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TWENTY YEARS AFTER AYODHYA Political betrayals and a continuing institutional crisis Memories tend to get cluttered over

the years. And two decades, when a generation grows to adulthood, is time enough for attitudes to change and for a nation to seek closure for events long past. Amnesia though, is bad medicine for the existential troubles of a nation. Forgetfulness is an assurance that errors of the past will be repeated, possibly with greater and more devastating consequences. Repeat performances may take different forms, but the essential object will be just the same: the effacement of multiple identity claims to equal rights within the nation, the insistence that all who want to belong should speak the same way, share the same twisted reading of history, worship at the same altars of the divine and most importantly demonise the same villains. The clarity imparted by decisive and deeply traumatic moments -- such as 6 December 1992 at Ayodhya, Faizabad district, Uttar Pradesh state, Republic of India often gets blurred and hazy with the passage of years, as superfluities are added on. To come to terms with trauma, a society has to establish accountability and then determine if imposing the sanctions that are appropriate would heal or merely deepen the wounds. When a nation is sworn to constitutional procedures, this means treading a complex path. Inherent complexities of the law are compounded by infirmities of the judicial process and political pressures that promote a culture of impunity. To be credible and immune to misrepresentation as political vendetta, criminal prosecution has to meet very high standards of proof. And the longer the time lapse between the crime and its trial, the greater the challenge of meeting these standards of proof. 6 December 1992 was a unique crime in having few witnesses who could bear honest testimony to actual events. Journalists, in what were later described by the Press Council of India as premeditated attacks, were driven out of the location where crowds had assembled, ostensibly for a symbolic act of homage. Breaking news did not exist then. Doordarshan was the only agency that had the authority to visually record and broadcast ongoing events. The BBC, a relic of the raj, was still regarded as the final touchstone of authenticity, and word of mouth was dominant. Indeed, word of mouth, was the 24x7 news channel of its time. The stampede of competing news channels today offers an illusion of diversity and choice, but contributes little to an informed public debate that the old jungle telegraph did not . Newspapers then retained a degree of influence since the news cycle went through a twenty-four hour periodicity, except when the morning papers were overwhelmed by the sheer pressure of rumour and felt compelled to accommodate the most imaginative constructions of reality they encountered, since doing otherwise would have been risky commercial strategy. Modes of information dispersal have changed immensely over these twenty years. It may be an interesting exercise within the ultimately useless process of counter-factual history -- pioneered by apologists for imperialism such as Niall Ferguson, who often get mistaken for historians -- to seek an understanding of how the Ayodhya moment may have shaped up if it had come at a time of 24x7 news channels. It would probably have only meant many more news teams to attack for the vandals who brought down a medieval structure. Or maybe it would have meant getting the news channels onside of the new narrative of nationalism that entirely supplants the old. The reality simply is that whether yoked to the twenty-four hour news cycle or breaking news, memories of epochal events

are becoming rapidly abbreviated and the climate of impunity for serious crimes, increasingly pervasive. So what are the crimes that remain unrequited even after these twenty years? Obviously, the crime of the demolition itself is principal among these, though if viewed in strict legal terms, the clauses of the law under which the perpetrators of this crime could be charged, would be relatively trivial: destroying heritage monuments is a crime as is inciting people to commit such acts of vandalism. In terms of its symbolism as a blow against vital principles of constitutional governance, Ayodhya 6 December ascends to a different degree of enormity. And for the violence that both preceded and followed that moment, another category of criminal sanction would be called for. Justice needs to be done for the lives that were lost as communal violence erupted in one location after another, till it finally seemed to engulf, in a metaphorical sense, the entire country. It is difficult to identify the first of the Ayodhya riots, since there was a sharp deterioration in the communal situation beginning in the early-1980s, with eruptions in Moradabad in 1980, Hyderabad in 1983 and Bhiwandi in 1984 being particularly bad. But following the removal of the locks on the disputed shrine in Ayodhya in February 1986, a quite distinct phase of the virulence began. There was a mood of triumphalism on one side and a grim determination to resist the implied assault on civil liberties in another. Meerut in May 1987, was in this sense the first of the Ayodhya riots since it followed rival cycles of mobilisation and it had a clear didactic intent: to teach a lesson to one side that too strong an insistence on rights involved a price in blood. When the mayhem in Meerut had subsided, the indefatigable campaigner for communal amity, Asghar Ali Engineer, carried out an inquiry into its causes. And his conclusion was clear: that political design rather than administrative failure underpinned whole cycle of violence, including the infamous Hashimpura massacre which elements of the state armed police force were suspected, with good reason, to be involved in. The cases arising from the Meerut riots still drag on. Not one conviction has been handed down. And not one among the rogue policemen who carried out the Hashimpura massacre has suffered any form of disciplinary action. There were a number of major outbreaks of violence that followed in the years before the demolition. But perhaps the events of Bhagalpur in the weeks just prior to the national general elections of 1989 as the Hindutva forces organised processions of consecrated bricks from various parts of the country to converge at Ayodhya for the first as it turned out, of many symbolic kar seva rituals were by far the worst. Under the impetus of Laloo Prasad Yadav and then Nitish Kumar, criminal prosecutions have made some progress in the Bhagalpur cases and a number of convictions have been handed down. In 2007, fourteen of twenty-eight persons brought to trial for the massacre of one hundred and sixteen Muslims in Logain village in Bhagalpur district, were convicted. The rest had either died between the institution of charges and the conclusion of the trial, or fled the process of the law. But doubts remain about the fairness of the process and the credibility of the charges laid against the accused. There is a widespread and seemingly well-grounded suspicion, that the main culprits are still at liberty and continue to hold influential political positions. Judicial commissions of inquiry appointed first by Laloo Yadav and then by Nitish Kumar have been valuable exercises in pointing the way forward for the prosecution, without in any way quickening the pace of the administration of justice.

