The liberhan report conundrum
November 30, 2009 3 Comments
‘Ni-come-aa’ (Nikamma) was the most famous epithet thrown at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by the aspirant Lal Kishan Advani in the run-up to the General Elections. This post is not about the war of words between Advani and the PM but about the ‘other Manmohan’ who is making the newsrounds today, albeit for all the wrong reasons.
Manmohan Singh Liberhan aka M S Liberhan the author of ‘The Liberhan Commission Report’ constituted to enquire into the ‘conspiracy angle’ for the Babri Masjid demolition.
I have already written my missive on the ‘followup-joke’ the Action Taken Report and hence this is about the ‘original’.
Sharp-witted writers such as the one writing for ‘The Hindustan Times’ have already made parody of the Report and hence I will refrain from doing an encore.
This post is about the plausible reasons as to why Liberhan’s report took a long time to ‘come’aa. Now do you get the link between ‘Ni-come-aa’ and this long time to ‘come-aa’.
The 1029 page 127 megabyte report behemoth took the better part of 17 years, 48 extensions and incurred expenses of Rs. 80 Million. A statistician’s delight, one would say. But we have to go beyond the statistics to get the real picture about the delay.
And to tell you the fact for the benefit of those who are yet to read the report, the Justice Liberhan himself has listed the reasons for the delay. My intention is to just build upon it.
The learned justice first lists the ‘lack of infrastructure’ as the primary reason for the delay. He was not having an office for himself and for the Commission’s counsel for a long time. Considering the number of persons who had to depose before the commission, atleast a decent ‘waiting room’ was in order.
This problem of finding office or housing is nothing new in Indian politics. The honorable members of Indian Parliament believe in the theory that ‘Once a MP, even a MP’. Only in India one can find visiting cards printed as ‘Ex-MP’ as if to suggest that the person still commanded some sort of a ‘quasi power’ within the establishment. And these MPs never leave their posh bungalows allotted to them while they were members of parliament.
With over staying MPs and newer portfolios carved out of existing ones to placate the egos of those close to 10 Janpath, the search for office can get really long. Justice Liberhan’s peeve is perfectly understandable.
Next we need to understand the ‘battle of stays’. Nowhere in the world except India can the ‘idea of justice’ (no pun intended) can be more comical. The Government appoints a sitting Judge, in this case Justice Liberhan to probe into the conspiracy angle and another wing of the same Judiciary restrains it’s own member from calling witness to depose !. This game of catching one’s own tail, I am sure cannot get any better.
The swathe of stays that Liberhan had to unwind obviously took a very long time. And with a three-tier judiciary system that we have, the process sometimes had to be repeated thrice over, atleast twice if you consider the High Court and the Supreme Court.
The third important factor which delayed the report was the chapter on Ayodhya. This was a creation of the Commission itself which could have been best avoided both in the interest of time and the length of the report. There is however an etymological reason as to why the reports of commission are as long as they usually are. Most of the law graduates belong to the commerce stream where they are trained to write long essays even for the simplest of questions. It is obvious that even in the case of Justice Liberhan the old practice never really left him. So he indulged in a totally avoidable exercise of finding out the scriptures where Ayodhya was mentioned, the history of the town, the surroundings et all which were not at all germane to the issue on hand. But that is the usual trick as students we played to get a few bonus marks.
The readers of the report would have also noted that Justice Liberhan included maps of Ayodhya as part of the annexures which I am sure given the circumstances would have taken a very long time. We have to remember that the commission started in an era when there was no Google Maps or Google Earth. The maps are well detailed except pointing to the place where Advani was standing or Uma Bharti was jumping for joy.
Next Kalyan Singh : Kalyan Singh has had a love-hate relationship with the BJP top brass and given the fact that the stock of BJP has been going down in UP, he is virtually a ‘cat-on-wall’ so far as his association with the BJP was concerned. Kalyan Singh was ‘undecided’ for the better part of the 17 years as to whether he was ‘happy’ that the structure was razed down or was he ‘repenting’. The Commission obviously had a very tough time to understand the changing postures of Kalyan Singh.
