In its ‘white paper’ on events leading to the demolition of the disputed Babri structure in Ayodhya on December 6 last, the Bharatiya Janata Party has marshaled evidence which the government, other political parties and critics of the BJP will find difficult to controvert.
The document is equally devastating on the role of the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court. Indeed, it accuses the Supreme Court itself of failing to do its duty in this regard though, of course, not in so many words.
Of special interest are the summary of the findings of the cell set up by the Prime Minister to establish whether a temple existed on the disputed site and the refusal of the Lucknow bench to give a judgment, despite its urgency before December 6 on the validity or otherwise of the UP government’s acquisition of 2.77 acres of land.
It is not possible to reproduce the summary here. But if the summary has been quoted accurately, there is no reason to doubt otherwise, it can be said that, in effect, the cell virtually rejected the evidence produced by the Babri Masjid Action Committee and accepted that advanced by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
In addition, apparently on the basis of Intelligence reports, it went on to say: “In the last few days, there have been reports that a section of the ulema is of the opinion that if a temple existed on the site (whether or not it had been demolished for the construction of the Babri Masjid), the Muslim side would be prepared for the demolition/shifting of the Masjid.”
“There are further reports that a section of the Muslims might accept the position that since Hindu worship has been going on in the disputed structure, it may not be regarded as a Masjid at all (thereby facilitating Muslim consent for the demolition/shifting of the Masjid”.
So, if the Prime Minister was looking for an opportunity to clinch the issue, his own set-up, headed by no less a person than a recently retired cabinet secretary, had provided him one. He did not take this opportunity.
The Bharatiya Janata Party takes the view that he was not interested in such an opening and that, in fact, he did his worst to split the Ramjanambhoomi movement.
Though it is not clear whether, in its judgment, he was acting in that manner because he was under pressure from Mr. Arjun Singh, or because he was himself so disposed, it makes a pretty good case in support of its charge.
But his conduct is at least understandable in terms of realpolitik. For, he could well have concluded that the BJP constituted the real challenge to the Congress, that the Ramjanambhoomi movement accounted largely for the BJP’s strength, that even a limited success by way of the beginning of the construction of the proposed temple would add to its appeal, that it was necessary to derail the movement.
He may have concluded that the best way to do so was to split it and produce a confrontation between the BJP government in UP and the courts.
But what is one to say about the BJP leaders? During their honeymoon with Mr Narasimha Rao, I, for one, often wondered how they could possibly ignore the fundamental clash of interest between their party and the Congress, especially in view of the decline of the Janata Dal, and Mr Rao’s stewardship of the Congress.
Indeed, Mr Rao’s protestations, as conveyed to me by individual BJP leaders and well-wishers, only confirmed my assessment that they were willing, if not anxious, to be taken for a ride.
Some of them, it may be recalled, had begun to dream of a coalition with the Rao faction of the Congress, taking it for granted that the party would split.
The “white paper’ claims that they had been shaken out of this make-believe world. This is quite an admission.
What is even more unintelligible, however, is the behaviour of the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court. For, had it upheld the acquisition of 2.77 acres by the Uttar Pradesh government, the kar seva could have begun there with no danger to the Babri structure. And if it had invalidated the acquisition, 2.04 acres could have reverted to the Ramjanambhoomi Nyas and kar seva could have started there, again with no danger to the structure.
The judges could not have been unaware of these facts and of the tension which prevailed in the country on this issue. As it happens, they completed the hearings on November 4, 1992, and yet withheld judgment.
Why? The ‘white paper’ has detailed the efforts it made to persuade the government to get the decision expedited. The inference obviously is that in its view, the government was in a position to push the court. The ‘white paper’ also says that the Supreme Court backtracked on its promise to direct the Lucknow bench. Surely both these points need to be clarified.
Perhaps one or both courts can haul up Mr L K Advani for contempt and use the opportunity to establish their bonafides. He has written an introduction to the ‘white paper’ and released it. As such, he is responsible for the adverse publicity falling on them. The ‘white paper’ has virtually charged them with serving as handmaids of the government.
All that apart, however, the document, doubtless unwittingly, spotlights a general Hindu trait whereby they invariably seek to avoid, evade or circumvent basic issues. This is best illustrated by the proposal former President R Venkataraman is said to have made.
The ‘white paper’ quotes Pujya Pejawar Swamiji as having being approached by Mr Venkataraman with the suggestion that, “out of the three domes, two could be given over to the VHP and the third would be kept ‘as it is’ as a national monument.” In response, the paper says, “Swamiji conveyed to the secretary to the prime minister that the proposal could be considered if permission for kar seva was given.” Incidentally, Mr Rao is also quoted as having told the Swami that “the temple could be built ten feet away from the disputed structure”.
As for the BJP, all that it can claim is that it has established it beyond doubt that the Prime Minister and the courts are responsible for creating conditions which led to the demolition. That is useful for the purpose of silencing such of its critics as are interested in facts. But that is not a substitute for a well-laid strategy.
If anything, the document establishes that the Sangh Parivar has not had such a strategy and that it has engaged in ad hoc short-term moves. It had allowed itself to be driven into a corner; anonymous kar sevaks provided it an exit even if at a high cost; and it is by no means certain that the parivar has learnt the lesson.
The Observer of Business and Politics, 20 April 1993