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India, a defeat for secularism and democracy: Statement on the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya Verdict

Tuesday 12 November 2019, by siawi3


India, a defeat for secularism and democracy: Statement on the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya Verdict

Sunday 10 November 2019,

by Radical Socialist

The Supreme Court’s verdict on the Babri Masjid title dispute will live in infamy. While spoken in the voice of India’s highest court, the verdict rings with the chants and slogans of far-right Hindutva mobilisations. Radical Socialists rejects the Supreme Court’s decision to award the entire premises of the Babri Mosque to Ram Lalla. While we prepare a more detailed analysis of the verdict, some things are already clear: this is a defeat for secularism and democracy, and a clear danger to the interests of not only religious minorities but also workers, peasants and ordinary people in India.

Announced under the watchful eye of a Hindutva government, the verdict represents the victory of a decades old agenda,achieved through relentless organisation and the most significant mass mobilisation in independent India. The Prime Minister has compared the decision to the breaking of the Berlin Wall and L.K. Advani, architect of the mobilisations of the 1980s and 90s, has declared it a complete vindication of his role. It is a reminder that there is no short-cut to confronting the mobilising capacity of the Sangh Parivar which has paved the way for the current strength of the BJP and the continuing spread of the RSS, who have changed the commonsense of the country, and systematically isolated religious minorities. A steady communalisation of society and state (including the judiciary) has paved the way for this judgment.

The SC judgment acknowledges the following illegalities. a) That there was a functioning mosque on the site till 22/23 December 1949. b) That this was unlawfully stopped by an illegal desecration caused by the surreptitious installing of Hindu idols. c) That on December 6, 1992 the mosque was unlawfully and unjustifiably destroyed. The logical course of justice, following these criminal acts, is the restitution of the mosque. The SC verdict however, while acknowledging the criminal illegality of what was done, rewards the perpetrators and their supporters. This sets a chilling precedent for the future.

The judgment has opened up considerable new space for Hindutva forces. They are likely to develop a mobilisational politics towards the construction of a temple in Ayodhya. This will be painted as a ‘national’ task. Working people will be asked to join in through kar seva and volunteer initiatives. Moreover, this verdict has given an impetus tothe creation of disputes at other contested sites.As one of the RSS activists’ slogans of the 1990s and 2000s puts it “Ayodhya to bas jhanki hai, Mathura-Kashi baki hai” (Ayodhya is a mere glimpse, Mathura and Kashi are to follow). The vitriolic mobilisation of Hindus against Muslims will worsen. This judgment has vindicated the basic Marxist theory of state in a class divided society, where the judiciary is an integral part of its superstructure and not neutral, independent or sacrosanct vis-à-vis the ruling elites. It has also exposed and reaffirmed that none of the constitutional political parties, including the Left, pose any challenge to the current descent into darkness, let alone reversing the Hindutva-isation of state and society. Difficult questions of political strategy no doubt lie ahead but one thing is clear: equivocation on the Babri Masjid verdict will be a disaster for the longer term effort to build up the power of workers and peasants against the Hindutva and capitalist onslaught. The failure of a single non-Muslim political force to condemn the verdict reveals the extent to which the Sangh Parivar is setting the agenda, with the full backing of the ruling classes.

There is nothing in this agenda which addresses the real issues in lives of the masses. Constructing the Ram Mandir and carrying forward other parts of the Sangh Parivar’s aims will draw out more contradictions in the political project of Hindutva, offering points of active and structure intervention. Revolutionary, democratic and independent progressive forces have to actively add this principled perspective and long-term vision to all possible initiatives, no matter how small.

We cannot, however, forget the pusillanimity of the so-called secular parties – demonstrated once again in their responses to the verdict. The Congress and SP have suggested that they support the construction of the Ram Mandir and believe that this will strengthen the secular fabric of the country. BSP and CPI statements have tried to evade the issue by praising the constitution and calling for peace. Mamata Banerjee’s silence is evidence of an even deeper paralysis. The CPI(M) statement, while calling for punishment of those guilty for the demolition of the Babri Masjid, has gone no further than talking of the “questionable premises” of the judgment. In short, the bourgeois parties have variously surrendered, evaded, or embraced the verdict and the mainstream parliamentary left has shown itself unable to stand up and fight in a principled and consistent manner, even in terms of its own rhetoric of the past three decades.

