Thoughts on Liberhan Commission Report

The Aftermath of the Demolition

By Syed Shahabuddin,

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Nearly 16 years and a half after its appointment, after holding 399 sittings, and examining nearly 100 witnesses over 48 extensions, Justice, M.S. Liberhan, head of the one man Commission of Inquiry in the Demolition on 6 December 1992, finally submitted its Report to the Prime Minister on 30 June 2009. The Commission worked through 2 years of P.V. Narasimha Rao’s Government, 5 years of Vajpayee’s and 5 years of Manmohan Singh’s. Neither the NDA nor the UPA ever questioned the long delay by asking the Commission to submit its Report.

Why 48 Extensions?

The question is why the Commission has been given extension after extension, both by the NDA and the UPA Governments. In the last 4 years after hearings & arguments had been concluded, and after the absconding prime witness Kalyan Singh had appeared, defiant at ever and without any sign of remorse or shame, there was no justification or rationale for any further extension. One can only surmise that the UPA Government willingly submitted to what may be called in the circumstances ‘silent blackmail’ by the Commission, because it apprehended that if the Report held the late Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, largely responsible for the Demolition, the BJP may use it against the INC. Since, it had already come out in public that the draft Report was ‘soft’ on Advani. So the term was extended right up to 30 June, 2009, well after the General Election and the installation of the new Government.

The Report has not been made public and it is doubtful whether the Government shall table it in the Parliament during the current Budget Session, because it may like to consider it in depth and submit it with an Action Taken Report.

Main Conclusions as Reported

The term of reference of the Commission was to probe the sequence of events leading to and all facts and circumstances relating to the Demolition, the role played by the Chief Minister and other Ministers and Officials of the State Government, and of individuals & organizations as well as to go into the deficiencies in security measures.

Considering the time he has taken, Justice Liberhan’s claim that he has fully answered the terms of reference may be accepted. He has not revealed his conclusions or recommendations, but according to leaks in the press, the Commission has held the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao, responsible for ‘not doing enough to stop the Demolition’. It has also blamed the BJP leader, Advani, for ‘creating an environment that led to the Demolition through his Rath Yatra’ but despite his presence on the site & his speeches to the Kar Sevaks on 6 December 1992, the Commission has not held him responsible for inciting them. On the other hand, other top leaders of the BJP & VHP who were present and also spoke, including Murli Manohar Joshi, Vinay Katiyar, Uma Bharati and Ashok Singhal have been indicted by the Commission for the Demolition, apart from the then UP Chief Minister, Kalyan Singh for failure to control the Kar Sevaks & maintain law and order.

Scores of Reports of Commission Not Implemented

In any case, the Commission’s findings, conclusions and recommendations are all recommendatory and we know the fate of the reports of such Commissions. There have been more than 40 Commissions of Inquiry after Independence to look into major events like communal riots, assassinations, civil disturbances etc and the Report of Justice Srikrishna Commission on Post-Demolition Riots in Mumbai in 1992–93. They have not been implemented. The problem lies in that governments and political parties are not interested in finding the truth or securing justice but in making political capital.

Origin of Babri Masjid Dispute

We are aware that the Babri Masjid dispute began, according to an official affidavit when idols were ‘surreptitiously and unlawfully’ placed in the Masjid on the night of 22 – 23 December, 1949. They could have been immediately removed. But the combined efforts of the then Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the then Home Minister, Vallabh Bhai Patel, failed to persuade the then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Govind Vallabh Pant, to have the idols removed by the District Magistrate who defied his orders. Even the historic fasts undertaken by Akshay Brahmachari with the support of eminent Gandhians for the restoration of the Masjid failed. All that the State Government did was to lock up the Masjid & declare it out of bounds for the Muslims, authorized private worship of the idols & thus converted it into a Hindu shrine, while criminal and civil litigation raged outside.

But after the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement began, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was advised to have the doors of the Masjid unlocked on 1 February, 1986. This converted the Masjid into a de facto Mandir. The Muslims then launched a movement for the restoration of the Masjid but they never took the law in their hands. Subsequently, in 1989 the VHP which had prepared an architectural plan for the Mandir, was permitted to perform the Shila Nyas i.e. to lay its foundation in violation of court order.

