Justice Liberhan: From the farcical to the ridiculous – Balbir Punj

Justice Liberhan submits his report to Manmohan Singh

Balbir PunjThe “liberals” in India remain silent when it comes to Islamic orthodoxy and obduracy but are vociferous in denouncing a demand from the Hindus that touches the core of their faith. The Liberhan report has failed to examine this long history of obduracy and obfuscation of Islamic leadership in all issues concerning its interaction with people of other faiths. – Balbir Punj

Are all judicial inquiries a farce that end up making the country no wiser, after spending crores of taxpayers’ rupees?

This question was raised earlier when the Justice Milap Chand Jain Commission, investigating the conspiracy-assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, submitted its report after 11 years of a fruitless inquiry with nothing more than a few sphinx-like conclusions. The issue has now been revived, after the Liberhan Commission Report — on the demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 — was leaked to the media recently.

Even the critics of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are surprised that the Liberhan Commission, which comes 17 years after the demolition, has found the former Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, guilty merely on the basis of his statements that a temple should be built at the place known as Ram Janmabhoomi.

No one has ever said that Mr Vajpayee ever advocated or condoned the demolition. Nor was he present at the site of demolition or in the mass meeting that was held on the fateful day. The commission did not even question him before making such a sweeping remark, thus violating all principles of justice.

It seems that the chairman of the commission was not even bothered about getting his facts right. For instance, Justice Liberhan says that general elections were needed in 1991 because the BJP had withdrawn support from the Janata government. Whereas the fact is that the March 1991 elections became inevitable because the Congress withdrew support from the Chandrasekhar government after keeping it in power for four months. Without checking these basic facts the commission concludes, “Religion was used for political objectives”.

The commission’s prejudice shows up in many places throughout the report. The commission was not asked to lecture on the BJP, it was set up to probe the demolition issue and the culpability of some leaders in that. The report says, “Advani’s rath yatra in 1990 brought the BJP and its allies to power in many states in 1991”. But the fact is that the BJP came to power only in Uttar Pradesh and elections were due in that state as well as in Kerala, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.

As an arbitrator, Justice Liberhan should have examined the background more deeply and listed the obdurate policy adopted by the leaders of the Muslim community. At the early stages of the controversy, the Sangh Parivar was intensely seeking a compromise but it was the Congress government of Rajiv Gandhi that revived the issue by holding a shilanyas and then kowtowed to Muslim orthodoxy by nullifying through a law the interpretation of a Muslim Personal Law provision regarding maintenance to divorced women. This move strengthened the Muslim orthodoxy — liberal Muslim leaders left the Congress and the more orthodox ones, like C.K. Jaffer Sharief, increased their hold on the party.

As a result, the Muslim orthodoxy was alert to any attempt to liberalise Muslim Personal Law and started stonewalling all attempts at a compromise on the mandir issue. The Chandrasekhar government also tried to push through a compromise but did not succeed primarily because the Muslim leadership would not hear of any compromise whatsoever.

The dispute over the ownership of the plot and the historical background — the existence of a Ram temple before it was demolished to make way for a mosque by a conquering general — went on and on in the courts for ages, with no attempt to conclude the hearings and give a verdict.

The background to the demolition should have been brought out while deciding on the event itself. Hindu public opinion did not receive any hope of a decision either through negotiation or through the courts.

Why this freeze on the issue of building a temple did not enter the commission’s perspective in its consideration of the act of demolition is a mystery. It only speaks of the criteria that Justice Liberhan applied, transposing his own views of what secularism should be on to the job he was entrusted with. That alone explains the long lecture he has given on secularism, politics, media and other matters instead of concentrating on the demolition itself. When the report is debated in Parliament there will surely be questions about the Commission’s views on secularism, Hindutva and other ideological issues.

Opponents have often used the event of demolition itself to beat the BJP with and demonise it. This had been going on for the last two decades without any of these critics offering any solution to the basic issue of an emotional demand getting blocked both in the courts and in one-to-one negotiations.

The “liberals” in India remain silent when it comes to Islamic orthodoxy and obduracy but are vociferous in denouncing a demand from the Hindus that touches the core of their faith. The Liberhan report has failed to examine this long history of obduracy and obfuscation of Islamic leadership in all issues concerning its interaction with people of other faiths.

What is the fate of non-Muslim populations in Muslim-majority countries? Is even carrying a Bible allowed in Saudi Arabia or holding of public non-Islamic worship in any Muslim-majority country? Why is it so when almost all non-Islamic countries freely allow public demonstration of Islamic rites? Do the Baha’is in Iran, the Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia or Ahmaddiyas in Pakistan — let alone Hindus — come up in the public discourse of liberals in India? Why is a disused mosque in Ayodhya so important while temples demolished in Kashmir receive no attention?

While all are flabbergasted at Justice Liberhan’s convoluted and confused treatment of the Ayodhya agitation, his recommendations on the role of the media are bizarre. He wants media regulation and licensing of journalists. Surprisingly for a judge of his stature, Justice Liberhan seems to overlook the constitutional impropriety of trying to licence journalists (even if it is by an independent body) as it flies in the face of Article 19(1) of the Constitution.

In short, the Liberhan report moves from being farcical to ridiculous.

Babri Masjid in Ayodhya

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