Missing links

Published : Aug 14, 2009 00:00 IST

in Lucknow and New Delhi

THE history of the Babri Masjid-Sri Ramajanmabhoomi dispute is replete with legal cases and governmental inquiries. Many of these cases and inquiries have exposed the awful goings-on in the name of faith. Yet another chapter has been added to this sordid saga with the July 15 order of the Allahabad High Courts Lucknow Bench directing the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to look into the case of 23 missing files relating to the Babri Masjid-Sri Ramajanmabhoomi dispute.

The court has asked the CBI to complete the investigation in two months and file an interim report on August 24. It also stated that the agency could register fresh cases on the subject if found necessary. If the developments relating to the missing files are anything to go by, the CBI will have to implement the latter directive vigorously, for they involve the alleged murder of a government official, accusations regarding conspiracies to prevent important facts from coming to the notice of the judiciary, and, of course, culpable political and bureaucratic apathy.

The story of the missing files broke rather dramatically in the Lucknow Bench on July 7 when Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary Atul Kumar Gupta submitted a letter from Home Secretary Javed Ahmed, which stated that 23 listed files relating to the Sri Ramajanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid had been missing from the Home Department. The files are to be seen in the registry, but are not physically available, the letter said.

It further stated that the files were last taken by Subhash Bahn Sadh, an Officer on Special Duty (OSD) in the Communalism Control Cell of the State Home Department, who died in an accident nine years ago. Sadh was injured in an accident, which happened at New Delhis Tilak Bridge railway station on May 1, 2000, and died the next day at the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in the city. The OSD had apparently taken the files or their copies to present them before the Justice Liberhan Commission, which had called for copies of all files pertaining to the Ayodhya dispute.

The Liberhan Commission submitted its final report on June 30, 2009, nearly 17 years after it was formed and seven days prior to the Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretarys dramatic revelation in the High Court. According to the records of the Delhi Police, which inquired into Sadhs fatal accident, the officer had slipped from the train, fallen on the tracks, bled profusely and died on May 2, 2000.

But there are contradictory perceptions about the accident and Sadhs journey to Delhi. In fact, the versions of senior Home Ministry officials of the State in 2000 and at present are at variance with each other. If one were to go by the letter submitted by the Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary on July 7 to the High Court, Sadh must have taken the original files with him. But according to a statement given by K.B. Aggarwal, Special Secretary in the Uttar Pradesh Home Department, to the Delhi Police on July 6, 2000, there were no orders to Sadh to carry any files to Delhi.

In fact, Aggarwal is quoted in an affidavit filed in the Delhi High Court by T.N. Mohan, Deputy Commissioner at the Delhi Police Headquarters in 2000. Mohans affidavit says that the search memo of Sadh after the accident did not record the recovery of any files or documents, either in original or in the form of a photocopy.

The search memo records the recovery of some papers such as visiting cards and tickets. A.L. Verma, the Secretary to the Justice Liberhan Commission, is also on record as saying to the team of the Delhi Police that inquired into the accident that Sadh had not been specifically summoned to present any files. V.K. Mittal, Principal Secretary (Home) in 2000 and currently Vice-Chancellor of Bundelkhand University, told Frontline that he was in Delhi when the accident took place and that he had visited Sadh in hospital. Mittal said that he had been informed at that time that if Sadh was carrying original files, the photocopies would be in our possession, and that if he was carrying photocopies, then the originals would be with us. But the present contention of the Uttar Pradesh Home Department is that the files have gone missing following Sadhs death.

According to Anupam Gupta, who was counsel for the Commission between 1999 and 2007, Justice Liberhan had repeatedly asked, in many of the Commissions sessions, for all files pertaining to the Ayodhya dispute. A number of officials in the Uttar Pradesh Home Department (who did not wish to be identified) told Frontline that Sadh was a kind of coordinator between the Commission and the State government and he used to be present at almost all the sittings of the Commission.

They also maintain that Sadh could have chosen to respond to Justice Liberhans repeated demands for files by taking a few along with him on that fatal trip.

There are glitches in the story even if one were to accept the above contention. According to Sadhs father, Bir Bahn Sadh, his son was carrying a small bag that could hardly contain two or three files apart from his clothes and other essentials for the trip. I had seen him as he was packing for that fateful trip. There was no question of my son carrying as many as 23 files in that bag, the 93-year-old, ailing Bir Bahn Sadh told Frontline emphatically. He is convinced that his son was murdered as part of a well-laid-out conspiracy and the files went missing as part of the same operation. I travelled through the night from Lucknow on May 1, 2000, and reached Delhi on May 2. When I visited my son in the hospital, he was conscious and told me that he had signed the no-objection papers for surgery himself. Even then the Delhi Police did not take any statement from my son. This omission too was certainly part of a conspiracy, said Bir Bahn Sadh.

