Outlook magazine was mentioned in both houses of Parliament in the course of the debate on the Liberhan Commission report last week. In the Lok Sabha BJD MP Pinaki Mishra quoted from the excellent story done by my Chandigarh based colleague Chander Suta Dogra about intelligence reports sent to the offices of S.B. Chavan and Narasimha Rao for five day before December 6, 1992 that warned that “a rehearsal was conducted” that eventually led to the demolition of the Babri mosque.
In the subsequent debate in the Rajya Sabha Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi referred to the story Outlook did after it procured the CD of A.B. Vajpayee’s speech made to kar sevaks in Lucknow on December 5, 1992. In February 2005 I had given Vajpayee a copy of the CD and a transcript and subsequently met him for half an hour. He had said that the speech was made in a certain context and that “mera ayodhya andolan mein zyada role nahin tha (I did not have much of a role in the Ayodhya movement)” Vajpayee also said that there was nothing in the speech that could be questioned in a court of law. But given the atmospherics of that time, and the events that took place the next day, the evocative speech was certainly suggestive.
However, the debate in Parliament about the most dramatic political event and movement in contemporary Indian history was neither here nor there. At many levels it was reduced to a sham discussion. No great revelation came to light and everyone just wanted to score political points.
First, the report itself was so riddled with factual bloomers and the editorial views of Justice Liberhan that it was hard to take it seriously. Still, it was the nation’s longest awaited inquiry report and the MPs had to go through a debate. So turn by turn the BJP leaders went about listing the mistakes in the report as they were certainly entitled to.
Along the way some of them also shared their extraordinary views with the world at large. For instance BJP President Rajnath Singh riddled holes in the report but also spoke about matters such as the “genetic pool from which Babur came”, the Aryan civilization and how Bhagwan Ram took banvaas for 14 years but Liberhan took 17 to come up with the report. He also said there "was a Ram temple at Ayodhya, is a Ram temple and will always be a Ram temple". To which some Congress backbenchers quipped: 'Did you then demolish a temple?'
Sushma Swaraj was more focused the next day and made a hard-hitting speech. She provocatively asked Home Minister P. Chidambaram--what demand or desire of the judge did you satisfy? In typical Sushma speak she also spoke about the Ram rath yatra undertaken by L.K. Advani and said that women cooked aloo-puri for the rath yatris and put tilaks on their fore-heads from the dust collected under the wheels of the chariot.
Actually it was the Congress that initially put up a very shoddy show. Four days before the debate senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley had told some correspondents that none of the Congress bigwigs in the Lok Sabha want to speak on Ayodhya so the party will put up Jagadambika Pal, a party hopper from Uttar Pradesh who had become the state’s chief minister for a few days when in the Loktantrik Congress but was now in the Congress. Jaitley also said that Pal was named in the Liberhans report as one of the politicians who performed kar seva. He distributed copies of the page where Jagadambika Pal was named. I never really believed that the Congress, apparently serious about building Muslim vote-banks, would treat an issue that traumatized the community, in such a cavalier manner.
I was wrong and the Congress did precisely that when Jagadambika Pal popped up to speak. He really had nothing significant to say and spent all his allotted time warding off jeers from the BJP benches. Lalji Tandon, veteran BJP man from Lucknow asked the speaker which side Jagadambika Pal was. “Is he supporting or opposing the report? He is named in the report.” MPs laughed. Later in the day Salman Khurshid tried to save the day for the Congress but the choice of Jagadambika Pal had already sent a certain message to the minority community.
Two great players from the days of Ayodhya also had their say in the debate. Mulayam Singh Yadav, who had ordered firing on kar sevaks a year before the demolition, spoke but few could follow what he said, given his tendency to eat words. Kalyan Singh, central to the demolition, popped up to speak but the speaker pointed out he had not submitted his name for the debate. He filled out a form and handed it to the speaker. It is possible he would have been allotted time the next day but later Kalyan told journalists he would not attend parliament the next day. It was clearly a non-serious attempt to speak, just some sham posturing by a weary and cynical politician.
Then the entire debate in the Lok Sabha ended in a farce when Beni Prasad Verma, now in the Congress, used the word “neech” to describe Vajpayee. All hell broke loose in the house and I have little doubt that had anyone referred to Sonia or Rahul Gandhi in the same derogatory manner, Congress MPs would have gone berserk. Still when the BJP gets into agitation mode it has a style uniquely its own. As Home Minister P. Chidambaram rose to speak, BJP members waving pamphlets about the Ram temple stood in protest near the well of the house and shouted slogans for over an hour. Chidambaram was even hit with some paper balls. A Muslim MP who had not been allowed to speak squatted in the well, while others angrily demanded some time. It was chaos, a case of the deaf speaking to the deaf. It was a low show in the lower house.
The next day some civility and dignity returned to the proceedings when the debate began in the Upper House. Arun Jaitley undoubtedly made the best speech from the BJP benches. With the precision of a lawyer he trained his eye on mistakes, inconsistencies and the faulty process. One could see Chidambaram and Kapil Sibal smiling as Jaitey made some very valid points about the report he described as a tragedy of errors. Indeed it was the lawyer-politicians who put up the best show. From the Congress side Sibal was also quite superb.
These are men who stand on opposite sides of the fence but at least they know what they are talking about. They prepare and do their home-work. They do not resort to stunts, abuse or shrieking slogans. Far too many MPs belong to the latter breed.
But at least the Ayodhya debate saw both houses quite full. When the issue of price rise came up in the Rajya Sabha last week there were empty benches. Clearly, as prices skyrocket and families struggle to manage their budgets, our MPs intend to give us more slogans to eat.
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