TAKING a serious view of the invasion of the Taj Mahal on October 14 by Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) activists, the Supreme court on October 16 asked the Director of the Archaeological Society of India (ASI) and the Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh to investigate the incident and report within two weeks on the measures taken to prevent the recurrence of such incidents.
The Bench, comprising Justice M.B. Shah and Justice Doraiswami Raju, issued this direction on the basis of media reports that the BJYM activists defaced the marble facade of the monument by scribbling names, misbehaved with tourists, and clashed with the security guards. All this happened even as senior BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, were present at the venue of the BJYM national conference, which was held in Agra.
The threat to the Taj Mahal, a symbol of the nation's composite cultural heritage and pluralistic traditions, faced from Hindutva forces drew condemnation from political parties as well. The Polit Bureau of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) alleged that the speeches of Union Ministers, including Uma Bharati, at the conference were provocative and were part of a concerted bid to create communal polarisation. Uma Bharati warned, while endorsing the United States' war against terrorism, that the religion that promoted terrorism would be destroyed.
Such aggressive speeches should be seen in the context of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's (VHP) virulent pursuit of a Ram temple project in Ayodhya. On October 17, senior VHP leaders, including its international president Ashok Singhal, international secretary-general Praveen Togadia, and former BJP Member of Parliament S.C. Dixit, defying the security arrangements, barged into the makeshift Ram temple at the disputed site, offered puja and raised slogans in favour of the temple project. In its First Information Report (FIR), the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which is in charge of inner-line security at the site, alleged that the VHP activists forced their way into the temple premises and sneaked into the prohibited area by climbing over the barricades. , They "pushed" the security personnel and entered the site illegally, the FIR added.
The VHP maintained that its leaders did not violate any orders and that they entered the temple only after a request for permission to have a "closer darshan" of the idols was not conceded by the authorities. Union Home Minister L.K. Advani too suggested that the VHP may not have violated the law.
Putting the incident in legal perspective, Senior advocate in the Supreme court Rajeev Dhavan said: "There was both statutory and judicial violation at Ayodhya on October 17. In the Babri Masjid Presidential Reference Case (1994), when the Supreme Court examined the Centre's Acquisition of Certain Areas in Ayodhya Act, its majority judgment virtually made the Centre a kind of trustee of the disputed site in the interregnum during which the civil court will decide the issue."
The Supreme Court had said in its judgment: "The status of the Central government... is, therefore, that of a statutory receiver in relation to the disputed area, coupled with a duty to manage and administer the disputed area, maintaining status quo therein till the final outcome of the long-standing dispute relating to the disputed structure at Ayodhya."
In its affidavit submitted to the Supreme Court in this case, the Centre had conceded that the "status quo" was in relation to the position at the site as on January 7, 1993, even though it should have been December 6, 1992, when kar sevaks demolished the disputed structure. Between December 6, 1992 and January 6, 1993, a makeshift temple was allowed to come up at the disputed site. But the Centre had mentioned in its affidavit that as on January 6, 1993, only the priest had access to the "sanctum sanctorum" to perform certain rituals for the deity, and the devotees were not allowed to offer prayers or darshan in this prohibited area.
As the VHP's explanation virtually concedes, the devotees were not given an opportunity for a "closer darshan" of the deity earlier. Obviously this was the "status quo" the Supreme court wanted the Centre to protect.
There is thus force in the Opposition's demand that the Supreme Court initiate suo motu action against the Centre for civil contempt of its 1994 order.