“LET the temple come up.” This was the remark by Atal Behari Vajpayee when I asked his reaction to the destruction of the Babri Masjid one day after. I was surprised by his comment because I considered him a liberal force in the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP).
Yet I did not attach much importance to his remark. Now that the one-man commission on the demolition, headed by Justice Manmohan Singh Liberhan, has named Vajpayee as one of the collaborators in the pulling down of the mosque, his remark falls into the slot. How could he have reacted differently when he was a party to the “meticulously planned” scheme to demolish the mosque?
That L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, the other two BJP leaders, were co-conspirators was known on December 6, 1992, itself. The surprising name for me is that of Vajpayee. I would have been indulgent towards him if I had not seen a clip of his speech. A television network showed it on the day a Delhi paper had published the leaked report. Vajpayee said on December 5, one day before the demolition of the masjid, at Lucknow that the ground would be “leveled” and a “yangya” (religious celebration) held at that place.
The commission has said that the destruction of the masjid was “preventable.” Advani could have done it. But all of them, “pseudo-moderates,” as the commission has described them, knew about what was happening and were “not innocent of wrong doing.”
The indictment has exposed our polity because all the three came to occupy top positions in the country. Vajpayee became the Prime Minister, Advani the Home Minister and Joshi, the Human Resources Development Minister. If all the three were collaborators in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, they were dishonest in taking the oath of office which demanded that the oath taker would work for the country’s unity and uphold the constitution which mentions secularism in the preamble. The Liberhan Commission has said that they were among the 68 who were “culpable” in taking the country to the brink of “communal discord.”
Not only that. The three leaders acted against the Supreme Court’s order “not to disturb the status quo.” In other words, they made a mockery of the country’s judiciary and the constitution to which they swore before assuming power. And they ruled for six years without a tug of conscience.
The question is not only legal but also moral and political. How can the planned demolition be squared up with the holding of office by Vajpayee, Advani and Joshi? This is a matter that the nation must debate to find an answer, at least for the future. Those who have no clean hands should not be allowed to defile the temple of parliament. And if they do so, what should be the punishment when facts come to light? True, the BJP came to power through the Lok Sabha election. Would the party have won so many seats if the commission had submitted its report before 1999 when the BJP led the coalition?
It is unthinkable that the commission should say that the centre could not have interfered in the affairs of Uttar Pradesh until the state governor had asked it to do so. This is an alibi. My experience is that the governor adjusts his power to suit the convenience of whichever party is at the helm of affairs in New Delhi. The governor was bound to report according to the wishes of Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, whom he personally knew because both belonged to Andhra Pradesh.
Even otherwise, the centre has an overall responsibility to protect the constitution. Rao could have easily acted before the demolition took place. The proclamation to impose President’s rule was ready a fortnight earlier. It was awaiting the cabinet approval. The Prime Minister did not convene the meeting. This means his connivance, although in his book Rao mentions the pressure of his party men that did not allow him to react in time. When the demolition began, there were frantic calls to the Prime Minister’s Office. He was said to be at puja (prayer) and continued to be at it till the demolition was over. What should one make out of this?
Even if the Congress were to deny the allegation against Rao, the party should explain how a small temple was built overnight at the site where the Babri masjid stood a few hours earlier. The centre was then in full control because UP had been put under President’s rule after dismissal of the state government. In any case, the Babri masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute had transcended the state borders and the centre was following the developments every day. The commission’s silence on Rao’s behaviour is meant to cover up his complicity and that of the Congress party.
One thing that Justice Liberhan has not explained in his 900-page report is the span of 17 years between his appointment and the submission of his findings. Though he has blamed it on the commission’s counsel for the delay, it is still difficult to understand that the probe should have taken such a long time. A sum of Rs 8 crore was spent on the commission and people have commented that he was prolonging his job.
I expected the government’s Action Taken Report to be precise and meaningful. But it is too general and too vague. And it is shocking that the government should say that there wouldn’t be punitive action against anybody. Some of the guilty are saying openly that they are not repentant over what they have done. It would be tragic if those who demolished the mosque went scot-free. They are also responsible for the killing of 2000 people in the wake of the masjid’s destruction.
The danger of communal discord confronts the nation in one form or another. The Liberhan Commission has rightly underlined it: the basic difference between those who want a pluralistic society and those who are obsessed with Hindutva. The ideology of the BJP or, more so of its mentor, the RSS, is clear. But those who are playing politics over the demolition are doing the greatest disservice to the country.
The report parked at the Home Ministry a few months ago was waiting to be scooped. It is the prerogative of journalists to do so. Why should political parties make its publication an issue instead of discussing how to punish those who conspired to pull down the mosque? Significantly, all secular parties came to the rescue of the BJP when the question of the report’s leakage was raised. It was sought to be made a privilege issue. This is one way to evade the real problem.