Laying To Rest The Ghosts Of Ayodhya – The Liberhan Report Unveiled

Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh

The demolition of the Ram Janambhoomi Babri Masjid took place on sixth of December 1992 in the presence of national and local leadership. Cadres of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Bajrang Dal (BD), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Shiv Sena (SS) along with their leaders were present at the spot. They either actively or passively supported the demolition. The other protagonists of the temple construction movement included preachers, Sadhus and Sants, administrative and police officers, the media and Karsevaks were also present. In the process all acts were directed for or to acquire the political power and thereby achieve the politically desired results. It was carried out in full view of the national and international audiences, television and other media persons. The executive, political and bureaucratic, to no effective steps to stop or prevent the demolition or even to apprehend the perpetrators of the demolition.

Liberhan Report, Page 1 1.2)

It is over 1000 pages long and I suspect that most will not read it. The Babri Masjid demolition on December 6, 1992, preceded and followed by a spiral of riots across the country, was a watershed event in the history of the nation, one that redefined Indian politics. Ten days later, the Narasimha Rao government set up a one-man commission under Justice M.S. Liberhan to look into the events leading up to the December 6 catastrophe. Justice Liberhan became responsible for the longest-ever commission of inquiry in India’s history. A commission of inquiry that was, on August 31 2007, granted its 41st extension for another two months.

The report was finally released and it goes a long way towards clarifying the protagonists in this assault on India’s constitution and civil society.

It can be read in its entirety here.

But it does not go far enough. Its conclusions are very vague, and its recommendations even less so. It names names, but perhaps ends up naming too many names. It lays blame, but perhaps ends up spreading it too generally. It does however make clear that the destruction of the mosque was no random event, or spontaneous riot, but in fact a carefully and masterfully planned campaign that involved the State government, the highest level of the Hindutva political forces, the security and police institutions of the state and the willing collaboration of a corporatist and obsequious media. There is much to complain about, but I rather focus on what the report does achieve.

It finally lays out in detail how the event required careful planning and usurped all the key political, bureaucratic, legal and police institutions to carry it out. It outlines a colossal failure of the institutions of democracy to protect the citizens of the state from the forces of sectarian hate and division. It finally allows us to understand the inter-sectarian violence requires the hand of planners, and involves orchestration of a wide range of social, political and administrative forces to carry it out. It is not a spontaneous event, and we would do well to remember this as we think towards the pogroms in Gujarat or those in Assam, Orissa and elsewhere. We would even do well to remember this when we think and speak about the fear and suspicions that mark the engagement between India and Pakistan, whether it is over borders or Kashmir or elsewhere.

But to the report.

Many will arrogantly assume that the Liberhan report merely confirms what they already suspected about the complicity of the BJP and its cohort organizations like the RSS, VHP and others in the destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodha in 1992.

But they would be wrong. The report is worth reading if for no other reason than for the details it outlines about how the event was planned, organized, executed and later explained. It is a study in the act of a cynical politics, a venal journalism industry that pandered to the communities worst fears and hysteria, police and judicial institutions that failed to uphold their duties and protect the people of the city, and the incompetence and stupidity of the local Muslim organizations that could have resolved this matter but instead choose to take on untenable and provocatively antagonistic positions that further exacerbated the situation. To say nothing about the scathing words used by Justice Liberhan against

Local Muslim Organizations & Their Incompetent Handling of the Issue:

Though of course these are not the main protagonists in the crisis, they did however play a crucial role in exacerbating the situation, and of not being able to provide an intelligent and disciplined legal, civic and political defense against the Hindutva forces. I start with this aspect of Justice Liberhan’s conclusions because it is the one that will most likely be ignored by those who will attempt to use the report to create further political and other advantages for their ‘brethren’ amongst the imagined downtrodden Muslim community in India.