Revolutionary, democratic and progressive forces will have to navigate these troubled waters carefully. While insisting on our principled position, we must join in all efforts to provide help and assistance to beleaguered members of the Muslim community in every place they are present; including those carried out by a vacillating left. Provocations and incitements must be met with solidarity, joint fronts and, given the current balance of forces, maintenance of peace. The Left everywhere, through its statements and actions, must stand against efforts to socially isolate Muslims.

But more long term questions also remain. Activists at the frontlines of organising initiatives will have to work determinedly to strengthen working class unity, against those who equate religion and nation. Workers and peasants must realise that genuine emancipation will only come through a politics of class unity and a secular democratic public culture. Often this will mean confronting efforts to paint organising activity as anti-national. But any hesitation on the issues of secularism and communalism today will damage the long run task of building a progressive working class movement. The lie, already finding wide circulation, that this is a balanced judgment must be defeated a thousand times. Skills and analysis in the academy, professions and elsewhere must coalesce into efforts to defeat the gathering consensus.

The immediate prospects on all these fronts are bleak. The Hindu Right is well organised in all these arenas. For some considerable time this will be a seemingly losing battle. We are in a period of what Gramsci called ‘war of position’. Only by standing steadfastly for our key principles – a just, dignified and equal order for all – and supplementing them with a long term strategy, does any hope for the future exist.



Now That Title Suit Is Resolved, Can We Talk About Babri Masjid Demolition Case?

It has been more than six months since the deadline fixed by the Supreme Court, and the trial into the alleged criminal conspiracy has yet to be concluded.

Now That Title Suit Is Resolved, Can We Talk About Babri Masjid Demolition Case?

Rear view of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Mahtab Alam

8 hours ago

New Delhi: On April 17 2017, in an extraordinary order concerning the Babri Masjid demolition case, the Supreme Court of India directed a sessions court in Lucknow to hold daily hearings and deliver a judgment within two years.

As per the order passed by the apex court, there would be no transfer of the judge conducting the trial until the it was concluded. The case, it stipulated, was not to be adjourned on any grounds except when the sessions court found it impossible to carry on the trial for a particular date. It also ordered the CBI to ensure that prosecution witnesses would always be present for each date fixed for evidence, so that the matter would not be adjourned for want of witnesses.

As many analysts have pointed out, the demolition of the Babri Masjid was not just the destruction of a religious structure but a direct attack on the constitution and the very idea of India. The apex court also acknowledged this fact, albeit differently. While ordering a time-bound trial, it referred to the demolition of Babri Majid as a crime which “shook the secular fabric of India”.

“In the present case, crimes which shake the secular fabric of the constitution of India have allegedly been committed almost 25 years ago,” read the order passed by a bench of Justices P.C. Ghose and R.F. Nariman.

Also read: Supreme Court Verdict: Ram Temple Trust to Get Disputed Ayodhya Land

It can be recalled that in the April 2017 verdict, the Supreme Court held that the charge of criminal conspiracy should be made against Advani and 20 others named as the accused in case no. 198. This was contrary to the judgment passed by the Allahabad high court which dropped the charges of criminal conspiracy.

In 2010, the Allahabad high court had upheld a special CBI court’s decision from 2001 to drop the conspiracy charges against Advani and others in the case. As senior journalists V. Venkatesan and Vidya Subrahmaniam document, the court ruling was essentially on technical grounds.

History of criminal proceedings

In the wake of Babri Masjid demolition, two FIRs were lodged – FIR 197 and FIR 198.

FIR 197 was filed in an Ayodhya police station immediately after the demolition. This FIR was against “lakhs of unknown kar sevaks”. The other FIR, 198, contained several names and was registered against Lal Krishna Advani and seven others, including Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti, Mahant Avaidyanath, Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Vishnu Hari Dalmia and Ashok Singhal for making incendiary speeches leading up to the demolition. Unlike the first FIR, notably, the conspiracy charge was missing in the second.

In all, 46 more FIRs pertaining to cognizable offences, and one FIR pertaining to non-cognizable offences, were also lodged.

