Promises to break

Published : Jul 06, 2002 00:00 IST

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad backtracks on its promise to abide by the court verdict on the Ayodhya issue, alleging that the Central government and Muslim organisations failed to keep their word.

SPEAKING on the occasion of the release of a new edition of his book, A Prisoner's Scrap Book, in New Delhi on June 26, the 27th anniversary of the declaration of Emergency, Home Minister L.K. Advani referred to the theory of 'big lie', which lay behind the declaration of the Emergency. He claimed that Prime Minister Indira Gandhi felt that people disbelieved small lies but tended to accept as truth big lies, that is, lies that would be apparent to everyone. He said that it was this theory that helped her sell the idea that there was a consensus in her party and the government regarding the declaration of the Emergency. In fact, Indira Gandhi had not even secured the Cabinet's approval before the declaration was signed by President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed.

However, Advani's nostalgic references only reminded many people in the audience about the striking similarity between the Emergency era and the present one. If the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) raid on the offices of Tehelka on June 26 symbolised an attack on the freedom of the press (see separate story) the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's (VHP) doublespeak on the Ayodhya issue a few days earlier showed how eager Advani's friends in the Sangh Parivar were to learn from Indira Gandhi's theory of the 'big lie'.

The VHP's Kendriya Margdarshak Mandal meeting, held in Hardwar on June 22 and 23, represented an attempt by the organisation to arrest its growing irrelevance in finding a solution to the Ayodhya tangle. The meeting decided to give a letter to the Shankaracharya of Kanchi, Sri Jayendra Saraswathi, asking him to withdraw the letter of assurance given by the Ramajanmabhoomi Nyas to the Prime Minister through the Shankaracharya on March 8 expressing the Nyas' willingness to abide by the court verdict on the Ayodhya issue.

The VHP justified its move by saying that the government had failed to honour three assurances it had given - to remove restrictions in Ayodhya, to grant permission to hold shila daan close to the 'undisputed' site on March 15, and to transfer the 'undisputed' land to the Nyas before June 2, when the purnahuti yagna at Ayodhya would end, to mark the beginning of the construction of the Ram temple.

To this list of 'unfulfilled' assurances, the VHP added one more: Muslim organisations had assured the Shankaracharya that they would not approach the court in the meantime, but in violation of this they sought an interim stay from the Supreme Court on any kind of religious activity on the 'undisputed' land. Meanwhile, the Shankaracharya, who was in Delhi from June 24 to 26, said that he had conveyed the VHP's demand to the Prime Minister. He added that he was not sure whether the March 8 letter would be returned.

The Margdarshak Mandal meeting called on the VHP's State units to mobilise Hindus from the third week of July for the construction of the temple. It was also decided to hold a 'sant sammelan' in January or February 2003.

Addressing the meeting, VHP international working president Ashok Singhal warned the Muslim community that "if they took the country towards partition", they would have to stay in refugee camps as in the case of Gujarat. Expressing 'concern' over "growing Islamic fundamentalism and ISI activity", Singhal claimed that the Gujarat violence represented the first "positive response of Hindus to Muslim fundamentalism in 1,000 years". The meeting also passed a resolution urging the Central government to ban madrassas "promoting Islamic terrorism" and other educational centres spreading the Taliban ideology in the country.

THE March 8 letter was signed by Ashok Singhal in his capacity as a member of the Nyas. The letter was part of the Kanchi seer's formula to solve the crisis that was unfolding as March 15 approached, when the VHP had threatened to hold shila puja at the undisputed acquired land at Ayodhya in order to mark the beginning of the construction of the Ram temple. According to the formula, the VHP was to agree to abide by the court's verdict on the disputed land. In return, the VHP and the Nyas were to be allowed to perform a symbolic puja at Ayodhya on March 15.

However, the formula failed to convince the principal parties involved in the issue about the sincerity of the VHP. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) rejected it, calling it "incomplete and inchoate". The AIMPLB perhaps rightly expressed doubts about the vague linkage between the Nyas and the VHP and other Sangh Parivar organisations. The AIMPLB pointed out that it was not clear as to how the VHP would honour the undertaking given by the Nyas. The Board added that there was also no assurance that the VHP would abide by the undertaking given by the Nyas (Frontline, March 29). The AIMPLB made it clear, after its March 10 meeting in New Delhi, that even for the March 15 programme it would abide by the court verdict and, if required, it would make an intervention. In fact, none of the Muslim organisations had given any assurance that it would not seek judicial redress to stop the VHP's programme on March 15.

