LIBERHAN COMMISSION REPORT
- RAJEEV DHAVAN
At last after 17 years, 399 settings, 48 extensions, a cost of Rs.17 crores, embarrassing differences between the Commission’s counsel and Chairperson, litigation in Court to delay it, the Liberhan Report on the destruction of Babri Masjid has arrived. Submitted on 30th June 2009, Home Minister Chidambaram held on to it until, it was leaked on 23rd November 2009 amidst accusations of conspiracy and finally tabled on 24th November.
First, the leak. It was a coup for a newspaper. If anyone knows about the leak, surely it is that newspaper which stole a march to make a coup. In fact, what was wrong was the archaic law of non-disclosure. It is an absurd relic from English practice. There is no reason why reports should be disclosed to parliament first. On one occasion in 1960 or so, Pandit Nehru was accused of breach of parliamentary privilege because he pre-disclosed to the press a comment he was to make in the Parliament. This part of Parliamentary privilege should be removed by legislation. An Act should be enacted which simply says “All reports to Parliament shall be submitted to the Speaker and Chair of each House; and simultaneously published straightaway; (2) Any Action Taken Report (ATR) shall be declared to Parliament within one month”. This cat-and-mouse game of publication will disappear consistent with RTI principles of transparency. No report should be withheld from the public by either the government or the parliament.
Second, the spat between the Chairperson and Liberhan Counsel Anupam Gupta is unnecessary. Self-advertisement is not unknown to Gupta who acquired notoriety in other controversies over judicial corruption in 1993. Liberhan appointed Gupta. There is no reason to doubt Liberhan’s integrity. Making media capital out of personal recriminations is not right morally, under lawyer-conduct rules or otherwise.
Everytime a report comes out, we do not have to wail that all commissions are useless and designed to gather dusts. Reports are of many kinds: on corruption, riots, events or people. Corruption reports on Kairon and TT Krishnamachari were given to Nehru who took action. Today, Prime Ministers and all political parties tolerate corruption. Parliament’s own Joint Committee Report on Bofors, on Rajiv Gandhi’s involvement, has never been accepted as true or convincing. Commission reports should not become political toys. The Babri Masjid report explores a damning event of our history. It is easy to dissolve its findings in acerbic party-political acid. But this should not happen.
Let us look at the Report and the political antics designed to obfuscate its message. This is a peoples’ report for the people to find their way around a peoples’ issue on an event that divided India. 6th December 1992, when the Masjid fell, is a watershed in India’s contemporary history. Through the demolition, the Sangh Parivar legitimized the politics of a destructive communal hate. Hitherto, communal tension was regarded as an evil in governance. After Babri Masjid, BJP leaders and the Parivar set a new political standard which declared that the destruction of Masjids, killings of peoples, destroying of art works were a legitimate pursuit of a communal pseudo-Hindu nationalism advancing the cause of the “true Aryan” people.
Liberhan was not examining a “who-done-it”. He was looking at a phenomenon that shook India’s secular, multicultural people and polity. What Liberhan found was what we already know but need to know better. His conclusions in chapter 14 were (1) Babri Masjid was not an unintended spontaneous event except for “self-serving hyperbole”; (2) Logistically, given the total preparedness of the Karsevaks, there was a well planned conspiracy to destroy the Masjid; (3) Financial support came from Sangh Parivar funds including bank accounts operated by various named persons; (4) The, then, Chief Minister Kalyan Singh and his handpicked bureaucrats were involved in the conspiracy to destroy the Masjid and allowed a “parallel government” and “cartel” to facilitate the campaign which infiltrated the government; (5) The state (of UP) had become a willing ally and co-conspirator in the joint common enterprise…(of) demolishing the structure.”; (6) The conspiracy arose from the single-minded efforts of the RSS and VHP ideologues and theologians to manipulate ordinary people into a frenzied mob; (7) The campaign had nothing to do with a popular mandate from the people who were manipulated to support it; (8) The police fell in line with this conspiracy; (9) The union government was crippled by failure of intelligence and the “all-is-well reports by its rapporteur Tej Shankar”; (10) Not a single video camera was put in place; (11) The media “and journalists were subjected to systematic harassment”; (12) Leaders like Vajpayee, MM Joshi and L.K. Advani, and Govindacharya knew of the designs of the Sangh Parivar and lent their support in various ways; (13) Muslim leaders “wittingly or unwittingly” did not counter the plans of the RSS and VHP, effectively to make the latter’s task easier; (14) 68 persons are found “culpable”, including Advani, Vajpayee and Joshi, but not Narsimha Rao.
There are several recommendations for the future on both the inadequacy of response and the need for new changes. None of the 68 indicted culpably should hide behind procedure (even if those like Vajpayee have a genuine grievance of not being called a witness in his defence) or the leak of the report. Let them replace artful defence with honesty and candour. The indicted persons face two alternatives other than criminal proceedings. The first alternative for them is to candidly state: “I was involved in the destruction of the Babri Masjid and I am proud of it”; and face the social, legal and political consequences. Alternatively, if they are innocent, then each individual in this group of 68 should be prepared to say: “I never intended or participated in any conspiracy to destroy the Masjid; I denounce and condemn its destruction as illegal and unconscionable; I express my regrets over its destruction and promise never to be involved in any conspiracy and actions to destroy religious structures or victimize people of other faiths and religions.” There is no other alternative. Its truth or nothing.
India must put this divisive event behind it. The Supreme Court decisions on the Ayodhya Act and Presidential reference case of 1994 have stated that the vesting of the Babri Masjid area in the Union Government makes the latter trustees and not owners of the structural area until the Lucknow court decides this issue. At least court proceedings have brought temporary peace. But, following the Liberhan Commission report there should be a ‘truth and reconciliation’ in which statements and regrets are talked through.
The BJP and Sangh Parivar must be truthful. The nation cannot move on until the truth is told. The Liberhan Commission invites a premium on truth not for further divisiveness but to heal a nation which was split open. But if obtaining political power is more important than governance, these games will continue to infiltrate our psyche. The most frightening part of the Liberhan report is how the ‘state’ and ‘governance’ can be hijacked into manipulation and control. Fascism began in this way.