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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 38, September 5, 2009

Babri Masjid: Role of the Congress

Need for System Reform and a TRC

Wednesday 9 September 2009, by Iqbal A Ansari


Under the compulsions of electoral calculations former BJP leader Kalyan Singh joining hands with Mulayam Singh in Uttar Pradesh has helped to revive the issue of demo-lition of the Babri Masjid. Unfortunately the focus of the current debate is only on fixing res-ponsibility for what happened on December 6, 1992, ignoring the political, administrative and judicial responsibility for the developments which had their origin on December 22-23, 1949 when the idols were surreptitiously installed in the Masjid under the administration of the Congress Chief Minister, G.B. Pant. It needs to be recalled that even Sardar Patel, in his letter of Junuary 9, 1950 addressed to G.B. Pant, had characterised the incident in Ayodhya as an “unilateral action based on an attitude of aggression or coercion”. However, no heed was paid by G.B. Pant to his exhortation to resolve the issue peacefully with the “willing consent of the Muslim community”.

Nehru,who was deeply disturbed over the incident, offered on February 5, 1950 to go to Ayodhya, but was prevented by the false assurance of Pant on February 9, 1950 that soon the idols would be removed peacefully. Instead of any such peaceful denouement, the naked act of aggression was provided the fig-leaf of legal protection by the attachment order of the law court turning a functioning mosque into a temple, though with limited rights of worship, which was subsequently turned into a full-fledged temple by the opening of the gates in 1986 under a secular Congress Prime Minister and Chief Minister of the State.

About the course of law the BJP’s White Paper on Ayodhya and the Rama Temple (1994) made the following observations:

The law could not help the Hindus for more than 60 years, from 1885 to 1949, but when they physically occupied the structure after the idols of Sri Rama appeared on December 22-23, 1949, the same law okayed it, and the same law enforcing court—the district court in 1950 and later in 1955 the High Court—granted to the Hindus the right to worship and injuncted against removing the idols.

In his deposition before the Liberahan Commission, L.K. Advani admitted that the BJP’s was a late entry into the political movement for the Rama temple, when he realised its immense potential for consolidation of Hindu nationalism. It is this competitive championing of Hindu nationalism between the Congress and the BJP which got aggravated in 1985 as the Congress felt the need for appeasement of Hindu sentiments in the wake of its handling of the Muslim agitation over the Shah Bano case. Competition over Ayodhya has had many phases. It turned into a collusive project under the VHP-Buta Singh agreement of September 27, 1989 for shilanyas, although Buta Singh tried his best to demonstrate his dexterity in running with the hare while hunting with the hound.

Even the sequence of events in November-December 1992 clearly demonstrates deliberate inaction amounting to collusion on the part of Prime Minister Narasimha Rao to let the worst be done. Manmohan Singh has perhaps conveniently forgotten that it took full fortyeight hours for demolition of the Masjid and rebuilding of the makeshift temple before invocation of Article 356.

What emerges from this narrative is the fact that Kalyan Singh is not the only sinner to be stoned. The followers of the Sangh ideology within the Congress from G.B Pant to Narasimha Rao and a naïve-opportunist Rajiv Gandhi are equally, if not more, to blame for the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

However, it is the neglect, during the last democratic electoral process, of issues related to the inadequacies of institutional mechanism of rule of law and justice delivery system, resulting in recurrence of periodic massacres and pogroms, which is simply astounding. Will India continue to claim being the largest democracy without the rule of law and a secular state without secular justice?


In this regard the recently released Special Report on India by Asma Jahangir, the UN Secial Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, deserves some attention of the government, the political class and of groups described by her as vibrant human rights promoters. She has clearly warned that

there is at present a real risk that similar communal violence (like Ayodhya 1992 and Gujarat 2002) might happen again unless political exploitation of communal distinctions is effectively prevented and advocacy of religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence is adequately addressed.

But it is the report’s perceptive observation about institutionalised impunity that deserves serious attention.

The role of the ruling Congress party and the higher judiciary in encouraging impunity to hate leaders in the post-demolition violence in Mumbai came out in sharp relief in the fate of the PIL filed by J.B. D’Souza and others for prosecution of Bal Thackeray for his inflam-matory writings in Saamna when Mumbai was burning in December 1992-January 1993. Seeravai expressed the opinion that “a clearer violation of Sections 153A and B is difficult to imagine”. From the affidavit filed by the Congress Government, however, he found that, “while it knew that the Saamna passages violated the law, it was determined not to prosecute Shri Thackeray”, to which first the Bombay High Court and subsequently the Supreme Court lent a helping hand, by dismissing the petition under the plea of ‘desirability of not raking up old wounds’. Fali S. Nariman expressed his anguish over this shocking ruling: “Where then, o Lord, shall we turn for the redressal of palpable wrongs?” Nani Palkiwala, Sorabjee and Seervai deplored treating Bal Thackeray as someone above the law. However, the way Varun Gandhi’s hate speech has made the law instil fear in his heart demonstrates that given the impartiality of institutions, politicians can be made to behave.

Even now when the game of raising accusing fingers at others for electoral gains is continuing, not even the architects of the ‘secular’ Third Front or Fourth Front have made any clear commitment for giving any priority to the police and justice system reform for impartial law-enforcement and prompt delivery of equal secular justice to victims irrespective of faith and/or affiliation. There is a need for concerned citzens groups not to give up the struggle. The large unconcerned sections of the civil society must be reminded that it is partisan policing and non-delivery of prompt untainted justice during communal violence which is mainly responsible for the rise of home-grown terrorism like in Mumbai March 1993 and Coimbatore 1998 and many subsequent incidents, especially post-Godhra Gujarat 2002. Building the edifice of a peaceful society and healthy polity, therefore, requires putting in place laws and a law-enforcement system capable of preventing and punishing hate speech and all forms of violence by the state, by militants and by hate groups, whose victims are innocents irrespective of the different labels we use to describe them.

Apart from setting in the process of accoun-tability for the debacle of December 6, 1992, which we should admit was a state-aided act of terrorism, the worst of its kind in independent India, let the 15th Lok Sabha take steps for the appointment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission a la South Africa.

The author is a former Professor of English, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh.

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