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Between the line

Damage can still be undone
July 15, 2009


INDIA has lived with the Babri Masjid topic for more than 50 years, first as an issue in the shape of controversy whether the Ram temple stood there once and then in the aftermath of the Masjid’s demolition by some Hindu extremists. It was a dastardly blow to secularism which the country has claimed as its ethos even before independence. There were widespread riots in December 1992 and January 1993, fanatic Hindus leading mobs. The 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts were the Muslims’ vengeance against the pulling down of the Masjid on December 6, 1992.

The Justice Liberhan Commission which has taken 17 years to submit the report has at least put a judicial seal on what was known through mouth, print or electronic media. The report, rather late in the day, has tried to reconstruct the sequence of events. It has brought to the fore the lesser known facts that it was the RSS which had planned the destruction at Faizabad, some 10 kilometers from Ayodhya, the site of dispute. It was not an outpouring of frenzy at the spur of the moment. Once the RSS gave the roadmap, the BJP provided the necessary help to the Bajrang Dal, a militant wing of the RSS, to execute the demolition plan to the shame of the Indian nation.

L.K.Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and the then UP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh were some of the witnesses. One picture which appeared in most newspapers was that of the gleeful Uma Bharti, then a BJP light, riding the shoulders of Joshi. Some BJP leaders shed crocodile tears when they found that the common people throughout the country had reacted with anger and disapproval.

Understandably, New Delhi dismissed the BJP government in UP. But it is still unexplainable why the Congress government at the Centre did not act when it was for all to see that a determined group of kar sevaks was armed with ladders, ropes, axes and rods, ready to destroy the mosque. P.V.Narasimha Rao, then the Prime Minister, did nothing to prevent the demolition as though he was conniving at the unholy tragedy. The Liberhan Commission refers to the lapse but it does not hold Narasimha Rao guilty. This may give an excuse to the ruling Congress to escape responsibility which lies squarely on the shoulders of the party to a large extent. True, the extremists struck the first blow, but the centre could have acted long before to ensure that the disputed Masjid would stay intact, particularly when the Supreme Court had ordered to maintain the status quo.

Yet the most reprehensible aspect of the episode is that a small temple came up on the demolished site overnight. I recall asking Narasimha Rao certain questions about it. He had invited a few senior journalists to his residence to seek help to quell the riots. I asked him how the Centre had allowed a small temple to be built after the UP government had been dismissed and the central rule imposed.

Narasimha Rao explained that the central forces were flown from Delhi but could not land at Lucknow because the airport was engulfed with fog. I told him that he did not have to fly in troops from Delhi because there was already a surfeit of them at Ayodhya and around it. Narasimha Rao had no answer but told me emphatically that the temple would not be there “for long.”

That was in December 1992. The temple is still there. Hundreds of pilgrims visit the place daily. The government has vast security arrangements to protect the small temple. No political party has ever raised the question of removing it from there. It can be said without contradiction that if the BJP government in UP was responsible for the demolition of the Masjid, the Congress was responsible for the small temple to come up.

The Muslim psyche is hurt. The Liberhan Commission findings put a balm on the wounds in the sense that he has recommended certain steps which the community expects to be implemented. This does not look like happening. After all, the government has not taken any action against leaders like Shiv Sena Chief Bal Thackrey, although the Justice Srikrishna Commission named him responsible for the Mumbai riots in December 1992-January 1993. Some BJP leaders mentioned by the Liberhan Commission for riots in the wake of the demolition are still in the forefront of the party.

The Congress initiated no action against those who took the law in their hands during the emergency (1975-77) and committed the worst type of excesses. In fact, the party punished those who brought the perpetrators to justice. No doubt, people were not killed. But there was a murder of values and institutions. Even the fundamental rights were suspended and the press gagged. The then Attorney General proudly told the judges that if some policemen were to shoot any one of them dead, they would not be able to haul them up.

My worry is that without the awareness of what is right and a desire to act according to what is right, there may be no realisation of what is wrong. Over the years, the dividing line between right and wrong, moral and immoral, has ceased to exist. The tug of conscience, which was once there, has evaporated.

The Liberhan Commission has provided an opportunity to set things right. The guilty, however high in office or politics, must be punished. Democracy is nothing but the independence of institutions. They must be restored to the position that the constitution has spelt out for them. The demolition of the Babri Masjid was a consequence of bigotry that took over most people in the north at that time and still lingers at some places and in some organizations. The idea of India cannot exist for long without pluralism. The institutions have to rise to the occasion.

Before the demolition when there were efforts to settle the Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute peacefully, many proposals were mooted. One of them was that the Babri Masjid and Ram temple should stay side by side. If the two communities could agree upon such an arrangement, then it would be in the spirit of accommodation. In that case, the Hindus could build the mosque and Muslim the temple.

My preference is that the site should be left as a vacant plot, without any remnants of the mandir or mosque. Just as people go to Hiroshima and weep over the destruction that the atom bomb had caused, we should also convert the Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid site into a place of pilgrimage with the words boldly inscribed: Here is the place where our pluralism was murdered on December 6, 1992.

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