple on that precise spot! Muslims have two options, either Pakistan or the graveyard!

Democracy is a volatile game played in the open. What was there left to inquire into?

All that an official inquiry could do was place a stamp of judicial impartiality on known facts. It did not seem strange, then, that Justice M S Liberhan, appointed on December 16, 1992, was asked to deliver his report in three months. If he had extended it to six months or even a year, it would have been reasonable. Why did he take 17 years?

The key actors were known and available. No sleuths needed here. Why did Liberhan take more than nine years to obtain V P Singh's deposition, and nine-and-a-half for P V Narasimha Rao's? Surely they were not evading his orders? Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti were ministers in a BJP-led government when they gave evidence. Former RSS chief K S Sudarshan appeared only on February 6, 2001. Rao could have said all he had to long before April 9, 2001, four years after he lost his job as prime minister.

Had the commission already served its first purpose by 2001? It had outlived Rao's term in office and thereby, ensured that its findings could not be used to demand Rao's resignation. Rao survived December 6, 1992 by the cynical expedient of buying out those he feared most, Muslims within the Congress. Some inside government were given promotions; most outside were inducted in a January 1993 reshuffle. Conscience purchased, life went on.

It would be interesting to know if the Liberhan Commission has disclosed the one mystery of December 6: what was Rao doing that entire day? Babri was not destroyed by a sudden, powerful, maverick explosion. It was brought down stone by stone, the process punctuated by the rousing cheers of kar sevaks.

So, what was Rao doing during those minutes and hours from morning till sunset? Sleeping. That is what his personal assistant said to the many agitated Congressmen and women who phoned to ask why the government was asleep. They were shocked to learn that this was, literally, the official explanation. Their agitation cooled when they realized that the party would have to pay a horrendous price if government was destabilized. Plus, of course, there were concrete benefits in silence.

There may not be a rational explanation for a 17-year inquiry, but there is a political explanation. Every government between 1992 and 2004 had a vested interest in delay. The minority governments of H D Deve Gowda and Inder Gujral could not have survived a day without support from the Rao-Sitaram Kesri Congress. (Mrs Sonia Gandhi was not party president then.) Neither Gowda nor Gujral would have wanted a report that indicted their benefactors.

The BJP-led coalition that ruled for six years had the guilty on its front row. Only Uma Bharti has been candid enough to say that she was delighted when the mosque fell ("I'm ready to own up to the demolition and will have no problem even if I'm hanged"). Justice Liberhan could have punched mortal holes into the BJP front row when it was in office. And so when he sought one extension after another, there was public silence and private relief.

Whether advertently or inadvertently, Justice Liberhan protected politicians on both sides of the great divide. There remains a curiosity question. Why did he not submit his report in 2004? Admittedly Dr Manmohan Singh was finance minister in the Rao government, but he had nothing to do with the politics of Babri. When delay becomes so comfortable, why bother?

Source: The Times of India, New Delhi


A truth nobody will ever admit

Swapan Dasgupta

5 Jul 2009

When asked about the impact of the French Revolution, Mao Zedong is said to have quipped: "It's too soon to tell." In missing the deadline for his report on the Ayodhya demolition of 1992 some 48 times, Justice M S Liberhan may not have been driven by any such noble quest for detachment. Yet, we need not be too harsh on this deft management of superannuation. In the context of a 480-year-old dispute, the delay isn't even a footnote: 17 years may be a long time in politics, but it is a mere blip in history.

The long campaign for a grand Ram temple on the site of the 16th century Babri Masjid in Ayodhya was, at a very basic level, an issue of faith. The belief that one of Babur's generals had destroyed a temple commemorating the birthplace of Lord Ram and replaced it with a mosque in 1528 had been a source of tension in Awadh. There were various attempts by Hindus to regain control of the site and it culminated in the mysterious appearance of idols in the mosque in 1949. This resulted in the Babri Masjid becoming, for all practical purposes, a Ram temple. The Ayodhya movement was aimed at replacing a Mughal building with traditional Hindu temple architecture.

Ideally, the law should have stepped in to resolve the conflicting claims. The issue went to the district court in 1951. In 1955, the Allahabad high court regretted that a decision was not forthcoming even after four years. Some 58 years later, the litigation continues in the high court.

The equally contentious issue of whether or not a temple predated the Babri Masjid was referred to the Supreme Court after the 1992 demolition. In 1994, the apex court returned the reference under Article 143 "unanswered". Was the court signalling its inability to settle a dispute that, ideally, needs a social and political resolution?

However, it was not merely religiosity and exasperation with the judicial process that catapulted a local dispute in Ayodhya into a signature tune of turbulence. The Ayodhya movement encapsulated a larger disquiet over the state of India. The proposed temple symbolised a churning over the meaning of national identity and, at a more subliminal level, the relationship between history and historical memory. The movement generated intellectual debates of a kind that India hasn't experienced since. To reduce the ferment of that decade to selective images of boisterous sadhus and unruly kar sevaks would be an act of arrogant condescension.

There was a context to the Ayodhya movement that won't emerge from Liberhan's prose and superficial TV discussions. Ayodhya was also a revolt against a failing Nehruvian consensus centred on the Congress' manipulative politics, the Left-progressive control over intellectualism and a closed economy built on controls and cronyism. The symbolism of the first (Rajiv Gandhi-approved) shilanyas in 1989 coinciding with the dismantling of the Berlin Wall shouldn't be dismissed casually. Ayodhya, too, was a movement for change and it too was energised by a staggering participation of youth.

Was this belief in a new direction dissipated after the colossal misadventure on December 6, 1992? To those who witnessed the frenzied six hours, it was a clear case of a riotous mob targeting two symbols of its hate - the Babri structure, in its eyes the reviled symbol of conquest; and a media which it saw as the personification of cosmopolitan derision. Those who blamed P V Narasimha Rao for his failure to save the "disputed structure" underestimated the size and the frenzy of the crowd. Military action would have led to a massacre far bigger than Jallianwala Bagh.

The first draft of history having a distinct liberal bias, it has become obligatory to view the demolition as an act of fanatical vandalism. This is only half the truth. In its 1994 judgment on the presidential reference, the Supreme Court pronounced that the "Hindu community must... bear the cross... for the misdeeds of the miscreants..." At the same time, the court allowed Hindus the right of worship and, more important, endorsed a Privy Council judgment of 1940 that rejected the principle of "once a mosque, always a mosque". Hindus won a technical victory but were awarded a post-dated cheque as punishment for jumping the gun on December 6.

The law is said to stand above politics and passion but reality is more awkward. The guilty men and women of December 6 haven't suffered from legal retribution (but nor have they been exonerated) because the demolition enjoyed a wide measure of Hindu endorsement, cutting across party affiliation. This is a truth that will never be formally admitted.

Since then, India has moved on. Ayodhya has been disentangled from politics and left to history to judge, or even leave unanswered.

Source: The Times of India, New Delhi