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September 19, 2000


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E-Mail this column to a friend Arvind Lavakare

It's not so strange, all in all

A certain Teesta Setalvad is feeling miserable.

And yes, this Teesta runs a publication-cum-organisation called Communalism Combat along with her hubby, a former byline journalist. How this outfit is funded is not clear, though it is strange that they did throw a lot of money in big newspaper ads that abused the BJP during the last Lok Sabha elections.

But it would not be strange at all if the fact turns out she has been combating the "saffron" army with her perennial pro-Muslim, pro-minorities stance only to show the nation how truly "secular" a Hindu she is and others should be. Yes, these "pseusecs" can be strange and deep, almost neurotic.

It is this Teesta, then, who is feeling miserable right now. In a long article in the September issue of her publication, she has poured her anger and angst on Maharashtra's Democratic Front government of the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party coalition. The cause of her misery is the government's affidavit filed early this month as per the Supreme Court's directive on a public interest petition seeking to know the status of the recommendations made by the Srikrishna Commission Report of February 1998 on Bombay's communal riots of December 1992 and early 1993.

Ms Setalvad has been using that report of a Bombay high court judge as a flashpoint for her seemingly burning desire to incarcerate Bal Thackeray, his "fascist" followers and the "communal" Hindus of the Bombay police who had all been indicted by the Hon'ble Srikrishna. She and her kind had been eagerly waiting for the Congress-NCP government to fulfil its 1999 promise of "implementing the report in full" to punish the Shiv Sainiks and all the sundry saffron specimens of Bombay.

Her misery is therefore understandable when she is forced to write that, "A careful reading of that affidavit... reveals that the Congress-NCP echoes, word for word and sentiment for sentiment, the stance of the SS-BJP combine in the Action Taken Report that had been tabled in the State Assembly in August 1998 rejecting most of the judge's findings."

She is agonised that "the DF government has rejected action against nine policemen that was specifically recommended by the judge." Her misery is aggravated by her belief that, "No action is proposed to be taken by the government against politicians indicted belonging to the SS-BJP (and Congress) who were clearly implicated by Justice Srikrishna. Even action against Bal Thackeray is mired in doubt and controversy." The woman goes on to cite a few incidents from those riots of 1992-93 where Judge Srikrishna's findings were specific and yet have been sidelined by the DF government now as they were earlier by the SS-BJP coalition.

While the bumbledom and bias of the Srikrishna report had been earlier pointed out in Return to Jai Srikrishna, there are two opinions in that report which warrant specific comment in the light of Ms Setalvad's latest outcry.

The first refers to what she herself dubs as a "a critical case". Closed by the earlier state government, the present one has at least agreed to re-investigate it. The incident in question occurred on December 6, 1992, the day on which the Babri structure was demolished. The occasion in question was a cycle rally at Dharavi, a suburb of Bombay. The rally itself was a police-escorted procession during which slogans were shouted and a stone was thrown that fell inside the premises of a masjid en route.

The Srikrishna report does not mention any death or injury or rioting or loot or arson or rape from that solitary thrown stone. It was clearly so minor an incident that none of Bombay's newspapers of December 7, reported it. And yet Ms Setalvad now calls it "a critical case".

The Hon'ble Srikrishna was, however, very imaginative about that cycle rally. He described it as being "ostensibly to celebrate the demolition of the Babri Masjid." He also held that the police had needlessly given permission for the rally and that the rally took place at 16.40 hours (in Volume I of his Report) and at "about 4 pm" in his Volume II.

That little time difference apart, Justice Srikrishna has recorded in para 2.9 and para 3.1 of Volume I that the first news of the destruction of that structure started to come into Mumbai from 14.30 hours. The question that rises then is: how could the police have given permission, how it could have arranged for officers and constables, how could the big stage for the rally have been prepared and how could 200 to 300 people have assembled for the rally -- all in the space of one-and-a-half hours after the demolition news? There seems to be only one reality: the rally was pre-arranged, before the demolition of the Babri structure.

Funnily enough, Ms Setalvad's article believes that, "The historic value of the Srikrishna Commission's report lies in its meticulous sequencing of events..." Funnily, too, she herself puts the time of her "critical case" as 2 pm-- that is half an hour before the demolition news started coming in and two hours (or two hours, forty minutes) before that stated in Srikrishna's report on the rally that "was ostensibly to celebrate the demolition." Ms Setalvad should really read Perry Mason before she next pronounces anyone as "guilty beyond reasonable doubt".

The second and equally fundamental opinion in the Srikrishna report that is flawed is his view of the Ram Janmabhoomi issue. In a preliminary portion of his report he says, "Time and again, the Hindutvawadis (as the Hindu communal parties are called) raised a shrill cry for the construction of a temple at Ayodhya at the very place where the Babri Masjid stood, claiming that it was the hallowed place where Lord Shri Ram, the embodiment of all that is Indian, was born."

Read that again please to grasp how flippantly a Bombay high court judge used his words in a super-sensitive document. Without so much as a thought that all legally recognised parties in this country must be accepted as secular by virtue of that recognition, he labelled the BJP and Shiv Sena as "Hindu communal parties". One can understand Ms Setalvad using that phrase, but a high court judge indulging in that illegality? If that is not strange, what is? If that is not cussed, what is?

Furthermore, it is pitiable that as eminent a person as a high court judge -- who moreover allowed the media to project him as a devout, temple-going Hindu -- does not know that the Hindu side's claim to the Ram Janmabhoomi site is NOT, repeat NOT, based on Ram being born there.

Rather, the juridical debate has all along been on the actual status of the disputed place on which the Babri structure stood before the appearance of Ram Lalla's idols there on December 22, 1949. The Hindu side says that it was an abandoned building since 1936, no namaaz being offered there since that year. In this respect, the court order of the civil judge, Faizabad, of March 1951 had pronounced that "at least from 1936 onwards the Muslims have neither used the site as a mosque nor offered prayers there."

Again, there is unambiguous archaeological and iconographical proof that a Vaishnava temple had stood at the site until it was replaced by the Babri structure. There is also unanimous and uncontested testimony of Hindu and pre-colonial Muslim as well as Western sources that the place was believed to be Ram's birthplace.

The Hindu side's conclusion therefore has been that the site unused by Muslims since 1936 but worshipped by Hindus since December 1949 and considered hallowed by millions of Hindus for thousands of years should be handed over to the Hindus.

It is strange that "pseusecs" have never bothered to understand this. But considering that we have lived in Nehruvian secularism for the last 50 years, it is not strange at all that while Srikrishna is tipped to become a chief justice, Teesta Setalvad has become miserable.

Arvind Lavakare

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