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Published in the 1-15 Mar 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Justice delayed is justice denied
By PM Damodaran

Lucknow: Despite reservations expressed by its allies in the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the Bharatiya Janata Party has made its intentions clear to raise the controversial Ayodhya issue in the coming Lok Sabha elections in a big way. The message was loud and clear when the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee selected Ayodhya to launch his party's election campaign.

Addressing a public meeting in the outskirts of the temple town, after inaugurating the Katra-Ayodhya railway line on February 7, Mr Vajpayee described the failed attempt at construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, among other things, as an 'incomplete work' by his government during its tenure. The Prime Minister then sought votes to complete this 'unfinished job'. He added that a solution to the issue would be possible either by a court verdict or through dialogue. In fact, the Sangh Parivar made out Mr Vajpayee's visit to Faizabad and Ayodhya as a show of support to the Ram Temple movement. When Mr Vajpayee mentioned the temple issue in his address, the crowd responded with applause. 

His deputy, the Deputy Prime Minister, Lal Krishna Advani did not lag behind his leader. Addressing public meetings in his Lok Sabha constituency of Ahmedabad later, Mr. Advani asserted that a temple would be built in Ayodhya. He remarked that a Ram Temple must come up at Ram Janambhoomi and that it will happen with the consent of both the parties. 

The former chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mr. Kalyan Singh, the new mascot of the BJP in the state, was more forthright in his comments. Mr. Singh, whose Rashtriya Kranti Party (RKP) has merged with the BJP recently, maintained that the Ram Temple issue would figure in his party's 'vision document' in Uttar Pradesh for the elections. There was a sea change in the views of Mr. Singh, who had now been told by the BJP to lead the party's poll campaign in U.P., on the Ayodhya issue. 

Mr Singh supported the proposal put forward by the central government to solve the Ayodhya issue through talks. But contrary to the Prime Minister's view that the dispute be solved through talks or court verdict, Mr. Singh wanted a solution to the issue to be arrived at through dialogue only. The former Ayodhya hero felt that a court verdict and legislation would only add to the problems as the disgruntled party might not take the verdict sportingly. Apparently he knew that if the verdict went against the Hindus, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad would not abide by it. On the other hand, the Muslim community had already voiced its readiness to abide by whatever verdict was given by the court. 

Soon after Mr. Singh's expulsion from the BJP in 1999, he had been maintaining that the solution to the dispute lay only in the court verdict. In fact the former chief minister had been charging the Sangh Parivar leaders, including Mr. Vajpayee, with conspiracy to pull down the Babri Masjid structure on December 6, 1992. He had even gone to the extent of threatening to expose the nefarious designs of Mr Vajpayee and others if he was called (by the Liberhan Commission), probing the demolition of the structure (to depose).

The plea by the BJP for another parliamentary term to solve the Ayodhya dispute defies all logic. The BJP leaders want the dispute now to be solved through dialogue or court verdict. It is not in the government's hand to accelerate a verdict in the case because it is the judiciary that is to take up the matter. On the other hand, the BJP has no right to seek more time to try to solve the issue through talks. It could not do anything to find a solution to the controversy during the past five years. In fact whenever some efforts were made, even by the prime minister himself, it was sabotaged by the Sangh Parivar outfits. Moreover, for the Sangh Parivar leaders, a solution to the issue through talks meant the construction of the temple at the disputed site with no mosque in the neighbourhood! They were not ready for any compromise on it.

However, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) has rejected any proposal for dialogue at this stage because it felt that the electorate would then feel it was being done to influence the elections. This view was recently expressed by the Board chairman Maulana Rabey Hasani Nadvi when a delegation of the National Minority Commission met him in Lucknow recently. 

The opposition parties apparently criticised the BJP for raking up the Ayodhya issue in the wake of the Lok Sabha elections. The Congress alleged that the BJP was advancing its hidden agenda at the cost of its NDA allies. On the other hand, the reaction of the NDA to the BJP's efforts to raise Ayodhya issue as a main poll plank was lukewarm. Some leaders of the NDA allies just remarked that the construction of the Ram Temple would not be an agenda of the coalition. Doubts have also now been expressed that the NDA and the BJP may have their separate agendas and the Ayodhya issue may find a place in the agenda of the latter!

In an Ayodhya-related development, the Liberhan Commission on February 9 viewed the video cassette provided by the UP Police intelligence. The cassette had shown Mr. Vajpayee addressing a public rally in Lucknow a day before the Babri Masjid structure was razed to the ground. It was played on the request of the counsel for the former Faizabad district magistrate Mr. R.N. Srivastava and former senior superintendent of police, D B Rai in whose tenure the structure was demolished. 

The cassette significantly showed Mr. Vajpayee telling the Lucknow meeting that he was not aware of what was going to happen on the next day (on December 6, 1992). It also showed Mr. Vajpayee as saying that he wanted to go to Ayodhya but was stopped by other leaders and as such he decided not to proceed to the place. He was seen giving a different interpretation to the Supreme Court order on allowing kar sewa. He was seen as saying in the cassette that though no construction was allowed during the kar sewa, the apex court had put no bar on bhajan and kirtan which would require shamiana to be put up during winters.

Meanwhile, the minority community has severely criticised the inaction of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in not appealing against the Rae Bareli court's verdict acquitting Mr. Advani in the demolition case. The AIBMAC has charged the CBI with taking briefs from Mr. Advani in sheltering the Deputy Prime Minister himself. The committee, some time back, had shot off a letter in this respect to the CBI director with copies to the President, Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India and the leader of Opposition, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi.

The letter questioned the action of the CBI in deleting the all- important section 120-B of the IPC, which deals with the conspiracy angle, against the accused in the demolition case. It alleged that the CBI had not produced important pieces of evidence, including audio and video cassettes, in order to facilitate the acquittal of Mr. Advani. Importantly, the CBI did not even oppose the stay granted by the Allahabad High Court on the revision petitions filed by the Union Human Resources Development Minister, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi and six others.

The convener of the AIBMAC, Zafaryab Jilani pointed out that the CBI was quick in announcing that it would move the Supreme Court against high court's verdict in the Bofors case absolving the former Prime Minister, Late Rajiv Gandhi of the corruption charges. But the investigating agency had not shown the same keenness in appealing against the acquittal of Mr. Advani in the demolition case.

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