Justice Liberhan is clear that the local Muslim civic, political and other leaders were hampered by incompetence and, lets be frank, ignorance about their own and India’s genuine and lived heritage. Their only response to the rabble rousing of the Hindutva groups was to counter it with fanatic, ahistorical and provocative claims of their own. As Justice Liberhan states:

Selective communal Muslim leaders, obsessed with building personal or individual influence or following for enhancing their political influence and for self gain, were merely bystanders during this entire period and put forth a dismal performance. While the RSS, VHP, Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal and the BJP brought the temple construction movement to the front burner and caused it to boil over, the fanatic Muslim leadership making the counterclaim were either completely complacent and had no substantial or effective leadership or were simply incompetent in projecting their own lopsided counter view to the people throughout the half century leading up to the 6th of December 1992. Their feeble attempts after 1983 to present a blinkered view of history were without researched substance and therefore possibly incapable of being believed. (Page 945, 167.1)

And he goes on to point out specifically at their dereliction of duty and responsibility towards their community and the broader Indian society as well:

The Muslim leadership failed the community and its electorate not only in being unable to put forth a logical, cohesive and consistent point of view, within and outside the courtroom, but also failed to protect the life and property of the innocent masses who got caught up in the post facto riots. The Muslim leadership was conspicuous in its absence from the nation debates and its failure to protest effectively against the events that were building up to a crescendo. (Page 947, 167.7)

The Media; A Tool And A Weapon

Justice Liberhan also turned his attention to the role of the media, and it is this that perhaps makes for some surprising and dismaying reading. The report goes into considerable detail about the role of the press in spurring on the rioters and creating an atmosphere of hysteria and fear in the region of Awadh – the province where the Babri mosque is located. It also points out how easily and willingly the local media became conveyors of the Hindutva message, and how excitedly they fed into the sectarian conflicts that were being created. His indictment is unequivocal:

The media was a protagonist in the build up to the events of December 6th 1992. (Page 955, 170.2)

Taking to task in particular the private satellite news channels and their hunger for the sensational and procative at the cost of insightful and measured.

A part of the media lent itself willingly to being used throughout the Ayodhya campaign. The inflammatory speeches of the more vocal elements were gleefully reported and sensationalized. The liberalized and newly launched mass media organizations at the time, including private satellite channels stoked the need for ferreting out newsy items which could be reported. These were ideal conditions for a media savvy [Sangh] Parivar to get maximum public exposure and to canvas its agenda – or at least the BJP sanitized versions of its agenda – to the entire country. The journalists were equally happy at having access to materials which was capable of weaning the masses of the staid government run television networks or the old-school print media. (Page 955, 170.4)

The organizations controlling the space around the Ram Janambhoomi Babri Mosque complex made sure that they kept careful track of the media and its where abouts on that day:

The first step in this direction was to ascertain the identity of the journalists who were present at the spot. The accreditation of the media was entrusted to their own cadres who were thereby able to create and maintain accurate records of the media presence. The identities of the press corps, the various organizations, the specific locations etc. were obtained during the accreditation process. (page 932, 162.9)

Eventually creating a situation where videographers, photographers and other documentarians who could have captured the events, and the individuals involved, where confronted, assaulted and left with a fear for their life:

The leadership tried to criminally intimidate, assault and obstruct the media personnel. There can be no justification for the criminality of the actions of the leaders and participants of the temple construction movement. The attack on the media is in itself an admission by the perpetrators of the events f December 6th 1992 that they were aware of the illegality of their acts.(page 934, 162.18)

The State Government & Its Infiltration By The Sangh Parivar

But in the end, the report unequivocally identifies the local State government and its infiltration by the Hindutva organization as the principal instigators of this disaster. The then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Kalyan Singh, comes under explicit damnation:

Kalyan Singh, his ministers and his handpicked bureaucrats created man-made and cataclysmic circumstances which could result in no consequences other than the demolition of the disputed structure and broadened the cleavage between the two religious communities resulting in massacres all over the country. They denuded that state of every legal, moral and statutory restraint and wilfully enabled and facilitated the wanton destruction and the ensuing anarchy. (Page 922 160.5)

Going on to point out the deep penetration the Hindutva institutions and ideology had made into the Government, reminding us of the horrifying dangers that confront the nation and its constitution if this is allowed to happen (as it has in fact!) elsewhere in the country.

