The Justice Liberhan Commission was set up around 10 days after the Babri masjid demolition in 1992. From then on, it had 399 sittings and was given 48 extensions. Submission of its findings came a good 17 years after the event it was meant to shed light on. A whopping Rs 9 crore was spent on the upkeep of this commission, which now blames “non-cooperation” of witnesses for its procrastination. Whether or not it exposes those under the Babri cloud, India’s longest running probe panel is yet another reminder that digging for truth about inglorious episodes, be they corruption cases or communal violence, has become something of a farce. Hundreds of inquiry panels have popped up since 1956, most with little to show for the effort and taxpayers’ money.
Meant to conduct impartial probes, these entities have long come to resemble instruments for putting off fact-finding and fixing of blame. Worse, when reports do materialise, governments can accept or junk them, depending on what’s expedient. While delaying tactics may be a cunning way to diffuse crises, they breed popular cynicism by appearing to reject accountability in public life. And, ironically, when old issues aren’t given closure, public discourse is hijacked by their periodic reappearances. The nation keeps flogging dead horses instead of moving forward. This unedifying scenario risks being played out again, with Indians being thrust back to the fractious identity politics which marked the 1990s.
Once the report is made public, political parties should look at the findings less as a chance for generalised mud-slinging than for seeking ways to avoid a repeat of the past. India’s netas without exception have claimed shock at the events of December 1992 and their aftermath. They need to put their politics where their mouth is by acting in concert to now serve the ends of justice. We need a consensus on ensuring police autonomy and modernisation, and a law on communal violence. Without unfettered action, law enforcers can’t meet unprecedented challenges like Ayodhya. And the hands of security forces can only be strengthened by a law that makes booking rioters a matter of clear-cut procedure rather than political dictation.
India has undergone a sea change since 1992. Today, it has aspirational aims rather than antediluvian agendas. As poll mandates at the national level or in post-Amarnath Kashmir and post-Kandhamal Orissa show, people want governance and development, not manipulation of their sentiments by sectarian forces. Such an India needs unifying symbols, not monuments to social discord. Let Ayodhya become a site of social harmony. Build a museum there celebrating Hindu-Muslim unity, which records the evidence of syncretism between the two religions, so that no community thinks of itself as losing out for or winning at the cost of another. That will be the best way to redeem the past.