The Liberhan Commission of Inquiry faces the daunting task of probing the truth in the face of contradictory claims made by Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders.
IS it possible for a group of people who have been witness to the same incident, at the same time and from the same place, to come up with different versions when they recount it? If one goes by the depositions before the Justice M.S. Liberhan Commission of Inquiry, it is possible. With the appearance of Murli Manohar Joshi, Union Minister for Human Resource Development, on April 9, all the leaders of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement have deposed before the Commission, which is inquiring into the demolition of the Babri mosque in December 1992.
Although leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) such as L.K. Advani, Joshi, Uma Bharati, Vishnu Hari Dalmia, were present on a dais at the Ram Katha Kunj in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, each had a different and often contradictory version of how the demolition took place.
While some said that the demolition was visible to them, others said it was not. Dalmia said that the entire range of events connected with the demolition of the structure was visible from the especially erected dais, where he was standing along with Advani, Uma Bharati and Joshi. He said that "all the three domes were clearly visible from the dais." In his deposition, Joshi said that some trees had obstructed the view of the structure from the dais - an aspect that neither Advani nor Uma Bharati mentioned.
According to Advani, only one of the three domes was visible. He said: "The view from the rooftop was very limited and so apart from one of the three domes, nothing else on the ground was really visible except for the milling crowds stretching to a distance."
Both Advani and Joshi said that they could not make out much of what was happening at the disputed structure from the dais. In contrast, Uma Bharati even gave the time of the collapse of the dome.
Although Advani gave a fairly close estimate of the distance between the structure and the dais, Joshi refused to come up with even a rough estimate. Advani said: "I recall that when I went from the site where the kar seva was to be performed to the rooftop, it must have taken me about 10-12 minutes." There was little consistency on the purpose for which the dais was put up. Dalmia said it was meant to observe what was going on. Advani was more explicit when he said that it was intended to serve as a rostrum from which the crowd would be addressed while the kar seva went on.
Both BJP and VHP leaders said that they did not make a speech. The Commission has relied on journalistic accounts and has quoted books in order to get a response from the leaders on their role in instigating the crowds to demolish the mosque. One of the texts that were read out to Advani by Commission counsel Anupam Gupta was from the book "Creating a Nationality", edited by Shikha Trivedy, Shail Mayaram, Ashis Nandy and Achyut Yagnik. According to the book, on December 6, rabble-rousing speeches were made from the Ram Katha Kunj dais by almost all the leaders associated with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. These speeches turned congratulatory in tone when the domes started coming apart. The speeches were accompanied by fiesty slogan-shouting.
Quoting eyewitness accounts, the book says: "Initially, there were some hurried, panicky pleas to the kar sevaks over the public address system to maintain discipline. These were followed by expressions of concern for their safety, as the 500-year-old mosque began to come apart slowly. After a while, the kar sevaks received only guidance and encouragement from the BJP leaders and the sants of the VHP's Marg Darshak Mandal assembled at the Ram Katha Kunj. Singhal grandly announced that the dawn of the Hindu rebellion had arrived, while Vijaya Raje Scindia declared that she could now die without any regret, for she had seen her dream come true." Referring to Uma Bharati and Sadhvi Rithambara, the book says that in her (Uma Bharati) several turns to the microphone she gave the crowds two slogans: "Ram Nam Satya Hai, Babri Masjid Dhvasth Hai" and "Ek Dhakka Aur Do, Babri Masjid Tod Do."
Advani, who estimated that a crowd of one lakh might have been present in and around the Babri mosque, said that no incendiary speeches were made by any of the leaders. Joshi also said the same. Uma Bharati took the line that she could not hear anything as she was "disinterested". However, she is the only person, who has not refuted that the speeches, which were widely quoted in newspapers, were delivered on the day of the demolition. But when Anupam Gupta asked Uma Bharati for details of the speeches made between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. on December 6, she said: "I do not remember anything since there was so much noise and people were thronging all around."
On the use of implements to bring down the domes, Dalmia said that the demolition was not done with bare hands. None of those who have deposed before the Commission has denied the use of implements. Advani said that it seemed that hammers had been used. In her deposition, the Gandhian Nirmala Deshpande told the Commission that the demolition was a "pre-meditated and pre-planned event." In her opinion, the domes seemed to fall sideways and structural engineering skills were needed to bring them down in such a manner.