Their [RSS, VHP, BD] infiltratration of the Government and of the administration of the state of Uttar Pradesh was complete. Its traces and remnants are still thriving all over the country and still pose as grave a threat as ever. It had and continues to spread in scope to encompass every pillar of the constitutional system. (page 925, 160.12)

The Sangh Parivar & Dangers To India’s Constitutional Democracy

Justice Liberhan’s report may fall short of many people’s expectations and hopes, particularly after the sixteen years it took to complete, but we would be amiss in ignoring its clear and explicit warnings about the dangers of the highly organized, widely influential and incredibly dangerous pervasiveness of the Sangh Parivar:

The Parivar is a highly successful and corporatized model of a political party and as the Ayodhya campaign demonstrates, has developed a highly efficient organizational structure. Each time a new demographic group has emerged, the Sangh Parivar has hived off some of its RSS inner-core leadershp to harness that group and bring it within the fold, enhancing the voter base of the Parivar. (page 939, 165.2)

The blame or the credit for the entire temple construction movement at Ayodhya must necessarily be attributed to the Sangh Parivar. As already discussed elsewhere in this report, the Sangh Parivar is an extensive and widespread organic body which encompasses organizations with address and assimilate just about every type of social, professional and other demographic grouping of individuals. (page 939, 165.1)

It cannot be assumed even for a moment that LK Advani, AB Vajpayee or MM Joshi (Chief Minister) did not know the designs of the Sangh Parivar. Even though these leaders were deemed and used by the Parivar as the publicly acceptable faces and the articulated voices of the Parivar and thus used to reassure the cautious masses, they were party to the decisions which had been taken. (page 942, 166.6)

The reports section on the Sangh Parivar, from pages 637 to 721 in particular, and its deep links into fomenting and encouraging sectarian violence and divisions, and attacking the constitution of the country should send shivers down the spine of all Indians. We would do well to remember that the dangerous fire they, the Sangh Parivar, are playing with can burn our own fingers. Page 643 to 645 provide a list of the organizations that are part of the Sangh Parivar family. Justice Liberhan’s report provides a very detailed history of this family, including its foundational ideologies, its various branches, and its rise into the mainstream of Indian politics and civic life. His analysis is crucial to read and understand and probably one of the most interesting and revealing aspects of this investigation. It is the first time that I know of at least where a public body has attempted to map out the various families and tentacles of this movement and its devastating effect on the nation.

From the totality of the circumstances and various statements given before the Commission, it is clear that there is no conflict between the agenda of the BJP and that of RSS, relating to Hindu religion, organized Hindu religious society, and constituting of Hindu Rashtriya or Hindu Nation even if it accepted to be not a puritan state. The impression created in the context of the Ayodhya issue, which undoubtedly converged into the political issue that word Hindu referred to Hindu as religion. (Page 682, 114,26)

There can’t be any dispute with respect to the interchangeability of roles between the VHP, RSS, and BJP though legalistically these are different organizations. It cannot be lost sight of that the prominent leaders of VHP, BJP, RSS were none but the ones who had a RSS background. Most of them were simultaneously holding important offices in the respective parties, like Uma Bharti, Mahan Avaidyanath etc. All aspirants of a political career in VHP or in any other organization supporting the movement in any capacity. contested elections for a legislative house as a BJP candidate. (Page 690-691, 114.43)

∞

These are sobering pages. The Shiv Sena, Bajrang Dal and many other xenophobic, racist and exclusivist organizations have been long tolerated in India. A constitutional democracy has to allow room for even the unseemly. What is evident is the intelligent and carefully planned way in which these institutions have usurped the language and instruments of democracy to spread undemocratic and authoritarian ideas and ideals. They have rejoiced in violence against minorities, contorted the complex and many-faceted philosophy of Hinduism and India’s pantheism’s into something that exists less on the beauty of its message and more on the demonizing and dehumanizing of ‘the other’. Exploiting a false sense of ‘victimhood’ and ‘historical wrongs’, based on ahistorical and infantile readings of India’s historical complexity and pluralist heritage, they have divided her people and used blood and hate to capture power and enrich themselves.

The Liberhan report is, as far as I know, unique it is shedding of light on how this process worked in Uttar Pradesh, and in the events that led to the tearing down of the mosque at Ayodhya. It has many gaps and leaves much room for being attacked and manipulated into an impotent document. But we would do well to read it for the dark secrets it reveals about our modernity and the warnings it gives us about the forces bent on tearing of the fragile social, civil, political and cultural fabric of this complex nation. Perhaps most importantly, about how democratic institutions, language and methods are perverted to serve the most undemocratic of ends.

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