The next problem was Advani. While Advani made it very clear that the razing down of the Mosque was the ‘saddest day in his life’ which made the job of Liberhan easy to bestow him with the title of ‘pseudo-moderate’ the problem that the commission faced was to replicate the ‘prima facie’ evidence against Advani – the “feeble attempt” that he purportedly made to the kar sevaks on the ill-fated day.
The commission was to rely on the evidence that is placed before it to make the judgement and hence it was in the fitness of things to ask Advani to replicate his “feeble call” to the karsevaks. As the political architect of the Ram Mandir movement, Advani was as recently as the first half of this year rabble-rousing about the Grand temple for Lord Ram. While nurturing serious political ambition of being the next Prime Minister, Advani had taken care of himself very well including doing some stunts at a Gym that he inaugurated during the course of his campaign. All this meant that his voice was not becoming ‘sufficiently feeble’ for the commission to place it’s reliance upon it.
The commission also asked a horde of Sadhus and Sants to depose before it causing another administration hurdle. Now which self-respecting Sadhu or Sant would depose on an Amavasya (New Moon Day), Poornima (Full Moon day), Ekadasi or on the inauspicious days of Ashtami or Navami. Also during the day, the Sadhus would have blatantly refused to have any sessions during the times of Rahu Kal. All this meant that the window of opportunity for the commission to examine the witness of the Sadhus and Sants was so narrow that it should have taken several sessions to do business with these ‘holy men’.
Also these Sadhus and Sants would have carried their long ‘Trishuls’ posing another security problem for the commission. The commission also didn’t have proper facilities for a cloak room to house the ‘Trishuls’ during the time of the deposition.
The commission also did itself no favour by digressing from it’s core issue. India’s most celebrated Chief Minister had famously asked the ‘Engineering Credentials’ of Lord Rama including the college where he gradudated from. In my view, this would have prompted the Commission to explore in the angle of whether Ram had engineering qualifications to go with his archery lessons and possibly conclude whether Ram had to rely on Advani & Co for his grand temple. This digression was uncalled for and avoidable. Going into such rhetorical side-issues, the Commission in my view lost it’s focus on the core issue.
The problem of video evidences was perhaps the most critical that caused the delay. Since the videos were shot by amateurs and that too at a time when technology was at it’s infancy the poor quality of the video and audio meant that the commission had to see them several times over to come to any sort of conclusion.
The commission also had to handle the reported obfuscation of Shiv Sena that they had nothing to do with a temple for Ram, essentially an incarnation of Vishnu. The commission had to bridge the gap between ‘Shiv and Vishnu’ before they could pin down the Sena’s role in the events.
The movement of files between the Commission and Government, I am sure would have taken an eternity. Some of the files, we can be reasonably certain would not have been viewed by the commission for it’s notings or the decisions taken upon them but they could have been merely examined for the amount of time that the late PM P V Narasimha Rao took to pore over them. Now PVN wasn’t exactly known for his speed or decisiveness, the one who famously said that ‘deciding not to decide is by itself a decision’.
Justice Liberhan has been severely criticized by the BJP for his decision to include Atal Bihari Vajpayee among the list of those who were in his opinion culpable. The criticism comes in light of the fact that that Vajpayee never deposed before the commission.
Without getting into the legality of the issue, in my personal view, it was perhaps the best decision of Justice Liberhan to not serve a notice on Vajpayee. I can think of 3 reasons why
His first name is ‘Atal’ which translates to being firm. What’s the point of seeking someone’s deposition who’s not willing to look at the issue from the commission’s point of view. His middle name is ‘Bihari’. Need I say anything ?
The third and the most significant reason is the time that Mr Vajpayee famously takes before saying ‘Yeh Asambhav hai’ (This is not possible).
The videos of Vajpayee’s speech it is reliably learnt ran so slowly putting the commission members virtually to sleep. Legality or no legality, it must be the best decision of the commission.
Given these “probable facts” I think the commission has done it’s job fairly and with more a modicum of urgency. The analysis about the report’s delay, in my view should consider the above aspects before being too critical about the commission.
Afterall winning isn’t everything, it is the participation that matters. Extending this to the commission Reporting isn’t everything, it is the report writing that matters.