The only point of agreement among the depositions of Advani, Joshi, Dalmia and Bharati related to the issue of those who were present on the dais. Bharati named Acharya Dharmendra, Swami Parmanand, Sadhvi Ritambara, Baikunth Lal Sharma 'Prem', Ashok Singhal, H.V. Seshadri, Vinay Katiyar, Vijaya Raje Scindia, Swami Vamdev, and Paramahans Ramchandra Das. Their presence was confirmed by Dalmia, Advani and Joshi. However, a major point of difference between the depositions by Advani and Joshi emerged when the latter said that he was on the dais until 2-15 p.m., after which both he and Advani went to a room downstairs. Joshi said: "We were there because after the efforts to prevent those who had climbed on the domes, after our efforts to pacify them to bring them down failed, our security guards said that we should not leave the Ram Katha Kunj." In his deposition Advani did not say that he was confined to the room for security reasons.
The presence of police personnel and journalists on and around the dais was another point of debate. According to Dalmia, there was only one door that led to the dais. He said that though the police were present at the entrance of the door it was left to the members of the VHP to decide who could go up. Dalmia said: "The police only wanted identification that they were the right people who should be allowed to go up and our people provided it." He said that all the arrangements were made by VHP workers. Only Joshi said that his security personnel accompanied him to the dais and stayed with him throughout. None of the others mentioned the presence of security personnel.
There are different versions that explain the presence of journalists on the dais. Advani said that he had spoken with some of them. Joshi insisted that neither journalists nor photographers were present. However, when the Commission produced a photograph showing Uma Bharati embracing Joshi from behind, both made contradictory statements in trying to explain the circumstances surrounding the picture. Uma Bharati said that Joshi was seated on the dais when she went from behind to greet him. She said that the photograph was taken between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. on December 6 and not after the demolition. Joshi said that it was taken after 11 a.m. which was when he reached the dais. Bharati said: "I told him namaskar, it is me. My one arm slid around his shoulder, while Joshiji took my other hand in his hand." She explained that Joshi has a daughter who is of her age and is named Munia. "Even on December 6, when I told Joshiji that it is me, he said in reply, 'so munia it is you'."
Joshi's version was completely different. He told the Commission that the photograph that showed Bharati putting her arms over his shoulders and clasping his hands was clicked when she was actually "trying to touch his feet." In the photograph Uma Bharati's head is above Joshi's and the only way she could reach his feet would have been for her to do a quick somersault. Both these depositions differed from that of the journalist Ruchira Gupta, who in her narration of the events of December 6 told the Commission that "Uma Bharati hugged M.M. Joshi from back and he turned around and hugged her too."
There was consistency in the response regarding the assault on the media. All those who deposed said that they had come to know of the attack only by the day after. Advani said that he came to know of the attack through the press the next day. Ruchira Gupta said that she was molested by kar sevaks on December 6. She said that she had met Advani and told him that journalists were being attacked and that he should make an announcement to the kar sevaks to stop that. "Despite repeated requests he did not make such an announcement," she said.
In his deposition, Advani said that Ruchira Gupta had met him earlier in the day but she had never complained to him after she was attacked. Uma Bharati also said that it was only on December 7 that she met some people who said that they were journalists and had been attacked the previous day. She said: "But before that I had no knowledge of the attack on mediapersons." However, she agreed that they must have been attacked by people around the disputed structure.
The act of the demolition itself evoked different reactions from the leaders. From Uma Bharati's deposition it is apparent that she was relieved at witnessing it. She said to the Commission that she is a person governed by her heart. Uma Bharati said: "It was like somebody is hurting you and humiliating you, you are passing by on the road and before your very eyes that person is assaulted, he is murdered. There is a very strange kind of emotion where you do not want to see somebody's face but even you don't want to kill him and that person is killed in front of you, then the kind of emotions that will take place in your heart - the same thing happened to me."
Advani said that December 6 was the saddest day in his life. "I could visualise that the December 6 demolition would be a big setback for the cause that the BJP was seeking to promote, because the BJP's commitment was not only to support the VHP's movement for construction of a Ram temple at the place supposed to be the site of birth of Ram, but we were committed also to democracy, the rule of law and the supreme position that the judiciary occupies in the entire set-up. We felt that this happening of December 6 would affect our credibility, which is very crucial for a political party in a democracy."
When asked about the length of time they spent at the site of the demolition, Advani, Joshi and Uma Bharati said that they remained at the site until the evening. All of them said that during that time they had failed to convince the kar sevaks not to proceed with the demolition.
On why they did not leave the site either in disgust or as a gesture of displeasure, again, the responses were different. Advani self-righteously pointed out that he was the first one to leave and said that his "responsibilities", including the preparation of a statement condemning the demolition, kept him busy until the evening. Dalmia said that it was not possible to leave because the crowds were agitated and it had become difficult to get past them. Joshi said his security personnel advised him not to leave.
With all the witnesses contradicting one another, the Commission faces the difficult task of sifting the truth from untruth and half-truths.