Liberhan’s Lark
by Sandhya Jain on 08 Dec 2009 14 Comments

The brouhaha over the leak of the Liberhan Commission Report, submitted six months ago after 17 years and an expenditure of Rs 8 crores of taxpayer money, has come at a time when the Indian Judiciary is making the news. First there was the unseemly wrangle over Supreme Court judges resisting public disclosure of their assets under demands for higher accountability.


Then there was the controversy over the collegium choosing Justice Paul Dinakaran of the Karnataka High Court for elevation to the Supreme Court, despite allegations of corruption including encroachment of government land, against him. Now the Supreme Court is resisting an RTI order to make collegium procedures public, so people may know how judges are selected.


Further, Justice Rajinder Sachar is going to Dublin to try, by private tribunal with no legal standing, the Government of Sri Lanka for alleged atrocities on its Tamil citizens while waging a prolonged war against terrorists, to keep the island nation united! A former chief justice of the Supreme Court had similarly flown to a dubious UN meet in Durban and suggested that caste be equated with race, which UN has now taken up with alacrity to harass a non-Christian country at the behest of western evangelists.


Hence, when a retired Supreme Court judge transforms a three-month assignment into a 17-year tenure, we can only conclude that the problems bedevilling the Indian Judiciary are deep-seated ones. The Forum for Judicial Accountability was long overdue.


The judiciary failed to deliver in the Ayodhya dispute. After the image of Sri Rama Lalla appeared in the Babri premises on the night of 22 December 1949, the courts dragged their feet in the matter of deciding the title suit, allowing emotions to fester. Matters should have been expedited after the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was launched, but the dominant political logic of ‘put everything on hold’ prevailed.


De facto Hindu re-acquisition of the site on 6 December 1992 could have settled the issue, but that was not acceptable to Muslims or their secular mentors, and matters were allowed to drag on. Ironically, when the Supreme Court directed archaeological excavations of the site yielded firm evidence of the existence of two prior temples below the Babri Masjid floor, at two different historical periods, one of which covered the illustrious Gahadvala kingdom, the judiciary still failed to give a verdict.


Liberhan meanwhile continued his investigation into the demolition of the Babri structure. Possibly he failed to sift anecdotes from facts, for he indicted Deoraha Baba (famous for living in a tree and blessing politicians by placing his feet on their heads), though the latter died in 1990! Interestingly, Baba had a vision that a cataclysmic event would one day take the masjid away; he instructed his followers to be alert and ensure that the entire rubble was removed from the site when this happened, else the masjid would return. This prescience explains why kar sevaks raced to dump the rubble into the Saryu, or carried mementos away; but it does not make the deceased Baba a party to the event. 


Liberhan’s inexplicable indictment of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, when he did not even issue him a formal notice in the 17 years of the Commission’s existence, shows his non-serious approach to his job. He failed to comprehend that when then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi opened the locks and permitted Hindus to worship inside the precincts of the Janmabhoomi, he was politically though tacitly acknowledging Hindu claim to the site.


There was really no going back for the Hindu community once this decisive step had been taken; Muslim leaders and intellectuals should have seen the writing on the wall and retreated with grace. But they allowed themselves to be persuaded by those with no stake or empathy for either mandir or masjid, and pitch-forked the community into tumultuous confrontation. Whatever the excuse for the early violence following the Babri demolition, currently the conflation of all Muslim violence with global jihad cannot advance the Muslim case in any country.


Liberhan’s exoneration of former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao and then Home Minister SB Chavan for inaction is inexplicable. Intelligence Bureau reports – overlooked by the Commission – clearly state that Balidan Jathas (suicide squads) were in Ayodhya and that kar sevaks from Andhra Pradesh “would be given the first opportunity for kar seva.” The insinuation is obvious.


Doubts, if any, could have been settled by the video coverage shown to select journalists by then Defence Minister Sharad Pawar, soon after the demolition. The existence of the footage has been confirmed by several journalists, but has never been made public for unknown reasons. How Pawar alone came to possess it is equally mysterious. A Commission doing a serious job should have procured the footage. Liberhan was doing a time-pass.


The UPA’s Action Taken Report on the Liberhan Report is equally uninspiring, being extremely selective in what it accepts, agrees with, or merely takes note of. For instance, Liberhan says “1.1 The constitutional scheme to separate religion from politics was intended to insulate the issues of governance from those of theology… the use of religion, caste or regionalism is a regressive and dangerous trend, capable of alienating people and dividing them into small sections.” Response: Noted.


Then, “1.2 The events of December 6, 1992 and the many subsequent events have already shown to the nation the danger and the disruptive potential of allowing the intermixing of religion and politics.” Response: Agreed.


Finally, Liberhan suggested, “1.16 …a government which is formed on the premise of religion or which has religious issues on its political agenda must also be barred…;” and “1.17 …in order to achieve the ideal of a secular state, the incorporation of religious agenda within political manifestos or electoral promises is made an electoral offence and should incur summary disqualification for the individual, or for the political party if such blatant resort to the religious and casteist sentiment is part of the party's substantive poll plank.” Response: Noted. The matter will be examined further.


The Congress manifesto 2009, which offered minorities’ reservations in government jobs and education, and a special development package for 90 minority-concentration districts – and won back the Muslim votebank – would invite disqualification under this proposal. Hence it has been noted and put into cold storage!


The author is Editor, 

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