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Unconscionable delay

It is impossible to feel elated by the completion of an inquiry nearly 17 years after the occurrence of the traumatic events it was meant to look into. In any civilised society, the deliberate vandalism wrought upon a centuries-old monument like the Babri Masjid and its destruction would have merited exemplary punishment for all those involved in the frenzied attack and in the conspiracy that preceded it. But then the exertions of Justice M.S. Liberhan are of a piece with the extraordinarily languorous ways of the Indian judicial system. If the criminal trial of policemen indicted for the 1987 massacre of innocent Muslims in Malliana and Hashimpura is still on 22 years later, why should there be any surprise over the fact that the Babri Masjid probe has taken so long? And tempting though it is to blame the hapless Mr. Liberhan for taking so long, it is not as if the Central Bureau of Investigation or successive governments at the Centre and in Lucknow have shown any urgency in prosecuting the criminal cases that flowed directly from the destruction of that 16th century mosque on December 6, 1992.

Indeed, so indifferent have all the dramatis personae been to the fate of the probe that it is hard to escape the conclusion that what is now unfolding is nothing other than the predictable ending of a farce. When the Liberhan report is finally made public, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its leaders will seek to distance themselves from its implications while the Congress is bound to seek as much political mileage as it can wrest from this issue. Going by the record of the 1984 riot commissions as well as the Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry into the Bombay riots of 1992-93, few believe that the justice which ordinary Indians look for will actually be delivered. If the pervasive cynicism about the capacity of India’s institutional system to deliver justice is to be dissipated, it is important to see that the significance of exercises such as the Liberhan commission, however limited they be in scope, is not diminished. It is evident that the BJP still has to pay a political price for its implicit support of its extremist allies such as the Bajrang Dal which were at the forefront of the demolition of the masjid. If the Manmohan Singh government is serious about countering the politics of sectarian violence and hate, it must introduce and then implement a robust law to deal with communal crimes. The need for legislation which criminalises the kind of official and political complicity which was on display in Gujarat in 2002 or Delhi in 1984 or Ayodhya in 1992 remains as compelling as ever. Enacting such a law must be one of this government’s top priorities.

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