In the post-demolition cycle of violence, the worst outbreak was in Mumbai (then Bombay) for five days immediately afterwards and then for around ten days in January 1993. Mumbai 1993 was distinct from other riots, where the perpetrators of violence chose to remain in the shadows, directing the killing without drawing much attention. Here the mastermind was issuing daily battle orders to his cadre in front-page editorials of a party newspaper. When Bal Thackeray was accorded a state funeral amid a mawkish display of grief by the news channels just days before the twenty year anniversary of the Ayodhya demolition, there were few who looked back to the virulent editorials he wrote in the Shiv Sena newspaper Saamna between December 1992 and January 1993. Even without violating the cultural norm that one does not speak ill of the dead, media commentators did him a serious disservice since those editorials quite possibly embody his political legacy most vividly. Thackerays opening editorial for the year 1993 published in new years day, January 1 -- was an exhortation titled Hindunni Akramak Vhayala Have (or Hindus have now to be aggressive). The plan was simple: to orchestrate a clash of symbols, the Hindu maha-aarti against the Muslim bada namaaz, with the immediate objective of provoking violence. And the need for direct action was laid out with great eloquence and with frequent recourse to colourful metaphors such as green snakes, to refer to a religious community. By January 6, the first outbreaks had occurred across multiple points in the city. On January 9, Thackeray declared that the law had failed to protect his flock whatever their identity, though he claimed the generic title of Hindu to describe them -- and that it was time to damn the law to hell. And then came the explicit call to violence: the next few days will be ours. Violence was already rampant by this time, but this was a clear signal for escalation. And then on January 11 came the declaration of victory, again as a front-page editorial in Saamna: Enough is enough. But the violence had by then been unleashed on such a scale that it was not contained for days together. This study in hate speech is not complete without the attendant theme of impunity. Within days of the violence subsiding, J.B. DSouza, a retired civil servant who had been commissioner of Bombay city and chief secretary of Maharashtra, filed along with a number of other public spirited individuals, a petition in the Bombay High Court, seeking Thackerays criminal prosecution for hate speech and incitement to violence. When the Bombay High Court took up the petition , it was told by the police that there was nothing objectionable in any of the Saamna editorials and that the appropriate forum in such matters was the Press Council of India. In 1995, the Supreme Court upheld the High Court ruling dismissing the petition. A brief moment of accountability came in 1998, when the Srikrishna Commission appointed shortly after the 1993 riots, completed its inquiry despite years of obstruction, intimidation and indifference. Its conclusion was unequivocal: the Shiv Sena and its leadership were solely responsible for the violence. In July 2000, the Congress-led government that had taken power the previous year, moved to prosecute Thackeray on the evidence of the Srikrishna report. Rather than principle, the move seemed born in personal animus, since the Home Minister in the state then was Chhagan Bhujbal, an old confederate of Thackerays who had fought bitterly with the supremo and changed sides. But after days of tension as Shiv Sena cadre geared up for retaliatory strikes, the case

