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PM Modi, Congress spar on poll impact of Ayodhya case

PM Narendra Modi lashed out at the Congress for linking the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi case to the 2019 elections.

india Updated: Dec 06, 2017 23:37 IST
HT Correspondents
HT Correspondents
Hindustan Times, Ahmedabad/Lucknow
Ram temple case,PM Modi,Ayodhya
VHP members mark the 25th anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition in Ayodhya on Wednesday. (Deepak Gupta/HT Photo)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday lashed out at the Congress for linking the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi case to the 2019 elections, making Ayodhya one of the talking points of his election campaign in Ahmedabad. “Do you want to keep the issue unresolved for political gain or loss in the elections?” he asked the Congress.

Modi was referring to the lawyer Kapil Sibal’s plea in the Supreme Court on Tuesday asking that the case not be heard before the 2019 elections because its outcome could have a bearing on that poll. The court didn’t accept his argument.

Sibal, a former Union minister in the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance that governed India between 2004 and 2014, was appearing for one of the litigants in the case, but the Congress was quick to clarify on Wednesday that his plea was not consistent with its stand.

Congress leader Anand Sharma said his party was not a litigant in the dispute, and would accept whatever decision the Supreme Court made.

“Congress is clear that the matter is before the Supreme Court and our party will support whatever the court says. The prime minister should decide if he is giving any direction to the Supreme Court,” Sharma said.

Interestingly, the Congress wasn’t the only one seeking to dissociate itself from Sibal’s plea. In a statement to news agencies, Haji Mehboob, a litigant, said he was a member of the UP Sunni Wakf Board, and that Sibal was “our lawyer”, but that his plea in court was “wrong”. “We want a solution to the issue (case) at the earliest,” he added.

The UP Sunni Wakf Board was quicker to dissociate itself from not just Sibal, but also Mehboob. The chairman of the body, Zufar Ahmed Farooqui said Sibal wasn’t the board’s lawyer and that Mehboob himself was not a member of the board, “but an individual party to the matter”.

Usually, when there are multiple litigants fighting the same case on the same side, and represented by high-profile lawyers, it is understood that the lawyers are arguing the case on behalf of all litigants, not just one. Indeed, even in this instance, Sibal, Rajeev Dhavan, and Dushyant Dave were appearing for the litigants, and the Waqf Board could be backing off now because it doesn’t want to be embroiled in a controversy, said a lawyer appearing for one of the litigants on condition of anonymity.

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board, an influential body representing Muslims, however, backed Sibal and said this “is not the right time to take up the matter for final hearing”.

“As the representative body (of Muslims), the board endorses and confirms the said statement of the counsels made in court,” it said in a statement.

Modi said he faced a similar situation ahead of the Uttar Pradesh polls regarding triple talaq. “Everybody said that if we take a stand against it, we will face a backlash in the UP elections, but we took a stand and the Supreme Court asked us to form a law in six months,” he said.

“Can decisions be held to ransom for electoral gains and losses or should they be taken for the benefit of the entire country?” Modi asked.

First Published: Dec 06, 2017 23:03 IST