'The three Ministers are not guilty'

Print edition : December 23, 2001

Bharatiya Janata Party president Bangaru Laxman was caught in a controversy when he was quoted in the media as saying that the party would consider the question of the resignation of Union Ministers L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti if charges were framed against them in the Babri Masjid demolition case. Despite his clarifications with regard to the remark, it set off a chain of events which culminated in Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee's eulogisation of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. I n an interview to V. Venketasan, Laxman explains his initial remark, and the issues arising out of the debate in Parliament. Excerpts:

ANU PUSHKARNA

How do you react to the demand that the three Ministers should resign?

Let me make it clear that even in my first statement, I said the whole world knows that these three Ministers are innocent and they had not abetted any crime, therefore, charges will not be framed against them. And I also said the media were present, and political and non-political observers had witnessed that event. In spite of the fact that they had not committed the crime, if they are charge-sheeted then, the party will have to consider it seriously. This is what I said: the party will consider it. C onsider the issue of politically motivated charges being framed against them. When the media reported only part of what I said, again I reiterated that the three Ministers are not guilty, and therefore, charges cannot be framed against them. In spite of this if charges are framed then the party thinks it is a serious matter, where we will have to take cognisance of it with a political reaction. Our political reaction would be in the form of protest.

Protest against the trial court's action?

That would be construed as a politically motivated act, despite the fact that the Ministers were not guilty.

How can the charges be said to be politically motivated if the court directs the framing of charges?

After all, nothing is there before us. It is the most hypothetical situation we are discussing. In that hypothetical situation, I said, if these things are done, then it will be construed as a politically motivated act. Naturally, the party will have to take cognisance of it and it has to react.

So, in effect, you will be protesting against the court's action?

In what shape these things are going to develop, we have to wait and see.

Both at the NDA meeting and during the debate in Parliament, NDA leaders and the Prime Minister made repeated references to their commitment to abide by the Supreme Court's verdict in the Ayodhya case. What is this verdict?

The case pending is whose land it is, who is the owner. The title case is certainly pending in the High Court. The Supreme Court came into the picture when it punished Kalyan Singh (former Utter Pradesh Chief Minister).

That was when Kalyan Singh failed to honour the guarantee given to the Supreme Court that the status quo would be maintained at the disputed site. With the demolition of Babri Masjid that order of the apex court stood breached. By reaffirming your co mmitment to stand by the Supreme Court's verdict, do you mean to say that status quo ante would be restored by rebuilding the mosque at the site?

I am not sure. To my knowledge, some more issues are pending before the court. Whatever it is, even NDA leaders have stated that and the Prime Minister has also repeated it. If it is not the Supreme Court, it must be the High Court. Most probably they re ferred to the case pending in the High Court.

Is there a contradiction in terms? On the one hand you say that you will protest against any move to frame charges against the three Ministers by the trial court. On the other, the Prime Minister has reaffirmed his commitment to stand by the court's verdict in the Ayodhya case.

The court's verdict is on the question of title. It is too early to discuss even the crime (of demolition). The CBI has certainly filed charge-sheets. But some of the people who have been charge-sheeted went to the Allahabad High Court and obtained a sta y order. The court is yet to give a verdict whether the charges are correct or not, and what is to be done about that. Second, the Liberhan Commission is going into the entire case. So, to discuss whether charges would be framed and what would happen is too hypothetical. The CBI was not prevented from filing charge-sheets. Let the High Court clear the stay, and let the trial court take cognisance of the charges... if charges are framed against them, we will fight legally and also raise this as a politic al issue.

Some of your allies are unhappy about the stand taken by the Prime Minister in the Lok Sabha on the issue.

How many? Let us not give them a plural number. Even the Trinamul Congress was unhappy at the first instance. Their MPs went out before the vote. Some Ministers approached them and brought them back. The Prime Minister reiterated his commitment. Then the y were satisfied and voted. You cannot expect 100 per cent satisfaction among coalition partners. Each party will have its own programme, its own agenda; one has to sacrifice something for the coalition. BJP has done that; every party has done that. And there is no reason why they should be unhappy. The Prime Minister compared the Ram temple movement to the reconstruction of the Somnath temple. Nobody said, remove the temple and build the mosque. The Prime Minister's remarks (that the temple movement wa s an expression of national sentiments) were intended to make the ground reality clear. It neither contradicts the NDA's stand, nor does it go against the existing reality. It has not harmed anybody's electoral chances. The whole debate in Parliament has , in a way, vindicated what the Prime Minister said.

What is the NDA's stand on the issue?

The stand is to abide by the court's decision. Our alliance partners are aware that at this juncture, after the passing of eight years, it is all right to observe December 6 as a ritual. But what was the provocation to raise the issue on December 4 onwar ds and force Parliament to adjourn repeatedly for several days? This strategy of the Opposition has been taken note of by our alliance partners.

The Prime Minister's stature seems to have suffered within the coalition.

The way the Prime Minister replied to the debate in the Lok Sabha with full confidence goes to show that he still enjoys the full support of the alliance partners.

How do you describe the outcome of the debate?

We are happy that the whole nation is slowly reconciling itself to the ground realitiy that exists vis-a-vis the Ayodhya issue. Three things have emerged: one, there exists a temple. Second, the dispute is lying in the court, and everyone should abide by it. Third, if there is an out-of-court settlement, it would be most welcome. The Prime Minister spoke on this (out-of-court settlement), because he had certain information, certain people had approached him. And therefore, he was hopeful.

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