Monday, July 13, 2009

Babri Masjid - Time for Truth and Reconciliation

Babri Masjid - Time for Truth and Reconciliation
Rajeev Dhavan

From a totally different viewpoint, kavivar Bachchan’s words come to mind: Kya bhuloon, kya yaad karoon mai? (What shall I forget, what shall I remember?). Is the destruction of Babri Masjid to be forgotten? As part of the triumph of ‘forgetting’ over truth? After 17 years, is the Liberhan Report irrelevant? Are we no longer interested in the truth?

There are many ways to perceive the fall of Babri Masjid. Counsel for UP simply told the Court “I hang my head in shame”. Introducing the BJP White Paper (February 1993) L.K. Advani unrepentantly praised the “kar sevaks … for erasing a symbol of our subjugation (and) … begin building a symbol of resurgence (to show us) as if in a flash how far we have to travel”. Secularists found the act “barbaric”. 6 December 1992 was a watershed in India’s secular governance. Before there were communal riots, the wanton slaughter of the Sikhs in 1984 and rath yatras. Religion took politics by storm. But 6 December 1992 was the remorseless destruction of a mosque.

There is little point in talking of historical revenge. After 1947, citizens simply cannot destroy a religious building they don’t like. The suit was pending. The Constitution disallows such sacrilege. 6 December 1992 sends a chilling message that lumpen Hindus provoked by the Sangh Parivar can always terrorize any community or their mosques, churches, holy places with total impunity. After Babri Masjid fell, there were ‘no-holds-barred’. No one could touch these marauders. Photographs identifying the miscreants were available, they were not ferreted out. Everyone was interested in getting the big-wigs (Advani, Joshi, Uma Bharati). Even that was botched up. After 1992, all hell broke loose against Christians, Muslims and others. Revd. Staines and his sons were murdered. In Bombay, police joined the Hindu rioters with action and inaction to murder Muslims. Muslim painters like Hussain were harassed. The Godhra riots in 2002 showed how a pro Sangh Parivar state of Gujarat can permit the killing of Muslims with impunity. Art galleries and libraries were ransacked. A terrifying politically inspired and protected Hindu fundamentalism was let loose with satanic results.

Should 6 December 1992 be forgotten? On what terms? Just because the Liberhan Report has been egregiously delayed does not mean it can be ignored. Clearly the BJP and Sangh Parivar (as self evident from repeated statements) applaud 6 December. They now want the Mathura and Benares mosques; or any other. There is some confusion over PN Oak’s thesis that the Taj Mahal was originally a temple! But the Taj Mahal is too secularly ‘sacral’ to invite such sacrilege! Who knows?

Now what is to be done with the Liberhan Report? The legal significance of a commission’s Report is that it is fact-finding. No further prosecutions may flow from it. Somehow in India we take the shameless view that public indictment is not enough. Our leaders only fear the public humiliation of criminal conviction. Advani was cleared by Mr. Jethamalini in the Hawala transactions on a technicality. Sibal got Narsimha Rao on the MP bribery case. Both these lawyers were politically rewarded. No one is interested in the truth. No one will accept the truth and bow out of political life. We live in a political milieu of save-your-hide-at-all-costs.

The Liberhan Report has all the hype of a make believe ‘who-dunn-it-mystery’. What was the role of Joshi, Advani, Vijay Raje Scindhia, Ashok Singhal and others who watched from a terrace? There is a great moral obfuscation. The Advani-Joshi rath yatras were uncompromisingly for kar sevaks on the site of the Masjid. The provocation was clear. After the site fell, L.K. Advani’s preface to the BJP White Paper praised the kar sevaks for their historic destruction. Ruchira Gupta’s evidence to the Liberhan Commission on 14 November 2006 stated when the second dome fell Uma Bharati hugged Joshi with joy. Mrs. Scindhia said, “Ab meri ankhon ko shanti mili hai (my eyes are at peace now). Meanwhile, Ruchira was attacked, under the cry “Mussalman! Mussalman!” Reportedly, Advani was concerned that the kar sevaks might get hurt! When asked by Ruchira (to whom Advani had given his binoculars) why did Advani not stop the mayhem, he was quiet. Ruchira Gupta had accompanied Advani for the last four days. Advani was clear that he was not going to sweep the floor on the site. It was kar seva at all costs. He “swore by Ram that the mandir will be built here.”

We are not here concerned with the criminal conspiracy cases going on in Rae Bareilly and Lucknow. The law will take its course. But Commissions of Inquiry are not concerned with criminal liability but fact-finding. In this case, the purpose of the Commission was also to consider who is morally and politically culpable? Due to Commission reports, TT Krishnamachari and Kairon resigned in the 1950s. The idea behind a Commission, is partly to shame even the shameless and to ensure that what happens shall never happen again. In the case of the Babri Masjid, there was a comprehensive failure – by the BJP and Sangh Parivar, the State of UP which did not use the centre’s battalions and the Centre standing idly by Kalyan Singh was found in contempt of the Supreme Court. Narsimha Rao’s contempt was never decided by the Supreme Court when he was alive. Unfortunately, everyone – no less the media – feels that the only significance of the Liberhan Commission is whether it can be the basis of criminal liability.

There is an unfortunate controversy about whether Liberhan had treated Advani lightly. The former counsel to the Commission Mr. Anupam Gupta has gone public to suggest Liberhan took a ‘soft’ approach in this regard. This is unpleasant, a breach of responsibility and unfair. Liberhan denies all this. His distinguished record as a judge and Chief Justice of Madras and Andhra would not suggest susceptibility to bias. I argued Jaylalitha’s case before him for two years. He was impeccable. Like Justice Wadhwa’s report on the Staines matter he might have become ambivalent. But, we will have to wait.

The Liberhan Report must also depend on how we (the public) receive it and are prepared to receive it. There is a moral plane at which all governance works. Advani supported and provoked the kar seva, watched like Nero from the terrace and wrote an introduction to the BJP supporting this sacrilege as the correct moral and political thing to do. He does not want to own up to criminal conspiracy. But, he does own up to the sacrilege as a good thing – pointing to historical revenge as a reason. Basically, he seems to be saying, “I approve the destruction of the masjid. I saw its fall. I urged the kar seva and mobilized thousands. I watched from the terrace and joined the jubilation. I wanted it done. But I did not do it.” Today the official policy of the Sangh Parivar and BJP is that such destructions are good.

It is this official policy that makes the destruction of the Babri Masjid significant and divides the nation apart; and will continue to do so.

The Liberhan Report and the government’s Action Taken Report will help us review our conscience so that this kind of incident never happens again. But the Report should be released and not kept secret because the government’s ministers are slow at reading; and even slower at making up their mind. Our next step should be truth and reconciliation.

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