There never will be a closure to the black event that was the Babri Masjid demolition
It has taken 17 years for the Justice MS Liberhan commission set up to investigate the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on 6 December 1992, to arrive at what has been known from the time the mosque was brought down.
The Liberhan Commission report searingly indicts the Sangh Parivar as the primary culprit for the demolition. It also names the "pseudo-moderate" (the Commission’s words) leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at that time as the secondary culprit and officials of the state machinery and administration as tertiary participants in the horrendous act that stripped altogether India’s claim to be a secular society.
The Liberhan Commission’s report focuses on the ideology, worldview, organising power of the forces of the Sangh Parivar, and the manner in which it single-mindedly attempted to create a frenzy among the masses for the demolition. It details as to how "the inner core of the Parivar" - the leadership of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal, the BJP and the Shiv Sena bear "primary responsibility" for the crime. It also points out how the BJP leadership, comprising Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K.Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, were privy to the decisions of the Sangh Parivar on the demolition, but protested innocence in order to project a "moderate" image because they had been tasked to shed the "best possible light" on the plan of the RSS. And last but not least the commission indicts officials of the Kalyan Singh government in Uttar Pradesh for the deliberate collusion with the Parivar elements in the razing of the Babri Masjid.
The one-man commission has done a painstakingly thorough examination of the events that led up to the demolition - the intrigue, the subterfuge, the sabotage of law and order and even the inter-mixing of religion and politics. But did it have to take close to two decades to present its findings? Justice Liberhan’s original brief was to conclude its investigations in three months, but he took 40 extensions to finalise his report. The commission certainly faced many obstacles in its work. The culprits did everything possible to delay and stretch out the proceedings by taking resort to adjournments and appeals to the court. But it has been a long time since 16 December 1992, when Justice Liberhan was appointed head of judicial commission to investigate the events that led up to the destruction of the mosque at Ayodhya.
Justice Liberhan points to the failure of many an institution of the Indian state - including the media and bureaucracy along with the polity - but he reserves his indictment for the Sangh Parivar and is silent on the Congress Party. Indeed, even as the Commission has detailed the conspiracy underlying the demolition, what is intriguing is the clean chit it has given to the then Narasimha Rao government in New Delhi and the silence it has maintained about the role of previous Congress governments in fuelling the "Ramjanmabhoomi" claim. If there is a contemporary marker in the events leading to the demolition it is surely the decision taken by the local administration in January 1986 to remove the “judicial” locks that had been placed on the mosque for nearly four decades. This too is common knowledge, that it was done at the instance of the then Rajiv Gandhi government, which was anxious to “win” Hindu support to compensate for its decision to placate the Muslim clergy after the Shah Bano judgement. The report is also silent about the poor mobilisation of central paramilitary forces at the Ayodhya site even after the demolition, where kar sevaks continued to run riot following the resignation of the Kalyan Singh government.
The aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition is well known. As much as this incident legitimised communal rhetoric in Indian politics, leading of course to the BJP becoming a major national force, it also hugely damaged public administration, the results of which were immediately evident in the handling of the Bombay riots of January 1993.
Despite indicting 68 individuals as being directly responsible for the demolition and pointing fingers explicitly at the Sangh Parivar and the BJP leadership, the Commission's recommendations are quiet about pressing charges against those individuals and organisations who have escaped arraignment. Nor does it talk about initiating criminal proceedings against the culprits. Instead the report waxes eloquently on the reforms needed in the functioning of the bureaucracy, on regulations for the media and on upholding secularism. The Action Taken Report of the central government also does not suggest the government is thinking of initiating proceedings against those identified as responsible for the demolition. Therefore, despite the painstaking effort in laying out the details of the conspiracy and the failure of the state government of Uttar Pradesh, the recommendations made by the Commission and the responses listed in the Action Taken Report render the entire exercise all the more futile.
Justice Liberhan has detailed how the Sangh Parivar corroded and shamed the secular image of the Indian state and how officials sworn to the Indian Constitution were brazenly complicit in this huge crime that changed Indian politics and public administration for the very worse. Given how every single institution of the Indian state and polity has pussy-footed around the Babri Masjid demolition, there will never be any closure to this shameful event. The BJP may have been electorally vanquished in two Lok Sabha elections but the virus it nurtured in the course of its campaign to destroy the Babri Masjid remains very much in India’s social and political fabric.
Draft of editorial written for the Economic and Political Weekly