The demolition of the Babri Masjid, which did the greatest harm to India's secular ethos, has suddenly come to the fore after nearly 20 years. It indicates the intrinsic strength of the system which otherwise has been beaten because of indelible corrupt deals and weak, faltering governance. It was such a deliberate defiance of law and morality that the destruction could not have been in oblivion for a long time.
Top BJP leaders like L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, linked with the demolition, have been accused of conspiracy. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has done a meticulous job to charge them with plotting and executing the demolition. True, the CBI has doubtful credentials and its control in the hands of government makes it still more suspect. Yet its work in ferreting out the truth in certain cases cannot be minimised or rubbished.
The Babri Masjid's demolition was not a hush-hush job. It was shown live on television networks across the country with hoary details of vandalism instigated by the Hindu crowd; the ladders and ropes used to bring down the masjid's domes and the joy of BJP leaders over the removal of the last brick are still etched in the memory of people.
The BJP leaders' defence is not on the demolition of the masjid but on the timing of the CBI report. The agency may be playing politics at the instance of some ruling party members. Yet, how does this lessen the crime of those who demolished the mosque or those who enthusiastically watched the spectacle? Whether the conspiracy of Advani and seven of his party colleagues is proved in a law court or not — the Liberhan Commission said something like that in its report three years ago — is not what matters at present. The issue today is who are the culprits? The biggest relief is that those whose hands are soiled have not got away with it.
Even if the conspiracy to pull down the mosque is not proved, the fact of demolition cannot be denied, nor the glee of the BJP leaders that the cameras have recorded. It is well known that before the mosque's demolition, Advani undertook a rath yatra (chariot rally) in northern India to prepare the ground and he, indeed, drove a wedge between the two communities, Hindus and Muslims. The killing of Muslims in the wake of demolition confirms the polarisation.
In fact, the Muslims who after the partition were gradually joining the main stream began standing back and wondering whether they were safe. The Babri Masjid's destruction was a watershed in the relations between Hindus and Muslims and it made many Muslims hark back on the division and think that Pakistan was not such a mistake as several among them had considered. One top Muslim leader said after the demolition: I felt for the first time that I was a Muslim.
The BJP may have built its vote bank in the Hindu community or may have refurbished the image of Hindutva. And the party's success at the polls in UP shows that. But what the party demolished for a few seats was Muslims' implicit trust in India's secular polity.
Were the guilty to be punished, the loss of faith could have been restored to a large extent. But the CBI's report may well be only a storm in a tea cup. The Manmohan Singh government has neither the will nor the strength to take on the BJP which may get away with the murder of India's secularism.
After all, Gujarat's Chief Minister Narendra Modi, who was behind the happenings in the state in 2002, may also be getting away with all that he did. The Supreme Court appointed Special Investigation Team (SIT) has exonerated him completely. What made the SIT give Modi a clean chit may come out one day.
In the case of Modi, amicus curie (friend of the court) Raju Ramachandran strongly disagreed with a key conclusion of the SIT that IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt was not present at a late-night meeting of top Gujarat cops held at the chief minister's residence in the wake of the February 27, 2002 Godhra carnage. It has been Bhatt's claim — made in an affidavit before the apex court and in statements to the SIT and the amicus — that he was present at the meeting where Modi said Hindus must be allowed to carry out retaliatory violence against Muslims.
Ramachandran has suggested that there is sufficient material to "proceed further against Modi." Ramachandran too was appointed by the Supreme Court and there is no reason why the case against Modi be closed.
It is true that Ramachandran did not investigate and relied on the documents prepared by the SIT. But this is the job which was entrusted to him by the Supreme Court. So how can it be argued that the amicus curie's statement does not have any locus standi?
The BJP should realise that the two blemishes, one about the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the other about the carnage in Gujarat, will not go away until action against the culprits is taken. Quotas will not give confidence to Muslims but what they want to be assured of is that they will get justice. A pluralistic society can do this at least to prove its credentials.
Kuldip Nayar is a former Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and a former Rajya Sabha member.