Senior leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party make contradictory claims in their depositions before the Liberhan Commission, but they apparently have a common strategy - to deny that there was a conspiracy to demolish the Masjid.
IN the course of its arguments before the Liberhan Commission of inquiry probing the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992, the Central government has presented at least three versions of the "truth". Its counsel contradicted its own written submission, which, to start with, is different from the versions put forward by senior Ministers in their depositions before the commission.
Lala Ram Gupta, counsel for the Union government, was expected to string together the depositions made by key figures of the Bharatiya Janata Party. So far, each leader has been answering questions posed by the commission on her/his own behalf. As a result, many of the responses have been varied and contradictory. For instance, although BJP leaders L.K. Advani, M.M. Joshi and Uma Bharati and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Vishnu Hari Dalmia accepted that they were on the Ram Katha Kunj dais in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, there were contradictions in the statements regarding the visibility of the domes from the dais. While some said that the demolition was visible, others said that they did not see it as their view was obstructed.
Deposing before the commission, Dalmia said that the entire train of events leading to the demolition was visible to him. On the other hand, Joshi said that some trees obstructed his view. Advani said that only one of the three domes was visible to him.
Instead of finding some common ground in these disparate responses, the Vajpayee government carried out an offensive against the Central government led by P.V. Narasimha Rao and the Uttar Pradesh government of that time, led by Kalyan Singh. However, in taking on Narasimha Rao, the Centre ended up presenting three different versions of the "truth" on the deployment of paramilitary forces in Ayodhya. In their depositions before the commission, Advani and Joshi said that in 1992 Narasimha Rao had exceeded his constitutional powers by sending paramilitary forces to Ayodhya without the approval of the State government. However, in its written submission before the commission, the government castigated Narasimha Rao for not bypassing the State government in order to protect the mosque. "The Central government, if of the view that the State government intentionally or otherwise is not deploying the forces, when it ought to do, can certainly intervene and take all constitutional steps to deploy the forces to meet any situation which imperils the safety of the structure," the Centre asserted.
However, calling it his personal view, counsel Lala Ram Gupta justified the Narasimha Rao government's delay in sending troops. According to Gupta, the cause for Central intervention arose only around noon of the fateful day when some 200 kar sevaks suddenly and surprisingly stormed the mosque. He said that the Centre could have invoked President's Rule when the kar sevaks carried on with the demolition. But if the security forces had been ordered to reach the complex immediately, "it would have resulted in a massive massacre and bloodshed with repercussions not only in Ayodhya but throughout the country," Gupta said. Justifying the stand of the Narasimha Rao government he said that the Centre did not invoke Article 356 until 9 p.m. on December 6 and the forces did not reach the complex until the night of December 7, 1992.
As for friend-turned-foe Kalyan Singh, a few days before the Central government's scheduled hearings in June, he declared that the days of the BJP were numbered. "Vajpayee is the BJP's last PM," he said. There was no love lost between the BJP and Kalyan Singh and Gupta took a strong line against him when he said that the terms of reference of the Commission pertained only to the role played by the then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, his Council of Ministers, officials, organisations and individuals and it could not probe into the conduct of the Centre.
Gupta blamed the State government for not deploying Central forces to protect the Babri Masjid. Gupta said that neither the State nor the Centre had devised a contingency plan to control kar sevaks and prevent the demolition. "The State government failed in its constitutional duty and so did the Centre," Gupta said. The situation could have been brought under control if a contingency plan had been prepared to control the crowd without firing, he said. Even if firing was resorted to, a contingency plan should have been made to avoid a bloodbath. As stated by several witnesses before the commission, despite building a wall to protect the structure, it could not be saved from the frenzied crowd. Gupta said: "When the crowd climbed the domes of the Babri Masjid, the Chief Minister asked for the use of force except firing." However, the para-military force could have reached the Masjid site only by resorting to firing, which was not allowed by the district administration and because of the large-scale obstruction on its way it could not reach the venue of demolition, Gupta said.
