December 06, 2020
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17 Years, 48 Extensions, 8 Crores, 1029 Pages...

A few stray thoughts and some quick opinions on the Liberhan Ayodhya Commission Report after a hurried -- and exhausting-- first look:

First, regardless of who was responsible for the "selective leak" -- and while the BJP doth protest too much and while it wasn't, as Swapan Dasgupta put it on NDTV, "worth a leak"-- the whole controversy was caused because the government seemed in no hurry to share the report that had already taken close to 16 and a half years to produce. That translations or the action taken report weren't ready is no excuse.  As the Hindu put it,  "The habit of withholding from Parliament and the public the findings of expensive Commissions of Inquiry, which lack teeth in any case, until `action taken' reports are readied by a slow-moving bureaucracy is indefensible. It devalues the whole exercise, aggravates the already indefensible delays, and serves up plenty of opportunity for motivated campaigns, speculation, and leaks." Besides, till the "leak", the government did not seem serious about bringing the report to light, leave alone bringing the guilty to book.

Second, despite trying very hard, it is very difficult to treat the report  or its series of assertions -- delayed by almost 17 years, 48 extensions and some eight crores -- with any degree of seriousness. As Charu Sudan Kasturi, writing in The Telegraph, summed it up succinctly, it is "high on purple prose, low on specifics":

The report packs hard-hitting words that should make Advani and Vajpayee — the former Prime Minister was not called to depose before Liberhan — squirm. But the generalised nature of the conclusions raises the question whether the commission needed 17 years to come up with statements that are not much different from what several political commentators have been saying all along.

“It cannot be assumed even for a moment that L.K. Advani, A.B. Vajpayee or M.M. Joshi did not know the designs of the Sangh parivar. …They were party to the decisions that had been taken,” the report said.

The assertion does not fly against independent perceptions but an initial reading of the report did not throw up information to back up the assumption — something that is expected of an official commission that has gone into the most divisive event in India since Partition.

Third, while the report otherwise divides the culpable into three categories -- those directly involved in demolishing the mosque, those responsible for complicity and those who did not perform their duty in protecting the structure -- it herds the 68 people it individually names into one slot by the time he comes to Chapter 14, the Conclusions , of 'leading the country to the brink of communal discord'. 

In Chapter 10 of his report, Justice Liberhan is specific:

“It stood established before me beyond reasonable doubt that the Joint Common Enterprise was a preplanned act for demolition under the immediate leadership of Vinay Katiyar, Paramhans Ramchander Dass, Ashok Singhal, Champat Rai, Swami Chinmayanand, S.C. Dixit, B.P. Singhal and Acharya Giriraj... I conclude that the RSS, BJP, VHP, Shiv Sena and their office bearers as named in this report, in connivance with Kalyan Singh, the then Chief Minister of UP, entered into a Joint Common Enterprise for the purpose of demolition of the disputed structure and the construction of the temple in its place. They practiced intermingling of religion with politics as a well thought out act to subvert democracy."

The 68 included in his Conclusions include, for example, Shanker Singh Vaghela, then  Gujarat BJP President, and now with the Congress. And also, of course, Atal Behari Vajpayee whose inclusion, without being summoned before the commission, has given the BJP and the Sangh Parivar -- whose overall primary culpability cannot be disputed -- a handy stick to beat the report with. By not recommending any specific charges against anyone, and by inclusion of names about whom his report is vague, and contradictory, to say the least, and treating them all at par, he ends up damaging the very credibility of his report.

