January 26, 2020
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'I'll Go To Jail If It Comes To That'

Union home minister L.K. Advani, the most prominent of the three central ministers chargesheeted in the Ayodhya demolition case, defends himself in an interview with Ishan Joshi. Excerpts:

'I'll Go To Jail If It Comes To That'

The Vajpayee government has been accused of lacking the political will to pursue the Ayodhya demolition case...

There does not appear to have been substantial movement in the case but then that is the legal process taking its course. As the prime minister has put it, there has been no interference. The law will take its own course. But I can tell you that I am completely innocent and that this is a blatantly false charge. Certainly, I led a political movement on the Ayodhya issue, which I believe was a valid endeavour. But as far as the demolition is concerned, and I said this in an article I wrote from jail a couple of weeks after December 6, '92, it was the saddest day of my life. And I am accused of conspiring to pull down the structure! I had nothing to do with the demolition. I haven't even applied for bail. Chodo, jayenge jail (I'll go to jail) if it comes to that. I am innocent. As for the demand for my resignation, there is a clear distinction between a political case and being chargesheeted in any other case, however motivated it may have been. And I said this clearly at the time of the hawala charges when I was asked why I was resigning and 'over-reacting' when I hadn't done so despite the 'serious charges' in the demolition case. In fact, when the hawala charges were made, I not only resigned but announced that I would not contest another poll till my name was cleared. And let me tell you that at the time I or anybody else, for that matter didn't expect the hawala case to be over in a few years. I remember telling my wife that I had just announced the end of my parliamentary political career because usually cases take years to get resolved. But I did not hesitate because I felt that I was being charged with moral turpitude of sorts, relating to corruption. In the Ayodhya case, there is nothing of that sort.

Perhaps the Opposition is trying to highlight the Vajpayee-Advani 'rift'?

Well, that may have been what they were trying to do but the prime minister has taken the same stand and that has put paid to any such ambitions. In fact, he has gone two steps further because the Muthiah and Buta Singh examples were being raised (both were ministers in the '98 Vajpayee government who had to quit following chargesheets being filed against them) but he has made a distinction.

Actually, the PM's response has surprised many, considering his well-documented reservations on the BJP making Ayodhya a political issue.

It is because of that I offered to resign. I wanted him to feel free to take a decision. Whether inside the government or outside, I would only work to strengthen it.

Coming back to the demolition case, isn't it a fact that whether politically-motivated or not, you have been charged under sections of the ipc?

But it is exactly that whether a case is political or not which is the key. Naturally, all chargesheets will be filed under the various sections of the law.

The Opposition has made political gains by bringing up the issue though...

On the contrary, it will hurt the Congress. The Congress is raking up the Ayodhya issue because they are frantically scouting for any issue to damage us. Earlier, it was easy for them to just brand us communal. But they are just not mentally equipped to deal with the shift in the BJP's strategy (of taking the coalition/alliances route with regional parties on a minimum common programme for governance) post-'96.

Now, especially after '98, there has been a definite change in the image of the party, of how it is perceived. It is the Congress' inability to focus on an issue that could hurt us which is behind their raising the Ayodhya issue. It started when the schedule for the '99 polls was announced. First, they tried Kargil but had to backtrack because it was helping rather than hurting us. Then they said coalitions are unstable but soon the Congress president was contradicting herself. After the polls, a new dimension was added as it became evident to the Congress that this government was pursuing the Bofors case vigorously. Then, a private member's bill on the barring of citizens of foreign origin from occupying high constitutional posts was admitted. The Congress thought about blocking various bills but realised they would have to pay a price for being obstructionist. So, it's the Ayodhya issue.

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