In 1987, the Government consolidated the various civil suits and placed them before the Allahabad High Court for adjudication. By fits and starts, the title suit has been going on since then. After the Masjid was demolished in 1992, the Central Government acquired 70 acres of land around the disputed site. The Supreme Court considered the Reference on acquisition & okayed its legality in October 1994, revived the hearing of the title suit by the Allahabad High Court and also laid down a road map for the utilization of the acquired area in the light of the judicial verdict on title. The title suit has nearly come to an end & the verdict is awaited.

What is important is to note that the Muslim side has committed itself to accept the final verdict, whatever it be, but all Hindu organizations have taken the stand that they shall accept ‘it only if it is in their favour’! The Government has maintained total silence on its Constitutional duty & commitment to execute the judicial verdict, without fear or favour, nor has it prepared the required alternative plans for the utilization of the Acquired Area as it should have done. So much more important and relevant, than the Liberhan Report will be the final judicial verdict. If the Sangh Parivar refuses to accept it, the settlement will be further delayed & open another chapter of the conflict.

Political Possibilities

The Muslim community should, therefore, take the Liberhan Report in its stride and watch the political wrangling on its presentation to the Parliament along with the ATR by the Government. It is perfectly possible that increasingly conscious of the alienation & frustration in the Muslim Community and anxious, as always, to exploit Muslim votes in all elections, the Cental Government may not only accept the Report in toto but express its intention to implement its findings and recommendations. The Government may even initiate the prosecution of the indicted leaders. But that will be no more than another political gesture, another milestone on the long road to justice. We are all aware of the sluggish pace at which the criminal cases under FIR 198/92 arising out of the Demolition have moved, making little progress in 17 years! No purpose will be served by further prosecutions, if they move at the same pace and are undertaken as halfheartedly. After all the ruling party and the Government have to keep an eye on the mood of the people and they would not like to make martyrs or heroes of Advani and others in the eyes of the Hindu voters.

It goes without question that when the Report is placed in the public domain, it will become the subject of a slanging match between the Government and the Opposition i.e. the INC & the BJP. However, if the UPA does take effective action on the Report, it will consolidate the support it has received from the Muslims in General Election 2009. They have all but forgotten the role by the Congress played in 1949, 1986, 1989, 1992 & even immediately after the Demolition under the President’s Rule, to construct a make- shift Mandir on the debris of the Masjid. On the other hand, if the UPA fails to act, Muslims may turn away towards other secular parties & even take up seriously the project of forming one or more Muslim-core parties in the country. Since, it is in their long term interest to build understanding and cooperation among all secular forces, the danger is that in the process they may divide the secular forces as well as the Community to the benefit of the BJP and its allies. On the other hand, it is also possible that the post-election cleavages within the BJP may be further accentuated between those committed to the ideology of Hindutva and those who wish to reinvent the BJP as a liberal Hindu party.

While the Muslims should not display any emotions on the Liberhan Report before they actually see its findings & recommendations, they should also wait for the final judicial verdict on title. In the meantime, they should reserve their energy to the task of formulating the Muslim political strategy for the next General Election.

If the Report indeed holds Narasimha Rao responsible, Muslims should ask the INC to stop his glorification and seek its apologies. They may also ask the Manmohan Singh government to pursue diligently the criminal cases under FIR 198/92, as well as any additional charge-sheets based on the Liberhan Report.

Democracy is the Rule of Law and Social Justice. In their response to the Liberhan Report or the final judicial verdict on title, the Muslim should only press the Government to act in accordance with law, and they should assert their identity which is constantly under attack from all quarters, their recognition as a well- defined social group and as a well-attested Backward Class. They should keep their energies in reserve for really important battles which lie ahead over the execution of the final judicial verdict by the Government in accordance with the road map drawn by the Supreme Court, if it is in their favour, as well as over the publication and implementation of Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission’s recommendation for at least 10% reservation for their government job and higher education.

Ideas on the Utilisation of Babri Masjid Site

Some friends have suggested that neither a Masjid nor a Mandir should be built on the disputed site. This suggestion is not old. Kanshi Ram had once suggested the construction of public toilets over the site. Others had spoken of building a multi-faith shrine or a Museum. All these constitute subversion of the judicial system. Will they give up their title to their own houses in similar circumstances? The Supreme Court has already drawn up a road map for the utilization of the Acquired Area. If the Masjid was wrongfully demolished in 1992, it must be rebuilt under the law. On the other hand, no civilized state has a law for rewriting history and reconstructing ancient sites, which have been over-built. Even if a claim by the Sangh Parivar that a Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir stood on the disputed site and was demolished to make place for Babri Masjid is proved, the process cannot be reversed after 400 years. Indeed, we have adopted a law in 1991 which prohibits any damage to or ‘reconversion’ of any place of worship, which stood on 15 August, 1947.

