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Jamila Verghese
Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Books written by B G Verghese

Seventeen years after the event, Justice Liberhan has produced a 1,000 page report which all should read – so that we do not forget – but few will. Beyond a point, verbosity obscures clarity and understanding. The art of report writing is to be concise and relegate the fine print to annexures. Prolixity does not make for profundity.

A Cruel Charade

After 17 years, the Liberhan Commission produces a 1,000-page report that sheds little light. In any event, many of the actors are now dead.

By B G Verghese

New Indian Express, 8 December, 2009

Seventeen years after the event, Justice Liberhan has produced a 1,000 page report which all should read – so that we do not forget – but few will. Beyond a point, verbosity obscures clarity and understanding. The art of report writing is to be concise and relegate the fine print to annexures. Prolixity does not make for profundity. The very size of the tome further delayed its printing, translation, availability, reading, and discussion. Any good reporter would have done the job in maybe 100 pages, bringing the essential elements and recommendations into sharp focus.

And 17 years? Key actors are dead. Life has moved on. The demolition of the Babri Masjid was not an act of piety but of crude politics that played out over the ensuing years. The notion that wisdom is proportional to the time taken to pronounce a judgement is fallacious. Delay is denial. Commissions of Inquiry have been reduced to worthless exercises in avoiding or evading justice. The procedures are flabby and the Government often takes weeks if not months to provide the wherewithal to proceed – office space, staff and so forth. Then questionnaires are sent out and every busybody in town is invited to respond and all manner of irrelevant submissions are treated with reverence. These same people will then insist on being called as witnesses and will come with counsel to argue irrelevancies. All this theatre is tolerated in the name of democracy and justice when in point of fact it reduces the process to a farce. The Commission then seeks more time. Liberhan was given three months. He sought and was given 48 extensions by obliging governments and took 17 years to complete the job while Justice waited.

True, Commissions of Inquiry are only fact finding bodies on the basis of whose reports charges may be framed against those adjudged culpable. So if the preliminary process is needlessly prolonged, who gains? Only the guilty and their collaborators. It is doubtful if Liberhan has revealed anything new after his Herculean labours. And the further farce of Commission reports not being presented to Parliament without an Action Taken Report by the concerned government is another pretext for delay, a charade within a charade! Here bureaucrats and interested politicians redirect public focus on what they cull out for attention and “action”. In the instant case, the action taken consists of the Government noting or agreeing with the recommendation on 32 counts. In many others it has merely referred the matter to other Departments. Hurray! What a triumph.

Cynicism is in order. This is histrionics, not action taken. Take a look at ATR 1.9. In regard to the cases arising out of the Babri demolition, we are informed that FIRs against “lacs of unknown karseweaks”, against eight other accused and another 47 accused, being heard in special courts in Lucknow and Rae Bareli , “will be expedited”. Thank you.

Contrast this with the Inquiry on Britain’s role in the War on Iraq currently in progress in London. Relevant ambassadors and officials are being heard live, day after day before TV cameras. Heading the inquiry is a former senior civil servant, not a judge.

Contrast this also with the Kargil Review Committee which was not a commission of inquiry nor a judicial commission but produced a report, published commercially as a book available in book stores, with a Hindi translation within four months. It resulted in processes of overhauling the nation’s Higher Defence Command, Intelligence services , Border Management and Internal Security. The KRC only had a letter from the Cabinet Secretary to all concerned to share information and this they did willingly, without taking any oath. They made statements, were questioned, given copies of their responses and requested to add, edit or change anything so that the record met with their complete satisfaction. All did so and returned signed copies of their testimonies. The procedure was simple and more effective than that of any commission of inquiry . More to the point, the KRC produced an actionable report. Time and money were saved, The nation benefited.

The same can be said about many non-official committees such as the Editor’s Guild Fact Finding Report on the media’s role in the Gujarat carnage of 2002. The terms of reference were admittedly limited but the contents telling. The Report was produced within a month. Meanwhile, the country awaits the findings of the Nanavati Commission on the Gujarat killings, eight years after the event. The Inquiry into the 1984 anti-Sikh riots and the Sri Krishna Commission Report on the 1993 Bombay riots were similarly delayed and the latter Commission all but subverted through official machinations.

Very often Judges are appointed to probe matters that are not issues of law but of politics and society. Nothing disqualifies judges from being so appointed. But to assume superior wisdom on their part in these matters is erroneous. There is a clear distinction to be made between being judicious and being judicial.

Copies of the Liberhan report are not yet freely available, a reason for postponement of the parliamentary debate. The entire Sangh Parivar has been indicted for instigation, complicity and cover up - conclusions long reached by most impartial observers on the basis of known evidence. The BJPO-RSS denials and protestations are also old hat. Vajpayee has also, not unfairly, been held accountable because he was the tallest leader of the Party though he did try and distance himself from the actual demolition. Advani lit the fuse and expressed extreme sadness when the anticipated destruction ensued. A devious Kalyan Singh, then UP’s chief minister, played all sides of the game, later quit the BJP years later on being sidelined and is now ready to go back to the fold. Narasimha Rao, the then prime minister, has been exonerated. Maybe he trusted too much and was grossly betrayed by the Parivar’s “pseudo-moderates”, as Liberhan caustically styles them, as was the National Integration Council and the country. His guilt at worst was not action or collaboration but inaction. But maybe things had gone out of control. And has he preempted the Sangh conspiracy r intervened as the Parivar-Sena mobs broke loose, his very detractors would have blamed him for precipitating a crisis and violating cherished federal principles. The Sangh would have gloated over this unearned bonus.

A full reading of Liberhan’s report is necessary to discover whether constructive responsibility has been placed on earlier actors and institutions for their cynical acts of omission and commission – from the original mischief of the 1949 break in to the opening of the locks to the temple within the Babri structure, the shilinyas, bureaucratic and police partisanship, the suborning of the civil administration, the dilatoriness of the courts, et al. The Parivar and Sena must certainly bear primary responsibility for the tragedy. But who, in all honestly, can claim innocence? There are huge lessons for everybody to learn if India is not to self-destruct as a civilized nation.

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