Even the three assurances that the VHP claims the government had reneged on were not given in writing. Nor did the Nyas refer to these in its March 8 letter to the Prime Minister. The March 8 letter, it appears, could well have been couched in vague and uncertain terms. The Margdarshak Mandal's letter to the Shankaracharya refers to the March 8 letter thus: "The Nyas had given a written assurance to maintain the status quo at the disputed site till the court delivers its verdict on the disputed site." It is this assurance that the VHP wants to withdraw now. It probably means that now the VHP does not want to continue to maintain the status quo at the disputed site before the Allahabad High Court delivers its verdict on the title suit pending before it.

In fact, even in its March 8 letter, the Nyas may not have made any commitment to abide by the court's verdict on the disputed land. It only assured the Prime Minister that it would not disturb the status quo on the disputed land until the court delivered its verdict. Perhaps, there was an indication that the Nyas was not bound to honour the verdict if it went against its claim on the title. It was also suggested that while the Nyas was bound to maintain the status quo on the disputed land until the verdict was delivered, the VHP was not.

The VHP claims that the government and the Muslim organisations gave it the "assurances" orally. The argument is that since they did not honour their assurances, the VHP is not bound to honour the Nyas' assurance. VHP sources said that even if the government and the Muslim organisations had honoured their 'assurances', the VHP would not have abided by an adverse court order. Hence the VHP's claim that it would honour its assurance only if the other parties honoured theirs was a sham. In any case, the government cannot transfer unilaterally the ownership of the undisputed land to the Nyas or the VHP until the Supreme Court clarifies its 1994 judgment on the validity of the Centre's Acquisition of Certain Area Act. The judgment has been interpreted by the Sangh Parivar and those in the government to mean that there is no bar on the Centre to transfer the undisputed acquired land at Ayodhya to the VHP or a new trust. However, since the government cannot do so, it cannot be a ground for the VHP to renege on its duty to maintain the status quo at the disputed land.

To this uncertainty, the Shankaracharya added another twist. When asked about the VHP's letter to him, he clarified that the March 8 letter was only with regard to maintaining the status quo until the shila daan programme on March 15. Besides, the Prime Minister could not fulfil the assurances made to the Nyas, probably because he was preoccupied with other pressing matters, he said. The Shankaracharya described the VHP's letter as an expression of its anguish and said he did not consider it a serious development. He interpreted it to mean that the VHP probably believed that the solution to the dispute lay in dialogue rather than a judicial verdict. (Later, the VHP came out with an explanation of its stand to suggest that it would abide by the court's order only if it was in consonance with the 'Hindu scriptures'.) The Shankaracharya disagreed with the VHP's demand to divide Jammu and Kashmir into four parts. Importantly, his reluctance to distance himself from the VHP's refusal to abide by the rule of law has made Muslim organisations doubt his mediatory role as an independent player. The All India Babri Masjid Action Committee appealed to the Shankaracharya to dissociate himself from the VHP and not to have any illusion that Muslims could be persuaded to surrender their claim over the Babri Masjid site.

Since the court is yet to give its verdict on the title suit, it would be futile to debate whether the VHP is correct in declaring in advance its refusal to abide by the verdict if it goes in favour of Muslims. On the other hand, Muslim organisations have time and again expressed their resolve to abide by the verdict even if it went against their claim. Considering the uncertainties involved in the outcome of the litigation, dialogue would appear to be the most sensible option to both parties to the dispute. However, what is significant for even the dialogue process to proceed is a willingness to maintain the status quo at the disputed site until a solution is found.

The VHP has obviously reneged on this after having made a commitment in the context of its March 15 programme. This is a direct challenge not only to the democratic process, but also to the rule of law. The Supreme Court in its 1994 judgment had clearly stipulated that the status quo should be maintained at the disputed site until the title case was decided by the trial court.

Meanwhile, a joint meeting of Hindu saints, seers and Muslim leaders held in Ayodhya on June 25 and presided over by the head of the Ramanand sect, Jagatguru Ramanandacharya Swami Haryacharya, observed that the VHP's decision would lead to lawlessness and a cult of religious terrorism. The meeting urged the Central government to ban the VHP and take legal action against it for making provocative statements.

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