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The rather bizarre news of a wedding reception in Ghalib's haveli yesterday shouldn't really be surprising. After all we are a nation that doesn't even seem to care despite the fact that earlier this year there had been reports of 35 "national monuments" having gone missing.
As a building, Ghalib's haveli has hardly anything remarkable about it, and it was just many of the rented houses Ghalib happened to live in. Despite the report, it does not really have any of the personal possessions of the great poet and had been done-up after much neglect earlier, at best as a tourist destination so that one gets to visit the physical space the maestro once inhabited. Which is, of course, not to say that it is perfectly okay for people to hold wedding receptions in it. What was remarkable about the story was how blasé everyone sounded. As a friend put it in a mail:
Sad. But the usual blaming of the govt. is foolish. After all, it was the groom's family that thought it was a splendid idea. Their guests were not upset. And sure no neighbor thought it was wrong. Parts of the structure are still held by some individuals who can't give a damn for Ghalib. The whole building should have been acquired, if the Ghalibwalas were serious. Delhi folks are not museum-goers, nor do they care for heritage buildings. So are the gentle folks of Lucknow too.
Talking of heritage and buildings, there is some good news about Ghalib's mazaar (do scroll down to see the mysterious sightings of his cat, dog and goat too!). Ghalib wouldn't possibly give a damn about either of the above two bits of news either and would certainly be happier if his poetry was read, recited and remained a living tradition. Talking of which, when the recent Liberhan commission was being discussed in Parliament, Congress's Abhishek Manu Sanghvi recited "gazab kiyaa tere vaade pe aetbaar kiyaa..." and attributed this Daag Dehlavi sh'r to Ghalib. No one contradicted him. He followed it up with a Mir couplet - or so he said:
nahii shikvaa mujhe kuchh bewaafaaii kaa hargiz
gilaa tab ho agar tuune kissii se kabhii nibhaaii ho
And many MPs -- I heard three myself in the course of one Rajya Sabha session -- cutting across party lines, recited:
tuu idhar udhar kii naa baat kar
yah bataa ki Kafilaa kyon luTaa
mujhe rahjano se garaz nahin
terii rahbarii kaa sawaal hai
It got to be so repetitive that one MP (Congress's Rajeev Shukla) who arrived late, and perhaps did not know how often the sh'r had already been quoted, was badly jeered when he launched right into it. But he wouldn't relent and carried on nonchalantly, "chaar baar bolaa gayaa tou ab paaNchvii baar bhii sun lo... "
I had meant to go over the proceedings to see which shaayars were popular with our MPs but somehow never got round to doing it. I do, however, recall at least one Ghalib sh'r was quoted by Najma Heptullah: aah ko chaahiye...And I think they did do "hamko un se wafaa kii hai umiid..." as well.
R. Jagannathan in the DNA argues that in our blind efforts to demonise the Sangh parivar, we have ignored the real gains made by our polity:
Every society learns by making mistakes. It is one of the big ironies of life that we learn only after societies and individuals sometimes pay a horrendous price for it, but there's no getting away from it...
Hindus have realised the follies of narrow Hindutva only after 1992 and 2002; they know that it diminishes Hinduism and is something the country cannot afford. Through a painful process, Muslims have made their own discoveries: that sham secularism and placing trust in rabble-rousers can land them in the ditch...
Babri also served as a wakeup call for Muslims, who were till then willing to let obscurantist leaders and phony secularists lead them to a dead end
Read more at the DNA
Would that it were so!
As always, the most thoughtful and thought-provoking post comes from Pratap Bhanu Mehta in the Indian Express:
None of this context can detract from the central culpability of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar in the destruction of the mosque. The destruction was a denouement of a movement that baited minorities and left death and destruction in its wake. The only question was whether the Liberhan Commission could translate culpability into a forensically legal framework. This remains to be seen. On the face of it there is very little surprising in the revelations in relation to the BJP. When it came to the BJP it was politically convenient for all of us to hold on to distinctions without a difference. What did the distinction between saying the movement and the frenzy was planned but the destruction was not amount to? Even Rao acknowledged that the BJP leaders were pleading with the kar sevaks to stop. But that was like trying to stop an already fired bullet in mid air. Even Vajpayee’s self-exoneration, personal decency and expressions of regret were always compromised by the fact that his government did not give the slightest evidence of pursuing the perpetrators of this enormous crime. The BJP tried to dissociate itself from the act, while continuing to nurture the actors. The surprise is not in the revelations. The surprise is in our feigning surprise. For if all this is true, the report actually indicts our democracy. We were the ones trying to hold on to the ceremonies of innocence, so that we could allow a space where Hindutva was politically acceptable, but no one had to own up to its consequences.
...If we are honest we have to acknowledge that just as many of the core participants may have felt a tinge of regret, there were also tens of thousands of others who, while not condoning the act, nevertheless felt a momentary catharsis when the Babri Masjid was destroyed.
More here: Mirror Unto Ourselves
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...
The Liberhan report is with the PM and will be tabled in Parliament soon. Till then, here is Prafull Goradia, very much an old Saffron warrior, writing in the Pioneer before the report was submitted to the PM:
Subsequently came the news, through the several police officers who were present, that a number of men were systematically attacking the edifice walls just below the domes with the help of crowbars. When some leaders questioned the police about their inaction, the reply was that they had instructions not to intervene without a threat to human life. Incidentally, no Minister of the Uttar Pradesh Government was available to contact.
Within the next hour came to the terrace two Press photographers who had been beaten, bruised and bleeding somewhat. Their cameras had been snatched away because the men with the crowbars did not want to be photographed. That is when I realised that those men were Government servants and not kar sevaks who would be proud to be photographed whereas Government servants would be afraid.
The town of Ayodhya was overcrowded with people, perhaps, two to three lakh in number. At 2:30 pm there was an audible sigh by the people which signalled that one of the domes had fallen. From where I was, I could not see it collapse. I did however witness the fall of the other two domes at 3:40 and 4:30 pm. There were tears of joy in the eyes of some of the VHP leaders. The Sangh leadership was neither jumping with joy nor sad with anxiety. By and large, the BJP veterans looked stunned as if blood had flowed out of their veins.
At 5:30 pm all of us came down from the terrace and began wending our way to where our cars were parked. The ten 30-feet walls were still standing as they were in the morning. All they had lost were their domes. Uncannily, not all these years since then have I ever seen a photograph of the Babri edifice without its domes. The earliest next picture was that of the Ram Lalla mandir in a tent hastily established by the Central Reserve Police. It was published in the dailies of December 9, 1992.
Clearly, the 10 enormous walls were demolished during the next 60 hours after 6:00 pm by when the Kalyan Singh Ministry had been dismissed and the President had taken over the Government of Uttar Pradesh. Which means that the walls were demolished by the representatives of the Central Government. Human hands could not have brought down the strong stone walls. To do the work and clear the debris fast mechanical devices, probably belonging to the CPWD, were used.