The Centre denied any role by the BJP leadership in instigating the crowds although the party's role has not only been documented by newspapers but keeps surfacing in several court cases. On June 7, at the Special Central Bureau of Investigation Court (Ayodhya Prakaran) in Lucknow, five of the 26 accused in the Babri demolition case accused Advani, Joshi and Uma Bharati, among others, of instigating the kar sevaks on December 6, 1992 to demolish the Babri Masjid the next day. Mahant Ram Narain Das, an accused, said: "During the crucial meeting on the eve of the demolition at Ram Katha Sanghralaya, adjacent to the disputed site in Ayodhya, Advani, Uma Bharati and others gave fiery speeches to instigate kar sevaks to pull down the mosque. We were assured support too... First kar sevaks were provoked to raze the structure and now they want to get away with it."
These statements corroborate the findings in a report Faizabad's Local Intelligence Unit submitted to the police. The report, which gives details of the speeches made by Uma Bharati and others from the dais, is also before the Liberhan Commission. The partial text of Advani's speech, as recorded in the intelligence report, says: "A temple of Ram Lalla, who represents the religious belief of Hindus, will be constructed at any cost through kar seva. No power can stop it. It is not the question of Hindu-Muslim fight, but of faith, which no power in the world can shake." On Joshi, the report states: "He was on the stage, constantly encouraging the kar sevaks who were shouting objectionable slogans like `jab mullah kate jayenge, Ram Ram Chilayenge' (when Mullahs will be slaughtered, we will shout Ram, Ram). On Uma Bharati, the report says, quoting her: "If any Aurangzeb, Babar, Jai Chand or Duryodhana comes out now, then someone will have to become Shivaji, Maharana Pratap or the Pandavas. By adding the word secular, Muslims are appeased in every manner. Even the Constitution is changed for them, but when it comes to Hindus their sentiment is never respected. I will ask Narasimha Rao to respect the sentiments of kar sevaks and resign so that a temple can be constructed."
In her deposition before the commission, Uma Bharati maintained that on December 6, 1992, when the masjid was razed to the ground, she did not make any speech but only recited the Hanuman Chalisa. She said that her appeals to the kar sevaks to stop the demolition of the structure had failed. She also maintained that although she was on the dais for two and a half hours she did not hear a single word of the incendiary speeches as she was "disinterested". However, she was the only one who did not refute that the speeches, which have been widely quoted in newspapers, were delivered on the day of demolition. Advani and Joshi, on the other hand, said that no speeches were made by any of the leaders. The Centre's counsel did not clarify the contradictions in the accounts of the leaders.
The Union government heaped the entire blame for the demolition on the Congress(I), the Shiv Sena and the VHP. Gupta said: "If there was any conspiracy, it was confined to 605 Shiv Sainiks who allegedly had plans to hold the kar seva at the garbh griha." While justifying the ban on the VHP by the Congress(I), Gupta even identified leaders such as Ashok Singhal, Sadhvi Ritambara and Acharya Dharmendra among those who delivered provocative speeches. But the role played by leaders such as Advani and Uma Bharati, who shared the platform with the VHP leaders, was ignored.
The Centre's strategy in the commission has revealed fissures within the BJP leadership. The BJP's State unit chief in Uttar Pradesh Vinay Katiyar came to the defence of Kalyan Singh saying that he could not agree with the view of the Union government's counsel that the Central and State governments were responsible for the demolition. On December 7, 24 hours after the demolition, a euphoric Vinay Katiyar had said: "We thank the State and the district administration, the Uttar Pradesh police and the PAC (Provincial Armed Constabulary) for giving us all the help that we needed to complete our mission." This thanksgiving summed up the role of the State government in "operation demolition" (Frontline, January 1, 1993).
Kalyan Singh has taken a much more strident stand against his former colleagues and has said that the BJP-VHP leadership is lying when it says that it had no idea of what was going to happen that day. He alleged that the BJP-VHP had been engaged in a "deep-rooted conspiracy" to bring the mosque down. He has threatened to depose before the Commission and reveal this conspiracy.
From 1993, the BJP's top leadership has been reiterating that the demolition was not planned by them. This was Advani's line of argument before the commission. The BJP continues to insist that the demolition was the handiwork of miscreants or a group of over-enthusiastic kar sevaks. However, the leaders have not been able to explain how, without planning, the kar sevaks could demolish such a huge structure in just six hours when a single-story building takes more time to demolish even with the help of bulldozers. Such queries might be answered when the commission submits its final report.