First Person | The Babri Monster

Let’s just bury it and move on

Ghazala WahabGhazala Wahab

Yet another Judicial Commission Report is out and is already in the dustbin of history. This must have been the quickest that any judicial commission report has been trashed and relegated as ‘has been’. But then, 17 years are a long time, things change, people lose interest, life goes on and everybody reconciles to the new realities. Given this, did we really need the Liberhan Commission Report? Even if it was not the dud, that it eventually turned out to be, was this expenditure necessary? Even if it did establish that the demolition of the Babri Masjid was premeditated, and even if it had identified whodunit, would it have served any purpose? After nearly 20 years what kind of closure would it have brought, except open more wounds?

Several people I know, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, have their own Babri moment story. Even I have one. And my moment was of absolute terror. If this can be allowed to happen in India, if a mob is allowed to decide what it wants, then anything can happen. What if the mob is let loose in the city, in a Muslim-dominated area? What if this mob, having tasted success here moves on to yet another target, another disputed structure? What if this mob sets out to right all the perceived historical wrongs suffered over the years? My father dismissed my fears as a feverish mind of a teenager. But he didn’t realise that what he tried to comfort me with was even more frightening. He said then, within minutes of the domes crumbling down, that it was all planned right down to the last detail. The mosque fell because it was allowed to fall.

Clearly, the Central government had a tacit understanding that you will have a few interrupted hours, do what you can in those. After that the security forces will move in. “Don’t worry,” he said. “It is not an unchained mob. It will not run amuck in the streets.”

Fear seldom emanates from the mind, it is usually the gut. It follows no logic or adult, reasonable arguments. And gut is often right. The communal carnage that followed, in city after city, reflected that it was not only about pulling down one disputed structure, in some respects it was also about settling scores. So was it the frenzied mob that did it, or was again a premeditated violence with tacit agreement, that you have a ‘few hours’? More than a whodunit on Babri, we need an answer to this. And repeatedly answers have been provided by various enquiry commissions, but to what purpose.

The riots in Bombay (this was before the rise of Mumbai) after the Babri demolition, dangerously reflected the ‘few hours’ syndrome. The Sri Krishna Committee report implicitly indicted the Shiv Sena, led by Bal Thackeray, which had emasculated the state police. The report named names, incidents and the conspiracies. When the report was tabled, the state government refused to touch it saying that it will create further communal problems as the guilty would unleash more violence. Prime accused Thackeray dared the state administration to take action against him. Government after government lumped it.

The first terror attacks on Indian mainland happened in Bombay after the riots, in the first ever example of cause and effect, no matter how much we deplore that theory. Ironically, not only the enquiry against the terrorists fast-tracked, the cases were filed and the guilty have already been sentenced, while the Sri Krishna Committee report continues to gather dust, forget about even cases being filed. Yet another, ‘few hours’ moment happened in Gujarat and once again it was the Babri monster which had awakened from slumber after a few years.

Fortunately, the aftermath of Gujarat has been very different, probably because they were the first major riots in the age of television, which captured in great details how complicit the government authorised state administration was. In Gujarat, for the first time in the history of communal violence, some heads have rolled, even if the communal situation in the state remains vitiated, even if there are two countries within the state. At least, some amount of closure has been achieved.

The aftermath of the Gujarat riots is a rarity in India, where perhaps the best thing to do is to forget and move on, hoping that a new generation of leaders will be less politically opportunistic. True, given the way the state government in Maharashtra continues to fan one kind of communalism against another for electoral benefits and the Central government looks on benignly, it is difficult to sustain such hopes, but is it still important to hope.

Which is why, I feel that Liberhan was a waste of time and resources. There is no conspiracy left to be unearthed. The truth was known well before the commission was instituted. What is needed is action on those reports that are gathering dust; a commitment of justice and dignity; an assurance that there will never again be those ‘few hours’ incidents again; a promise of life without fear. And a quiet burial, without chest-thumping, of the Babri monster, along with the Liberhan Commission Report.


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