One is not sure
what had been the context of William Gladstone’s warning that
justice delayed is justice denied. But it’s as though the British
politician had India’s Liberhan Commission in his mind and the
charade it has unleashed on an unsuspecting country when he
proffered that much worn-out advice.
Liberhan has delivered a historic verdict on one of the most
defining tragedies of our time; a tragedy that shook India to its
core, forcing it to pause and ponder the road ahead and the
direction in which the country was headed. Only he has delivered it
a tad late. Seventeen years too late!
was formed after the demolition of Babri Masjid on Dec. 6, 1992 in
Ayodhya. The commission, appointed by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao
who himself was sound asleep at the wheel throughout that fateful
day, was to look into the “events and circumstances” that led to the
demolition of the mosque and present its findings within three
Lieberhan kept the Ayodhya saga alive by getting the term of his
commission extended month after month, year after year, for 17 long
years. Prime ministers came and prime ministers went. Strange
bedfellows formed most absurd coalition governments, only to be
brought down with equally improbable allies. Justice Liberhan stayed
on though and has survived to chronicle and recount that epic
Rao, who fiddled while Ayodhya burned with the rest of India and
nearly 4,000 people were killed in the post demolition religious
riots, eventually retired to die a rather quiet and far from
dignified death in Hyderabad, the all-embracing city from where I am
filing this piece.
succeeded by an erudite, poetry-loving scholar politician Inder
Kumar Gujral and “humble farmer” from the south Deve Gowda. Both,
like Rao, had been accidental prime ministers, who happened to be at
the right place at the right time.
Then it was the
turn of eloquent and affable Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose Bharatiya
Janata Party is now in the dock for the assault on the 16th century
mosque built on the orders of first Mughal Emperor Babur. A seasoned
and smart politician that he is, Vajpayee managed to stay home that
day in December of 1992, far from the action and maddening crowds at
comrade of many decades L. K. Advani and other stalwarts of BJP and
Hindutva brigade were right there, leading from the front. In fact,
Advani launched his famous chariot march from Somnath in Gujarat,
home to an ancient temple attacked by Afghan ruler Mahmoud of Ghazni,
spending days and weeks on the road and addressing rallies along the
way to Ayodhya. How Advani’s fiery rhetoric and yatra set the
country ablaze and eventually culminated in the destruction of the
mosque is part of India’s recent history.
But the high
point of this history is Advani’s loud protestations of innocence
and even remorse following the mosque’s destruction. “It was the
saddest day of my life,” he insisted later and continues to do so.
He has repeatedly emphasized that the Hindutva alliance never wanted
to bring down the mosque. Then, pray, what precisely was it that
they wanted? What did the BJP leader had in mind when he
commandeered that chariot across India, leaving a bloody trail
behind? What was the fuss all about then? What were the Hindutva
stalwarts doing in Ayodhya while a frenzied mob dismantled the
mosque, brick by brick? Praying for world peace and religious
harmony? In a monumental tragedy for this great country and its
celebrated traditions of tolerance and pluralism, not only did the
architects of the Babri outrage get away with it but they
successfully used and exploited it to multiply their ranks in
Parliament and eventually went to rule from Delhi for nearly a
decade. Ironically, the man who captained the Ayodhya agitation and
trampled the country’s laws and traditions with the whole world
watching became interior minister under Vajpayee. Nobody can accuse
the poet prime minister, known for his ready wit, of not having a
sense of humor!
The question is,
what was Hon’ble Justice Liberhan doing all these years? Why did it
take him 17 long years, 204 months, 952 weeks, 48 extensions,
thousands of testimonies and Rs80 million to come to the
earth-shattering conclusions that he seems to have arrived on now?
Was it because he found it rather difficult to handle the
inconvenient truth and confront those in power with it? Or was it
too much to let go of the perks and amenities that came with the
responsibility of heading such a high profile commission?
And why now, my
lord? What’s the big hurry? You are hardly getting any older. You
could have easily stretched it to another 17 years. Especially when
no one is losing sleep over what you have to hold forth on the
events of that chilly day in December, 1992. Not even Advani and
company appear too worried.
they hope, this could give the politically spent forces and
characters a new lease of life. Besides, not just the Indians but
the whole world watched what happened in Ayodhya on that dark day.
Even though back then we didn’t have the ubiquitous, 24/7 satellite
television, hundreds of members of world media reported and offered
minute by minute and blow by blow account of the unprecedented
spectacle. We never needed a judge, however eminent, to tell us what
happened that day and who orchestrated it.
In fact, by
submitting these “findings” so late in the day, the commission has
actually and unintentionally succeeded in raking up some very old
and musty wounds. I have no idea when the Indian government will
present the commission findings before the Parliament, if ever at
all it does so. However, if the government wants to bring those
responsible for the 1992 outrage to justice, it doesn’t need the
findings of a toothless commission to do so.
evidence out there and you don’t need a Sherlock Holmes to unearth
Congress, which got tremendous support from the Muslims and other
religious minorities in the recent elections, has a rare opportunity
to undo and repent for its sins. After all, it’s a different and
much healthier party under Sonia Gandhi’s leadership.
well-meaning Indians today believe in letting the sleeping dogs lie.
Many feel that the new, forward-looking India of the 21st century
has moved on from the divisive, temple-mosque politics of the last
century. I totally agree.
Over the past 17
years while Justice Liberhan and his mammoth team of aides were
sitting on the truth, lost somewhere out there in the thousands of
pages and hundreds of hearings and testimonies, a new generation of
Indians has grown up blissfully ignorant of the bitter harvest of
hatred the last generation sowed and reaped.
The Muslims, majority of them, have moved on too. They have suffered
enough and grown weary of the divisive politics and religious
strife. They have bigger things to worry about today. Even in
Gujarat, Muslims are trying to move on and start afresh. However,
the deep and festering wounds left behind by Ayodhya can only be
healed with the salve of justice. Better late than never!