Fourth, it is not just that Mr Vajpayee's inclusion is against natural justice, or against the Commission of Inquiry Act, as Soli Sorabjee, the former Attorney General, points out. The real enigma is why, as Anupam Gupta --Liberhan commission’s counsel before he quit in 2007 -- asks: “The Commission passed a detailed order on July 22, 2003, rejecting an application to summon Vajpayee on the grounds that there was no evidence on record against him. How can the same panel arrive at such an astonishing finding?” (Incidentally, the same Anupam Gupta had earlier charged that  "Justice Liberhan Wanted To Extricate Advani From The Babri Demolition")

It is not inconceivable, however, that Mr Vajpayee indeed could have been very much a part of the conspiracy.  But, the more intersting question is: If there were charges against him, why was the application to summon him rejected in 2003 by the same panel?  And it is not as if another occasion did not present itself for the commission to summon him. Was that a wasted opportunity? It is not very clear from the report. We are left guessing.  All we have are dark rumours, speculation, gossip and conspiracy theories about the changing political equations from 2003 (when Mr Vajpayee was the PM) to 2005 (when he was not and a second look was called for because of an Outlook story) to 2007 (when Mr Advani was a prime ministerial candidate)  to the 2009 elections and after (when it became clear that Mr Advani would forever remain a former future prime minister of India).

Fifth, while Justice Liberhan is able to find easy alibis for Mr Narasimha Rao's inaction, even some of the Congressmen have been far more critical in apportioning responsibility. The legal technicalities offered are just that: technicalities. As Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar had memorably said, it was not as if Mr Rao was paralysed-- he defied biology, for while he was not dead, rigor mortis had set in. And it is not just a party-political charge. A.B. Bardhan, CPI general secretary, says, “Rao knew everything on the demolition and was sleeping. He cannot be exonerated…I do not think Vajpayee was a culprit."

Sixth, while Mr Narasimha Rao is exonerated in a paragraph or so, Mr Liberhan finds it necessary to spend a good number of pages on the Muslim organisations which are placed in the "tertiary" culpable group (Rao and his government of course are not included anywhere). Nothing wrong with that -- they indeed cannot escape accountability for many of their acts of omission and commission -- but the report is plain reckless, even daft and forced as if wanting to merely fill up space with some of its charges, revealing it to be a farce that it is. Instead of holding the respective state or central government accountable, the report, for instance, says without any sense of irony:

The Muslim leadership...also failed to protect the life and property of the innocent masses who got caught up in the post facto riots.  (167.7, page 947)

One would have thought this responsibility would be of the central government. Likewise:

...The Muslim leadership including the AIBMAC also failed to highlight the extremely high handed and extra-legal methods adopted half a century ago to install the idols in the disputed structure or to open the locks on the gates. (167.8, page 947)

Justice Liberhan does not have even a mild word of reproach, leave alone any words of censure, for those from the Congress who were responsible for either of these two events. If pressed, he would perhaps point to the "narrow focus" of his terms of reference.

What detracts further are gratuitous -- and intriguing -- remarks such as this one:

Unfortunately a sizable number of Indians still feel that the Muslims  of India should be treated as a deprived class despite the centuries long Muslim-Mughal rule in India (167.3, Page 946)

Seventh, as today's Telegraph points out, the report "makes observations that assume remarkable political — not legal — relevance now:

“The pseudo-moderate leadership of the BJP was as much of a tool in the hands of the RSS as any other organisation or entity.... The BJP was and remains an appendage of the RSS which had the purpose of only providing an acceptable veneer to the less popular decisions and a facade to the brash minds of the Sangh parivar,” the report said."

Eighth, contradictions abound in the report. While otherwise Mr Liberhan bemoans the narrow focus of his terms of reference -- “sequence of events leading, and all facts and circumstances relating, to the occurrences at Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid complex on December 6, 1992” -- he feels free to recommend, for instance, that there should be a commission of experts comprising eminent historians, anthropologists to decide the provenance of historical monuments.

Ninth, the other recommendations are equally full of pieties and platitudes. Or, banal. The report seems to have filled the BJP and the parivaar at large with gratitude. For unlike the bark of its "conclusions", there is no punitive bite in its recommendations. As BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said, "The report has made more recommendations on the media than on us".

Tenth, this two year old article -- 15 Years Of Nothing  --  may seem dated and partially disproved by the report, but it still has relevance and some useful insights into all of the above.

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,   
And for a hundred visions and revisions...