Also read: Ayodhya Dispute Is a Battle Between Faith and Rationality, Says Historian D.N. Jha

On October 5, 1993, the CBI filed a joint chargesheet citing 40 persons as the accused. This included prominent leaders of the BJP, VHP, Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal. However, the conspiracy charge was dropped against some of the Hindutva leaders on technical grounds.

It was only 25 years after the demolition, in April 2017, that the Supreme Court finally reversed the judgments delivered by the subordinate courts.

“It should be evident from the words of the apex court that this was an instance of justice being delayed, not in the usual, lackadaisical manner that justice is delayed in this country, but because the Uttar Pradesh government over the years and its chief prosecution instrument, the CBI, willed for it to be delayed,” noted Venkatesan and Subrahmanyam.

The individuals against whom the Supreme Court directed that additional charges under Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code (conspiracy) be framed included leading lights of the BJP such as L.K. Advani, Vinay Katiyar, Uma Bharati, Sadhvi Rithambara, Murli Manohar Joshi and Vishnu Hari Dalmia. Kalyan Singh (the chief minister of UP at the time of the demolition) was granted immunity under the provision of Article 361 because he was then governor of Rajasthan.

However, the Supreme Court in its judgment noted, “the court of sessions will frame charges and move against him as soon as he ceases to be governor.”

Finally, in May 2017, charges were framed against those accused in the FIR – except for Kalyan Singh. In response, a discharge application was moved by Advani and others at the sessions court in Lucknow, which was rejected by the court.

However, the court accepted bail pleas against a personal bond of Rs 50,000 each and bail was granted to all 12 accused. In September 2019, the court in Lucknow finally framed charges against Singh and he was granted bail on a personal bond of Rs 2 lakh.

Screen grab of Hindutva activists demolishing the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992.

According to Venkatesan and Subrahmaniam, in the Babri demolition case, voluminous material was available to the prosecution via reports of official agencies and enquiry commissions, including the Liberhan Commission.

The Liberhan Commission, in its report, notes:

“Vinay Katiyar, Champat Rai Jain, Acharya Giriraj Kishore, Mahant Avaidyanath and D.B. Roy etc had begun plotting for demolishing the disputed structure though secretly right from the beginning. The methodology adopted for the demolition was sudden attack on the disputed structure, sudden simultaneous attack on journalists, proceeding with technical logistics like putting of ropes in the holes and then pulling the wall under the domes.”

Moreover, as per the Commission’s report,

“The state by its conduct, ensured non-use of force, and even eliminated the chances for the same by resisting the deployment of the central forces, and restraining the use of force against kar sevaks and the leaders of the movement. Failure to prepare any contingency plan to meet various eventualities not only sent a signal that the police, executive and state was supporting the mobilisation, but also that they would ignore any plot hatched. Participation of the Government in levelling of the structures around the disputed structure, construction of the Chabutra in violation of the court’s orders, issuance of specific orders not only not to fire, but also not to use force against kar sevaks emerged from the prognosis of evidence.”

According to A.G. Noorani’s book, Destruction of Babri Masjid: A National Dishonour, the investigation revealed that on December 5 in 1992 – a day before the demolition – a secret meeting was held at Katiyar’s residence. This meeting was attended by Advani, among several others and it was here that a final decision was taken to demolish the mosque.

During the same period, when Kalyan Singh was contacted, he is reported to have said, “Rok construction par lagi hai, destruction par nahin” – meaning construction is prohibited not the destruction.

Also read: Ayodhya: Once There Was A Mosque

It has been more than six months since the deadline fixed by the Supreme Court of India, and the trial has yet to be concluded.

Though there was no urgency for a matter pending since 1949, the title suit was heard on war footing in recent days. But the demolition case, which pertains to what the apex court now calls “an egregious violation of the rule of law” and the killing of more than 2,000 people across the country, is not being treated with the same urgency.

On July 19, 2019, the apex court extended the tenure of the special judge hearing the demolition case.

The court said that the extension of tenure of the special judge, who was set to retire on September 30, would only be for the purpose of concluding the trial and delivering a verdict in the case. The apex court also asked the judge to deliver a verdict within nine months.

Is justice likely at the end of the remaining six months or will another extension be granted, as was seen in the case of the Liberhan Commission.

Before giving another extension, the apex court would do well to remember its own order, which rightly noted that the the crimes committed in the demolition case “shook the secular fabric of the constitution of India”.