Possible Holes in the Report

The Liberhan Report is not likely to answer all our questions about the sequence of events. The role of Narasimha Rao who no doubt had advance knowledge of the impending tragedy and of the real intention of the Sangh Parivar, the attitude of the state government of which he complained, he did not dismiss it & impose the President Rule, before the D-Day, though the papers were ready by 15 November..

Secondly, we may not know where the Kar Sevaks came from as Shiva Sena leader Thackeray claims credit for the Demolition. We may not know the reasons why Vajpayee was not summoned and examined by the Commission when it was known that he came to Lucknow to attend a public meeting on 5 December 1992. There are many such questions and we hope that the Liberhan Report will throw light on them so that we can see the political game going on. One wishes that the Commission had summoned the then Home Secretary and other Union Ministers particularly the junior Ministers who were close to Narasimha Rao. A great mystery lies in why not a finger was raised for 6 hours when the Babri Masjid was under demolition in broad day-light and not a shot was fired by the State Police and the Central Paramilitary Forces and why even after the real intent had become crystal clear by noon the centre did not take over the state or make any attempt to disperse the mob, even by a show-of force from the air through aircrafts and helicopters flying low over it. Why did the Supreme Court fail to see the dark clouds gathered on the horizon? Why did it remain a silent spectator on 6 December? One doubts whether all these dark corners have been looked into by Justice Liberhan. All we can say now that he has been unduly soft towards Advani, who had told the Commission and repeated it on many occasion that 6 December was ‘the saddest day of his life’. Surely he did not lack experience or intelligence to foresee the consequences of his nationwide mobilization through innovative means. On way to Ayodhya, he had clearly indicated that the Kar Sevaks were not going to Ayodhaya for Kirtan & Bhajan & that Kar Seva can be performed with shovels & spades.

My conclusion is that the main players, Narasimha Rao, Advani & Kalyan Singh had a common purpose and they achieved it. How can they absolve themselves before the bar of History and before the Nation?

It is felt that both the ‘protectors’ and the ‘demolishers’ had a common interest to demolish the Babari Masjid and wipe the slate clean for the Sangh Parivar to write on.

Change in the Role of Muslim After Demolition

For the Muslims, the Demolition, in retrospect, appears to be a turning point. Since 1992 they have been paying attention to their economic and educational development, with or without government support. The Demolition has liberated them from dependence on & support to one or two political parties. It has inspired them, both in the national interest and their own long-term interest to wage a battle against Hindu Nationalism and Hindu Terrorism, of which the Demolition and the Gujarat Genocide 2002 stand out as prime examples.

Therefore, the Muslims will not accept the advice of some pseudo-friends who urge that the Demolition be forgotten. The memory of this tragic event may one day lead the country towards achieving a truly secular order, to build up effective law and institutions to struggle against violence as well as create an environment for inter-religious harmony and tolerance. Communalism has deeply infected the political system & penetrated the administrative and even judicial apparatus. So the secular forces have to wage a relentless struggle for their detoxification and thus ensure that the Rule of Law protects security, dignity and equality of all citizens, irrespective of religion, caste or class. This will signify the ultimate victory of the Indian Nationalism over narrow concepts of Hindu Nationalism.

Some friends argue that the nation should close this ugly chapter after the submission of the Liberhan Report. Their argument is that the Demolition was a political act and the right to punish the elected representatives lies with the people. The problem is that the people do not always punish the wrongdoers; they sometimes reward them, depending on the political climate at the time of voting. But essentially this is a false argument which strikes at the root of the Rule of Law. All are equal before the Law and the criminal law makes no exception for political leaders or elected representatives, as Law ranks above the ‘Kings of the Republic’. So law must take its due course, and the political class should not interfere with it or obstruct it or divert it or delay its process.

In social conflicts, particularly in a multi – facetted & multi – segmented society like ours there can never be Peace without Justice. If justice is blocked or denied, the wounds continue to bleed and in desperation, the vacuum is filled with the spirit of revenge and retaliation. All citizens must guard against this.