Voices from the Far Right

Print edition : August 04, 2001

Depositions before the Liberhan Commission by Murli Manohar Joshi and Vinay Katiyar bring out in varying degrees the aggressive approach of the Hindu Right.

HUMAN Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi's depositions before the M.S. Liberhan Commission inquiring into the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, perhaps revealed once again the hard-core ideological position of the Bharatiya Janata Party. And Bajrang Dal chief and BJP MP Vinay Katiyar's deposition brought out the irrational and often brutal section operating in the party's ranks.

Joshi, through his depositions, has sought to place the Hindu Right within the domains of the modern state and then use the resources of the state to lead the charge against those who do not conform to its version of national culture, read Hindutva. On July 18, he told the Commission that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) could have started the construction of the temple in Ayodhya, which act would have resolved the issue peacefully. Joshi was replying to a question from Commission's counsel Anupam Gupta, citing a newspaper report which quoted him as saying that a Ram temple should be constructed in Ayodhya.

In his earlier deposition on June 11, Joshi had justified the Uttar Pradesh government's acquisition of 2.77 acres of land in Ayodhya in 1991 to construct the temple. He said that the government in U.P. at that time sincerely wanted to delink the disputed structure from the rest of the land as the question relating to the structure was to be decided by the court. He blamed former Prime Minister V.P. Singh for not issuing an Ordinance in 1990 to solve the Ayodhya issue. Had the Ordinance been promulgated, it would have solved the problem, as the present Union Home Minister L.K. Advani, who had been leading the rath yatra in support of the movement, was agreeable to such a solution, he maintained.

In his latest deposition, Joshi said that the kar seva in Ayodhya did not lead to communal violence. Replying to a question by Justice Liberhan if there was any acrimony between Hindus and Muslims after the rath yatras undertaken by him and Advani, Joshi said: "Even many Muslims participated in the programme and went to Ayodhya."

On July 12, Joshi was questioned about his 1991 statement in which he called Indian Muslims "Mohammadiya Hindus" and Christians "Christi Hindus". He furnished a well-rehearsed reply that he was simply referring to the book Facts are Facts: The Untold Story of India's Partition by Khan Wali Khan. He conceded that he "called both the races which inhabit India by one word - Hindu." He clarified the term 'Hindu' as a geo-cultural concept.

The rest of the text of Joshi's depositions can be read as a frontal attack on the then Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao. Besides remaining quiet even as the Ayodhya situation worsened, Narasimha Rao tried to divide the sadhus and sants, he alleged. He claimed that Narasimha Rao sent godman Chandraswami and religious leader Mahant Seva Dass to the sants in Ayodhya to divide them on the issue of kar seva before the demolition. Joshi said that on November 30, 1992, Mahant Seva Dass spoke to Bamdevji, who was in the forefront of the movement, about excluding the VHP from the proposed construction work and deferring the December 6 kar seva. Bamdevji said it was impossible. Then Seva Dass told him that the government would neither permit construction work nor agree that the land was Ram's birthplace.

He said the sants felt that the government wanted to drive a wedge between them and was not serious about initiating a dialogue or resolving the dispute. At the instance of Narasimha Rao, Chandraswami persuaded the sants to delink themselves from the VHP and the BJP on the Ayodhya issue, he told the Commission. "Narasimha Rao was trying to divide the sadhus and the sants. He wanted to meet them individually and even offered them money," Joshi alleged.

According to him, Narasimha Rao adopted delaying tactics and did not want to resolve the dispute. "We were concentrating on finding a solution to the problem. We thought that the Prime Minister would listen to us but he (Narasimha Rao) decided not to listen to the BJP. He was maintaining a stony silence."

The Congress government's strategy in those years was, no doubt, to play tacitly, and where needed openly, the 'Hindu card'. Chandraswami who had started off as a Youth Congress leader in Hyderabad, established close contact with Narasimha Rao and worked at his behest. In April 1993 a gathering of 300 sadhus and dharmacharyas that Chandraswami organised in Delhi adopted the resolution that a Ram temple would be built where the Babri Masjid stood.

Even after the demolition of the mosque, the Congress (I) government followed a policy of conciliation with the sadhus and the sants. The Centre did not prevent kar sevaks from building a makeshift temple, because "they were in a defiant mood".

JOSHI'S deposition was followed by Vinay Katiyar's declaration that there was no mosque structure in Ayodhya at all. And there is no dispute, according to him. "It was Ram Janmabhoomi and it is Ram Janmabhoomi," Katiyar insisted, continuing his non-cooperative and hostile attitude at the hearings.

In his earlier deposition, Katiyar had said that the Commission should question Ram himself. He also questioned the validity of the Commission. It was apparent that he was trying to hinder the work of the Commission. Finally, Justice Liberhan threatened to take "strict coercive" action against him. "There is a constant and wilful attempt to scuttle the proceedings. Right from the very beginning, every attempt is being made to threaten and overawe the Commission as well as its counsel. If you do not cooperate, I can take strict coercive action against you," observed Justice Liberhan.

For the BJP, having too many such elements within its ranks may prove to be a problem. This had become apparent to the party immediately after the demolition and it should again become clear now. In the run-up to the demolition the BJP used the support of as many activists and sadhus as possible to campaign on its behalf in order to sustain the emotional wave that could translate into ideological and electoral gains. However, it found that there was always the danger of such groups going too far, jeopardising its political initiative. This, indeed, could be the case again for the BJP if it allows the unruly elements within its rank to persist in creating problems for the Commission.

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