What a relief it was yesterday, when the useless controversy over Justice Liberhan’s report was blown away as we remembered 26/11. It would have been perfect if we had remembered yet another anniversary — 60 years ago on Thursday, we passed the Constitution, the founding document on which all our laws rest. It was this document which mandated Justice Liberhan’s inquiries, for instance. The Liberhan Commission report was delayed by due process and its findings are not exactly news
only because… well, there was nothing new to find.
Investigating Ayodhya isn’t exactly rocket science. The Babri demolition was played out before the eyes of the nation. All the data that Liberhan could ever need was available in the public domain, in television footage and newspaper files. And yet the commission required Rs 8 crore of public funds and 17 years of our time to deliver. Let’s not hyperventilate too much about the expense. The government squanders more money every time it burps. The real cost lies in the years wasted, blamed as usual on due process. In those years, communal politics entrenched itself in the national consciousness as an inescapable given, though it was only a plot hatched by the handful of people that Liberhan has named.
Let me draw your attention to a case in neighbouring Bangladesh. It is a court case, unlike the Liberhan Commission, yet it bears looking at. Last Thursday, the Dhaka Supreme Court sent the conspirators in the Mujibur Rahman assassination case to the gallows. Curiously, the sentencing was barely noticed in India, though the matter bears striking structural similarities to the Babri demolition.
Hoping to spread the blame, the conspirators had tried to pass off a political assassination as a spontaneous event during a mutiny. Just as the architects of the Babri demolition are still insisting that it was the result of spontaneous public action. It was public knowledge that the murderers had gone room by room through the president’s house in Dhaka, killing everyone, including an infant, in an effort to wipe out the family. Very public knowledge — the house is now a museum commemorating the dead. Just as public as the reams of information on the Babri demolition, which expose it as the outcome of a carefully conceived plan executed with logistical precision.
What the Babri demolition is to India, the Mujib assassination is to Bangladesh, a supreme act of impunity played out in the public gaze, which hijacked the political will of the people and the future of the nation. And yet the murderers got away with it for 34 years. That’s twice as long as Liberhan took, but at least it has resulted in a sentence. Liberhan’s report is toothless. It is only fodder for fiery speechifying in Parliament next Tuesday.
To do away with due process would invite anarchy. But does it always have to be so tediously cumbersome, even in cases of national importance where outcomes are more or less obvious, or at least fall within a narrow band of possibilities? The law must preserve its high ideals, but not to the extent that its practical value is degraded. Miscarriage of justice is criminal. But so is delay, especially in a region where impunity prospers so indecently because of it.
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine
The views expressed by the author are personal.