Bir Bahn Sadh does not mince words while pointing out those whom he suspects as the brains behind the conspiracy: The governments in Uttar Pradesh and at the Centre in 2000 were run by the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] and it is the leadership of that party which is behind the conspiracy.

Lalji Tandon, veteran BJP leader and Lok Sabha member from Lucknow, responded to Bir Bahn Sadhs statement as one that attempts to politicise a human tragedy. It is not fair to bring in such dimensions to a case of this nature, he told Frontline. He also pointed out that Bir Bahn Sadhs claim of a conspiracy behind his sons accidental death had been scrutinised by an appropriate judicial authority and put aside as baseless.

Tandons reference, obviously, was to the petition that Bir Bahn Sadh had moved in the Delhi High Court in June 2000, stating that his son had been pushed out from a running train as it slowed down at the Tilak Bridge station. The High Court directed the Delhi Police to investigate Sadhs death and file a report by August 22, 2000. According to Sadhs advocate Randhir Jain, the reinvestigation report was never filed by the Delhi Police. Jain told Frontline that he persisted with his appeal to the judiciary, and the High Court directed once again, in January 2002, that the CID should reinvestigate the case.

In a larger conspiracy involving various agencies starting from the police to the Uttar Pradesh government, the murder of a valuable officer and a good friend of mine remains wrapped under layers of untruth. And the media play ball with them without making even a half-hearted attempt to unravel the massive cover-up, Jain told Frontline, hardly trying to conceal his emotions.

According to Jain, the police investigation was haphazard and casual. They said that Sadh fell from the train. But not a single fellow passenger was questioned. The accident story was based on the statement of a vendor who apparently saw Sadh falling from the train, but again this too is not corroborated by a sufficient number of other witnesses. None of the officials that Sadh was supposed to meet on his official trip was questioned by the police, Jain pointed out.

He is not at all hopeful that the present, renewed attention on Sadhs case, which has come about on account of the revelation regarding the missing files, will lead to any significant outcome. Once again, there will be a lot of politicking on the issue. The present Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party [BSP] government would raise some hue and cry against the BJP and try to win back the confidence of the Muslim minorities, but beyond that I cannot see any tangible movement towards the truth, Jain said.

The intrigues associated with the missing files are not confined to Sadhs mysterious death and the conflicting perceptions about the documents in his possession. At another level, the missing files story stands out as the epitome of political and governmental apathy. The sequence of events that led to the admission of the Uttar Pradesh government in the High Court about the missing files had been going on for as long as seven years.

The sequence, in fact, started as early as July 11, 2002, when the High Court ordered the Uttar Pradesh government to present files containing certain specific documents demanded by Zafrayab Jilani, counsel for the Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC). Jilani had asked for seven specific documents, which included the original of a 1949 telegram reportedly sent by then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to the Uttar Pradesh administration seeking immediate removal of the Ram Lalla idols that had been forcibly installed in the Babri Masjid.

Other documents sought by Jilani included the original of the communication between the District Magistrate of Faizabad and the Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh in September and December 1949. The correspondence sought by Jilani apparently also contained a letter from the 1949 Faizabad District Magistrate, K.K. Nair, expressing his inability to remove the idol or to stop the bhajan-kirtan undertaken by Hindu sadhus in the precincts of the Babri Masjid.

Now, the letter submitted by the Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary on July 7 does not state emphatically that the missing files do contain the documents sought to be presented before the High Court. All that it says is that these documents may be in these files. However, the letter of the government to the court does list the broad subject tags of the files. This list indicates that the documents sought by Jilani and ordered to be presented before the court could be in the files. The very first subject tag in the list refers to the filing of an affidavit in the U.P. Govt in 1951 that the disputed premises was a mosque and there has never been a temple of Lord Ram at Ayodhya. The other subject tags in the missing files include the ones referring to the alleged conspiracy to destroy the Babri Masjid through bomb explosion as well as the one pertaining to the acquisition of land in Ayodhya in 1991 by the Kalyan Singh government.

It is indeed a moot question whether these files would alter the course and the final outcome of the Ayodhya case pending before the judiciary for almost 60 years. According to senior officials in the Home Ministry, who do not wish to come on record, these documents had no bearing on the legal issues pending before the court as they essentially relate to the title deeds of the land and property under dispute.

Talking to Frontline, Jilani, however, countered this argument by pointing out that the official correspondence of the period would facilitate and strengthen the findings that the court may arrive at through the scrutiny of land and building records. To that extent, he said, the documents ordered to be presented to the court have tremendous relevance.

It remains to be seen how the multiple tracks in the missing files case will develop in the days to come. One thing, however, is certain. The new CBI investigation ordered by the High Court as well as the fresh cases that may be filed as the inquiry progresses will certainly add colour and size to the long judicial history of the Ayodhya dispute, which has remained in the countrys courts since January 16, 1950, when one Gopal Singh Visharad filed a suit before the Faizabad court seeking an injunction to offer prayers inside the Babri Masjid, where the deity of Ram Lalla had been installed.

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