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Mainstream, Vol XLVIII, No 1, December 26, 2009 - Annual Number 2009

On the Liberhan Commission

Saturday 26 December 2009, by Mukul Dube

It has long been held that justice delayed is justice denied. The 16.5 years that the Liberhan Commission took to produce its report on the Babri Masjid demolition must, in that light, be called a travesty of justice. Why might it have taken so much longer than the three months it was allotted when it was appointed by the government of Narasimha Rao?

One reason that the Commission itself offered was that witnesses delayed making their appearances before it. It is entirely possible that this happened—after all, people who have things to hide do not speak of them in public—and it may be that Commissions of Inquiry have only limited powers in the matter of summoning witnesses and compelling them to testify before it. None of this, however, can explain why the Commission presented its report to the Home Minister only in June 2009 even though it had examined the last witness, Kalyan Singh, in August 2005, almost four years earlier.

The Liberhan Commission was granted forty-eight extensions in all: that is, an extension in every third month. It can safely be assumed that over its life of more than a decade-and-a-half, the money allotted to it will steadily have increased to take account of inflation and the salary increments of its staff. One person to whom I spoke attributed the phenomenal delay—and the total expense, said to be Rs 8 crores—to the sole factor of human cupidity. He said that Justice Liberhan had every reason to delay his report because each day meant the continuance of the perquisites of office, essentially a sinecure after retirement.

I object to this characterisation of Justice Liberhan as a greedy and grasping man not because I have reason to think him a saint but because the argument reduces political criminality to one of an individual kind.

He who pays the piper, calls the tune. Justice Liberhan was a paid employee, and if his work was unconscionably delayed, the blame for that must rest squarely on his employer, the Government of India. We know that he was given one extension after another: we can only examine the known facts to decide whether he was passively permitted to go on and on or was actively restrained from finishing his work.

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I hold that it was in the interest of every successive government in New Delhi to not have the Liberhan Commission complete its work. The governments between December 1992 and June 2009 were those headed by P.V. Narasimha Rao, A.B. Vajpayee, H.D. Deve Gowda, I.K. Gujral, A.B. Vajpayee (again) and Manmohan Singh.

Vajpayee’s first Ministry was something of a joke, and most of us failed to see the future in it; and the period of Deve Gowda and Gujral has aptly been described as “time pass”, a period in which the country rolled along without much guidance. That leaves two Congress governments with a BJP one between them. I shall summarily dismiss Vajpayee’s second Ministry, insofar as the Liberhan Commission is concerned, by pointing out that he was always crafty and calculating and certainly was not likely to take an axe to his own knees. The NDA period was marked by loud crowing about the “resurgence” of Hindutva (a phenomenon which had, of course, never existed earlier): and the razing of the Babri Masjid was described, in speech after speech, video after video, as a great achievement. It was natural that the “achievers” should go to any length not to be shown up as common vandals or, worse, a disciplined army of demented apes carrying out a well-planned manoeuvre.

Many have held Narasimha Rao guilty of allowing the one-time mosque to be destroyed, and some have gone a step beyond by attributing complicity to him. Here I shall say only that India has a federal structure, that Narasimha Rao headed the Central Government at the time, that his Home Minister controlled an array of intelligence sources and para-military forces, that his President commanded the armed forces, and that the Constitution gave him certain powers. From around the time of Advani’s first, massive Rath Yatra, everyone—and I include in this term my then panvala and the men from whom I bought vegetables and meat—knew what was going to happen. I heard the BJP and ABVP people brag about it and saw them rub their hands in anticipation. Narasimha Rao claimed to have had no inkling. In his report Justice Liberhan concluded that Narasimha Rao did no wrong. I do not know if this has anything to do with the principle of not biting the hand that feeds you, or with that of not speaking ill of the dead. (I am compelled to speculate about how different the report would have been if more years had passed and more of the people under investigation had died.) In the run-up to the general election of 2004, the Congress party spewed fire and thunder about the “misdeeds” of the BJP and promised to set things right. When it was returned to power, it did nothing about the Gujarat events of 2002, only two years in the past. Half-a-decade later, Narendra Modi and other Hindutva goons—as well as the administration of the State—continue to terrorise Muslims and to deny them their basic rights: and Manmohan Singh’s troupe in New Delhi continues resolutely to look towards the West. The Liberhan Commission’s report was over
16 years overdue when it was submitted to
the present Home Minister. What did Shri Chidambaram do? No, he showed no desire to place before the nation the document, awaited for so long, which was meant to bring out the truth about the most cataclysmic event in independent India’s history. If relatively recent events in Gujarat did not matter to him, then the old event of the Babri Masjid seemed to matter even less.

We must thank whosoever “leaked” the report: for all we know, it may have gathered dust in the Home Ministry for another 17 years or longer.

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I do not think that those whom Justice Liberhan found to be guilty of planning and executing the demolition of the Babri Masjid will ever be brought to justice. A Congress Government is in power, and all indications are that other governments headed by the same party will follow. In the matter of taking action against intolerant “Hindus”, the record of the Congress is execrable. So many enquiries have been ordered, conducted and forgotten—with the result that anti-Muslim violence has gone unpunished—that even those whose business it is to keep track of the matter may have lost count. It is a way of life, it is dastur. It is a crucial feature in the history of Congress rule. The “secular” Congress ruled Madhya Pradesh in 1961, when the first major “communal riot” of independent India broke out in Jabalpur.

In less than a day it had come a hundred miles to the town in which I lived. I still shudder when I recall the words of other children in my school, the words I heard on the university campus where we lived. I shuddered again, in the same way, when Advani’s vicious “yatra” passed the room in South Delhi in which I lived. Govind Ballabh Pant, whose impeccably “Hindu” record in the United Provinces is known to all, was no longer Nehru’s Home Minister in 1961, but his spawn survived and throve. It thrives still.

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