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Reopening Ayodhya wounds

Sunday, July 12, 2009 11:56:12 AM, Aijaz Zaka Syed Arab News

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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.

Justice M.S. 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!


The commission 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 months.


However, Justice 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 tragedy.


Prime Minister 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.


Rao was 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 Ayodhya.


However, his 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.


If anything, 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.

There’s enough evidence out there and you don’t need a Sherlock Holmes to unearth it.


The governing 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.


Most 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!



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