collapsed in a messy heap, when the magistrate refused to admit it on grounds that it was barred by the statute of limitation. The cycle of post-Ayodhya violence subsided afterwards but flared up again when Hindutva forces in 2002 attempted one last time, to milk the issue of a temple at the Ram Janmabhoomi for political advantage. Ritual processions set out from various parts of the country, all converging on Ayodhya for symbolic homage at the site of the Janmabhoomi. For reasons to do with the temper of the times, the most vigorous mobilisation took place in Gujarat, where the party of Hindutva was in power, but going through a particularly tense internal power struggle. This was the context in which an arson attack on a train in which a contingent of such volunteers were returning from kar seva in Ayodhya, led to fifty-nine deaths. And then followed days of horrific violence as much of Gujarat burned in frenzy of hatred. It was Indias first outbreak of communal rioting in the age of globalisation a pogrom as media spectacle. It led to shock waves all over the world, considerable embarrassment for the Hindutva party which was then in power at the centre, and demands for accountability from all parts of the country. Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat, gave in to these pressures by notifying a number of fasttrack courts to try cases arising from the 2002 riots. But these courts began on a false note. The first major case to go to trial involving the killing of fourteen in what is now known as the Best Bakery incident in Vadodara city -- ended in acquittal. It took the persistent efforts of a number of activists and the oversight of the higher judiciary which almost adopted the role of a magistracy overseeing criminal investigations for the Best Bakery case to lead to conviction. And then came the Naroda Patiya case which ended in the conviction of a number of the Hindutva partys leading figures, though this is still to scratch the aura that Modi has invested himself with, as a champion of progress and development. Modis moment of accountability has to come through the political process, since he has put himself beyond reach of the law in multiple ways. The same goes for the individuals who actually were present at Ayodhya during the demolition of 6 December and bore witness to it. Foremost among these is L.K. Advani, former Deputy Prime Minister and Union Home Minister. Advanis immediate reaction to the deed was to affect a great sense of grief. The saddest moment of my life is how he recounted that day in media interventions that soon followed. Yet, he sought not atonement, but a perverse kind of justification, by cooking up a highly questionable analogy with the Bhagalpur blindings of 1980, when policemen in the Bihar district had gouged out the eyes of a number of inmates awaiting trial in the local prison, leading to shock and revulsion all around. The deed was itself horrible, Advani conceded, but those who committed it had been driven to an extreme step by the indifference of the public and the infirmities of legal procedures instituted by an inept government. The victims of the atrocity moreover, had forfeited all claims to public sympathy by their persistence in criminal ways. For other leading lights of the Hindutva party, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti to name only two there was no such ambivalence. The moment was one to celebrate and their shared exultation at the demolition has been captured in a still image that was widely featured in the press and has since become famous. Whatever may have been their attitude as individuals or politicians, there have been very few among the eye witnesses who have come forward to tell the story. The Central Bureau of 4

Investigation (CBI) meanwhile, has launched a number of prosecutions against the more prominent among the Hindutva leaders. Advani, Joshi and Uma Bharti though, were discharged on all counts by the special court set up to try these cases and they currently face no criminal charges. An appeal at the Allahabad High Court did not fare any better and the CBI is currently appealing in the Supreme Court a full two decades since the event for the reinstatement of charges against the trio. Perhaps the biggest judicial letdown here has been the Justice Liberhan commission appointed soon after the demolition to inquire into the circumstances that led to the cataclysm and to identify those responsible. After seventeen years of deliberations which tested the limits of public patience and respect for the institution itself, the Liberhan commission submitted its report to the government in July 2009. The report was tabled in Parliament later that year and soon became public. The entire exercise was soon called out for being vacuous and void of any substantive finding. Far from contributing to the process of accountability, it was quickly seen to be of absolutely no utility in advancing the prosecution of those responsible for the Ayodhya demolition. When the report was referred to the CBI as a potential source of information that could be acted on in its prosecution of the demolition case, it was quickly returned. The considered opinion of the CBI counsel was that the report was entirely useless. In September 2010, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court delivered its judgment in the long pending title suit to the Ayodhya site that was the focus of the whole controversy. The three judges on the bench delivered separate judgments that concurred on the operative part: that the site should be partitioned three ways with the spot where idols of Lord Ram were surreptitiously installed in 1949 being reserved for claimants from the Hindutva side. The eminent lawyer Anupam Gupta counsel for the Liberhan commission until a disagreement on principle and procedure compelled him to leave in its final months provided the best summation of the judicial logic of the judgment, at least as phrased by two of the three judges: the 30 September 2010 verdict in the Babri masjid title suits qualifies, in every sense, to be described as the judicial equivalent of the Ram janmabhoomi movement, which has had a highly creative character. Religious imagination and fervour have served to make up for a deficit of rationality, logic and historical evidence, with clerics turning into historians and judges becoming clerics. A close examination of the judgment shows much of it stands on flimsy legal grounds, and it would hardly be tenable if not supported by some very specious reasoning. Clearly, any expectation or hope that the judicial process would contribute to closure and uphold the principles of fairness and equity, have been belied. Those who believe in constitutional values and the rule of law, will have to look elsewhere. And the location where the answer lies is very clearly the domain of politics. Only the decisive defeat of the HIndutva forces in the political realm can restore the values on which the dreams for a better life of the Indian people rest: secularism, equality before the law and the fraternity of all citizens.