17 Years, 48 Extensions, 8 Crores, 1029 Pages...
outlookindia.com
1970-01-01T05:30:00+0530

A few stray thoughts and some quick opinions on the Liberhan Ayodhya Commission Report after a hurried -- and exhausting-- first look:

First, regardless of who was responsible for the "selective leak" -- and while the BJP doth protest too much and while it wasn't, as Swapan Dasgupta put it on NDTV, "worth a leak"-- the whole controversy was caused because the government seemed in no hurry to share the report that had already taken close to 16 and a half years to produce. That translations or the action taken report weren't ready is no excuse.  As the Hindu put it,  "The habit of withholding from Parliament and the public the findings of expensive Commissions of Inquiry, which lack teeth in any case, until `action taken' reports are readied by a slow-moving bureaucracy is indefensible. It devalues the whole exercise, aggravates the already indefensible delays, and serves up plenty of opportunity for motivated campaigns, speculation, and leaks." Besides, till the "leak", the government did not seem serious about bringing the report to light, leave alone bringing the guilty to book.

Second, despite trying very hard, it is very difficult to treat the report  or its series of assertions -- delayed by almost 17 years, 48 extensions and some eight crores -- with any degree of seriousness. As Charu Sudan Kasturi, writing in The Telegraph, summed it up succinctly, it is "high on purple prose, low on specifics":

The report packs hard-hitting words that should make Advani and Vajpayee — the former Prime Minister was not called to depose before Liberhan — squirm. But the generalised nature of the conclusions raises the question whether the commission needed 17 years to come up with statements that are not much different from what several political commentators have been saying all along.

“It cannot be assumed even for a moment that L.K. Advani, A.B. Vajpayee or M.M. Joshi did not know the designs of the Sangh parivar. …They were party to the decisions that had been taken,” the report said.

The assertion does not fly against independent perceptions but an initial reading of the report did not throw up information to back up the assumption — something that is expected of an official commission that has gone into the most divisive event in India since Partition.

Third, while the report otherwise divides the culpable into three categories -- those directly involved in demolishing the mosque, those responsible for complicity and those who did not perform their duty in protecting the structure -- it herds the 68 people it individually names into one slot by the time he comes to Chapter 14, the Conclusions , of 'leading the country to the brink of communal discord'. 

In Chapter 10 of his report, Justice Liberhan is specific:

“It stood established before me beyond reasonable doubt that the Joint Common Enterprise was a preplanned act for demolition under the immediate leadership of Vinay Katiyar, Paramhans Ramchander Dass, Ashok Singhal, Champat Rai, Swami Chinmayanand, S.C. Dixit, B.P. Singhal and Acharya Giriraj... I conclude that the RSS, BJP, VHP, Shiv Sena and their office bearers as named in this report, in connivance with Kalyan Singh, the then Chief Minister of UP, entered into a Joint Common Enterprise for the purpose of demolition of the disputed structure and the construction of the temple in its place. They practiced intermingling of religion with politics as a well thought out act to subvert democracy."

The 68 included in his Conclusions include, for example, Shanker Singh Vaghela, then  Gujarat BJP President, and now with the Congress. And also, of course, Atal Behari Vajpayee whose inclusion, without being summoned before the commission, has given the BJP and the Sangh Parivar -- whose overall primary culpability cannot be disputed -- a handy stick to beat the report with. By not recommending any specific charges against anyone, and by inclusion of names about whom his report is vague, and contradictory, to say the least, and treating them all at par, he ends up damaging the very credibility of his report.

