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India: Justice delayed is justice denied - A comment on the Liberhan commission report

by Mukul Dube, 14 December 2009

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(The below article is to appear in Mainstream Weekly)

It has long been held that justice delayed is justice denied. The 16.5
years that the Liberhan Commission took to produce its report on the
Babari Masjid demolition must, in that light, be called a travesty of
justice. Why might it have taken so much longer than the three months
it was allotted when it was appointed by the government of Narasimha
Rao?

One reason that the Commission itself offered was that witnesses
delayed making their appearances before it. It is entirely possible
that this happened - after all, people who have things to hide do not
speak of them in public - and it may be that Commissions of Inquiry
have only limited powers in the matter of summoning witnesses and compelling them to testify before it.

None of this, however, can explain why the Commission presented
its report to the Home Minister only in June 2009 even though it had
examined the last witness, Kalyan Singh, in August 2005, almost four
years earlier.

The Liberhan Commission was granted forty-eight extensions in
all: that is, an extension in every third month. It can safely be
assumed that over its life of more than a decade and a half, the money
allotted to it will steadily have increased to take account of inflation and the salary increments of its staff.

One person to whom I spoke attributed the phenomenal delay - and
the total expense, said to be 8 crore rupees - to the sole factor of
human cupidity. He said that Justice Liberhan had every reason to delay
his report because each day meant the continuance of the perquisites of
office, essentially a sinecure after retirement.

I object to this characterisation of Justice Liberhan as a greedy
and grasping man not because I have reason to think him a saint but
because the argument reduces political criminality to one of an individual kind.

Who pays the piper, calls the tune. Justice Liberhan was a paid
employee, and if his work was unconscionably delayed, the blame for
that must rest squarely on his employer, the Government of India. We
know that he was given one extension after another: we can only examine
the known facts to decide whether he was passively permitted to go on
and on or was actively restrained from finishing his work.

I hold that it was in the interest of every successive government
in New Delhi to not have the Liberhan Commission complete its work. The
governments between December 1992 and June 2009 were those headed by P.V. Narasimha Rao, A.B. Vajpayee, H.D. Deve Gowda, I.K. Gujral, A.B.
Vajpayee (again) and Manmohan Singh.

Vajpayee’s first ministry was something of a joke, and most of us
failed to see the future in it; and the period of Deve Gowda and Gujral
has aptly been described as "time pass", a period in which the country
rolled along without much guidance. That leaves two Congress governments with a BJP one between them.

I shall summarily dismiss Vajpayee’s second ministry, in so far
as the Liberhan Commission is concerned, by pointing out that he was
always crafty and calculating and certainly was not likely to take an
axe to his own knees. The NDA period was marked by loud crowing about
the "resurgence" of Hindutva (a phenomenon which had, of course, never
existed earlier): and the razing of the Babari Masjid was described, in
speech after speech, video after video, as a great achievement. It was
natural that the "achievers" should go to any length not to be shown up
as common vandals or, worse, a disciplined army of demented apes carrying out a well planned manoeuvre.

Many have held Narasimha Rao guilty of allowing the one-time
mosque to be destroyed, and some have gone a step beyond by attributing
complicity to him. Here I shall say only that India has a federal
structure, that Narasimha Rao headed the Central Government at the
time, that his Home Minister controlled an array of intelligence
sources and para-military forces, that his President commanded the
armed forces, and that the Constitution gave him certain powers.
From around the time of Advani’s first, massive, Rath Yatra,
everyone - and I include in this term my then panvala and the men from
whom I bought vegetables and meat - knew what was going to happen. I
heard BJP and ABVP people brag about it and saw them rub their hands in
anticipation. Narasimha Rao claimed to have had no inkling.
In his report Justice Liberhan concluded that Narasimha Rao did
no wrong. I do not know if this has anything to do with the principle
of not biting the hand that feeds you, or with that of not speaking ill
of the dead. (I am compelled to speculate about how different the
report would have been if more years had passed and more of the people
under investigation had died.)

In the run-up to the general election of 2004, the Congress party
spewed fire and thunder about the "misdeeds" of the BJP and promised to
set things right. When it was returned to power, it did nothing about
the Gujarat events of 2002, only two years in the past. Half a decade
later, Narendra Modi and other Hindutva goons - as well as the
administration of the state - continue to terrorise Muslims and to deny
them their basic rights: and Manmohan Singh’s troupe in New Delhi continues resolutely to look towards the West.

The Liberhan Commission’s report was over 16 years overdue when it was submitted to the present Home Minister. What did Shri Chidambaram do? No, he showed no desire to place before the nation the document, awaited for so long, which was meant to bring out the truth about the most cataclysmic event in independent India’s history. If relatively recent events in Gujarat did not matter to him, then the old event of the Babari Masjid seemed to matter even less.

We must thank whosover “leaked” the report: for all we know, it may have gathered dust in the Home Ministry for another 17 years or longer.

I do not think that those whom Justice Liberhan found to be guilty of planning and executing the demolition of the Babari Masjid will ever be brought to justice. A Congress government is in power, and all indications are that other governments headed by the same party will follow. In the matter of taking action against intolerant “Hindus”, the record of the Congress is execrable.

So many inquiries have been ordered, conducted and forgotten―with the result that anti-Muslim violence has gone unpunished―that even those whose business it is to keep track of the matter may have lost count. It is a way of life, it is dastur. It is a crucial feature in the history of Congress rule.

The “secular” Congress ruled Madhya Pradesh in 1961, when the first major “communal riot” of independent India broke out in Jabalpur. In less than a day it had come a hundred miles to the town in which I lived. I still shudder when I recall the words of other children in my school, the words I heard on the university campus where we lived. I shuddered again, in the same way, when Advani’s vicious “yatra” passed the room in south Delhi in which I lived.

Govind Ballabh Pant, whose impeccably “Hindu” record in the United Provinces is known to all, was no longer Nehru’s Home Minister in 1961, but his spawn survived and throve. It thrives still.