Interview with Prakash Karat, general secretary, CPI(M).
THE Communist Party of India (Marxist) has been one of the most vocal critics of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Like many other secular political parties, the CPI(M) has expressed surprise and dismay at the importance given by the Allahabad High Court to issues such as faith and belief in its verdict. In an interview given to Frontline, CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat opined that any judicial verdict had to be firmly grounded in secular, democratic and constitutional principles. Excerpts:
What are your impressions of the judgment? Do you think there is something disquieting about it?
Since the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, the scope for a negotiated settlement has not existed. We have been maintaining that the problem can be resolved only through the judicial process and a judicial verdict. How we settle the Ayodhya dispute will be a test case for the democratic and secular basis of the Indian state. That is why we had rejected those claims from the Hindutva outfits that the building of a Ram temple is a matter of faith and cannot be decided by the courts. Now that the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court has given its judgment, we have to see if this judgment is going to settle the issue in a manner where justice has been done and the secular and democratic principles and methods of resolving such issues have been adhered to.
There is a general impression that the majority decision of the Lucknow Bench to divide up the 2.77 acres of land whereby two-thirds of the land goes to the Hindu petitioners and one-third to the Muslim side is a compromise solution and a step towards a settlement.
At the same time, a disturbing feature of the set of judgments is the primacy accorded to faith and belief; originally what was being heard by the Lucknow Bench were the title deed suits, which required going by the facts and the evidence.
A judgment on the dispute on where a mosque existed for four and a half centuries, and which was demolished in December 1992, is now being resolved on the basis of the faith and belief of a particular community. This is something that will create a dangerous precedent.
What kind of a precedent do you think this judgment can set, given the primacy it has accorded to issues of faith and belief?
It can open up many more such claims and disputes in the future citing the religious faith of some people. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad still demands the handing over of sites in Mathura and Kashi for religious purposes. The three-judge Bench has unnecessarily framed issues which go beyond the jurisdiction of title deed suits. The Supreme Court had rejected a reference made by the President of India, which was at the behest of the [P.V.] Narasimha Rao government in 1993, where one of the issues posed before the court was whether a temple existed or not at the site before the mosque was built. The Supreme Court correctly refused to entertain such a reference. The Supreme Court then had revived the title deed suit before the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court.
What impact do you think this judgment will have on the ongoing cases involving the demolition of the Babri Masjid?
Already the ongoing cases regarding the demolition of the Babri Masjid have been diluted. The charge sheets framed originally have been watered down. Still, the criminal offence of the demolition has to be decided by the law; the basis on which the judgment has been given by the Lucknow Bench does not augur well for the judicial proceedings on the demolition cases.
There is already jubilation in certain quarters, cynicism among others, and the ruling political class opines that moving forward is the best solution.
Given the verdict of the Lucknow Bench, the matter will go to the Supreme Court for a final decision. No party to the dispute or any section of people can demand any step to be taken until the Supreme Court gives the final judgment. The people by and large, irrespective of which community they belong to, want the matter settled through the rule of law. The demands made by the extremist fringe groups do not reflect the opinion of the general public.
What do you finally think will be the outcome of the judicial process?
I think the Supreme Court will have to undo the premise on which a verdict has been given citing religious faith as the criterion for settling the question of ownership and recorded history of the dispute.