Fourth, it is not just that Mr Vajpayee's inclusion is against natural justice, or against the Commission of Inquiry Act, as Soli Sorabjee, the former Attorney General, points out. The real enigma is why, as Anupam Gupta --Liberhan commission’s counsel before he quit in 2007 -- asks: “The Commission passed a detailed order on July 22, 2003, rejecting an application to summon Vajpayee on the grounds that there was no evidence on record against him. How can the same panel arrive at such an astonishing finding?” (Incidentally, the same Anupam Gupta had earlier charged that  "Justice Liberhan Wanted To Extricate Advani From The Babri Demolition")

It is not inconceivable, however, that Mr Vajpayee indeed could have been very much a part of the conspiracy.  But, the more intersting question is: If there were charges against him, why was the application to summon him rejected in 2003 by the same panel?  And it is not as if another occasion did not present itself for the commission to summon him. Was that a wasted opportunity? It is not very clear from the report. We are left guessing.  All we have are dark rumours, speculation, gossip and conspiracy theories about the changing political equations from 2003 (when Mr Vajpayee was the PM) to 2005 (when he was not and a second look was called for because of an Outlook story) to 2007 (when Mr Advani was a prime ministerial candidate)  to the 2009 elections and after (when it became clear that Mr Advani would forever remain a former future prime minister of India).

Fifth, while Justice Liberhan is able to find easy alibis for Mr Narasimha Rao's inaction, even some of the Congressmen have been far more critical in apportioning responsibility. The legal technicalities offered are just that: technicalities. As Mr Mani Shankar Aiyar had memorably said, it was not as if Mr Rao was paralysed-- he defied biology, for while he was not dead, rigor mortis had set in. And it is not just a party-political charge. A.B. Bardhan, CPI general secretary, says, “Rao knew everything on the demolition and was sleeping. He cannot be exonerated…I do not think Vajpayee was a culprit."

Sixth, while Mr Narasimha Rao is exonerated in a paragraph or so, Mr Liberhan finds it necessary to spend a good number of pages on the Muslim organisations which are placed in the "tertiary" culpable group (Rao and his government of course are not included anywhere). Nothing wrong with that -- they indeed cannot escape accountability for many of their acts of omission and commission -- but the report is plain reckless, even daft and forced as if wanting to merely fill up space with some of its charges, revealing it to be a farce that it is. Instead of holding the respective state or central government accountable, the report, for instance, says without any sense of irony:

The Muslim leadership...also failed to protect the life and property of the innocent masses who got caught up in the post facto riots.  (167.7, page 947)

One would have thought this responsibility would be of the central government. Likewise:

...The Muslim leadership including the AIBMAC also failed to highlight the extremely high handed and extra-legal methods adopted half a century ago to install the idols in the disputed structure or to open the locks on the gates. (167.8, page 947)

Justice Liberhan does not have even a mild word of reproach, leave alone any words of censure, for those from the Congress who were responsible for either of these two events. If pressed, he would perhaps point to the "narrow focus" of his terms of reference.

What detracts further are gratuitous -- and intriguing -- remarks such as this one:

Unfortunately a sizable number of Indians still feel that the Muslims  of India should be treated as a deprived class despite the centuries long Muslim-Mughal rule in India (167.3, Page 946)

Seventh, as today's Telegraph points out, the report "makes observations that assume remarkable political — not legal — relevance now:

“The pseudo-moderate leadership of the BJP was as much of a tool in the hands of the RSS as any other organisation or entity.... The BJP was and remains an appendage of the RSS which had the purpose of only providing an acceptable veneer to the less popular decisions and a facade to the brash minds of the Sangh parivar,” the report said."

Eighth, contradictions abound in the report. While otherwise Mr Liberhan bemoans the narrow focus of his terms of reference -- “sequence of events leading, and all facts and circumstances relating, to the occurrences at Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid complex on December 6, 1992” -- he feels free to recommend, for instance, that there should be a commission of experts comprising eminent historians, anthropologists to decide the provenance of historical monuments.

Ninth, the other recommendations are equally full of pieties and platitudes. Or, banal. The report seems to have filled the BJP and the parivaar at large with gratitude. For unlike the bark of its "conclusions", there is no punitive bite in its recommendations. As BJP leader Sushma Swaraj said, "The report has made more recommendations on the media than on us".

Tenth, this two year old article -- 15 Years Of Nothing  --  may seem dated and partially disproved by the report, but it still has relevance and some useful insights into all of the above.

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,   
And for a hundred visions and revisions...

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