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Ram temple case: Kapil Sibal says PM should do a fact check after Modi criticism

Sunni Waqf Board issues statement after Haji Mehboob kicked up a controversy regarding his lawyer Kapil Sibal’s role in the Ram temple dispute case.

india Updated: Dec 06, 2017 19:59 IST
HT Correspondent
Muslims sit outside a mosque as they observe a black day marking the 25th anniversary of the razing of a 16th century Babri mosque in Ayodhya.
Muslims sit outside a mosque as they observe a black day marking the 25th anniversary of the razing of a 16th century Babri mosque in Ayodhya. (Reuters Photo)

The Sunni Waqf Board said on Wednesday that senior lawyer Kapil Sibal and litigant Haji Mehboob have nothing to do with the influential Islamic organisation in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid trial in the Supreme Court.

The board’s Uttar Pradesh chairman, Zufar Ahmed Farooqui, came out with the clarification after Sibal, who is also a senior Congress leader, requested the top court to hear the Ayodhya lawsuit after the 2019 parliamentary elections.

“The UP Sunni Waqf Board’s case is being handled by two advocates, Shahid Rizvi and Shakeel Ahmed Saeed, in the apex court,” Farooqui said and asserted that his organisation had not briefed its lawyers to seek more time in the trial.

According to him, Sibal isn’t the waqf board’s counsel but representing one of the private parties in the case.

Sibal had remarked on Tuesday that “the case was being used to polarise the electorate with an eye on the polls”. His statement triggered a flood of reactions, with the BJP accusing the Congress of trying to politicise the emotive Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute.

Speaking in Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday congratulated the Sunni Waqf Board, saying: “Everyone wants a time-bound solution except Congress and their leaders.”

“The Sunni Waqf Board must be congratulated for their brave stand on the matter and disassociating themselves from the statement of Kapil Sibal ji,” he said.

Reacting to the controversy, Sibal told ANI: “Our PM comments without knowing things sometimes. Amit Shah and he said I represented Sunni Waqf Board. I was never a Sunni Waqf Board lawyer... PM did not check the fact... And yet he thanked Sunni Waqf Board... Request PM to be a little more careful.”

Sibal’s remarks in the Supreme Court generated political heat after Haji Mehboob, who claimed to be associated with the Sunni Waqf Board, said the lawyer-politician is “our lawyer”.

“But he is also related to a political party. His statement in the court yesterday was wrong. We want a solution to the issue at the earliest. We have got nothing to do with his statement,” news agency quoted Mehmood as saying.

The UP chief of the Sunni Waqf Board contested Mehmood’s assertion that he is a member of the organisation.

“Haji Mehboob, who has given the statement saying that Sibal was a Sunni Waqf Board lawyer, himself is not a member of the Sunni Waqf Board, but an individual party in the matter,” Farooqui said.

The top court is hearing a clutch of petitions challenging the Allahabad high court’s 2010 decision in a civil suit between Hindu and Muslim organisations over ownership of a 2.7-acre land, where the Babri Masjid stood before it was demolished on December 6, 1992.

The high court had ruled that the land should be split between the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla, the infant god Ram. Many Hindus believe the mosque was built on the site of the birthplace of Ram.

A political slugfest surfaced after the first day’s hearing over Sibal’s comments, though the Supreme Court brushed aside his request. The court fixed February 8, 2018, for the next hearing.

The Congress dissociated itself from Sibal’s statement, saying it’s his personal opinion. But the BJP took his remarks to accuse the opposition party of politicising the issue.

Modi said the Congress has sought to link the Ram temple in Ayodhya with the 2019 elections.

“Congress MP Kapil Sibal was arguing for the Babri Masjid. He is entitled to do that but is it right for him to say: postpone hearing till 2019? Why does he have to link a Ram Mandir with elections?” he asked.

On Tuesday, BJP chief Amit Shah trained his guns on the rival party, saying Sibal was speaking on the Congress’s behalf when Muslims want early resolution of the longstanding case.

“Now that the Sunni Waqf Board has said that they don’t agree with what Kapil Sibal said in the apex court, it is certain that Sibal spoke in his capacity as a Congress leader, with the blessings of party high command,” Shah said in a tweet.

“Shameful posturing by the Congress on Ram temple issue!” he said.