Breaking his silence on the political controversy his report has triggered, Justice M.S. Liberhan on Saturday said there was nothing “illegal” or “improper” in naming the former Prime Minister, A.B. Vajpayee, as one of the leaders culpable for leading the country to the brink of communal discord in the demolition of the disputed structure in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992.
Bharatiya Janata Party leaders and others, such as Anupam Gupta, former counsel for the Commission, have said Justice Liberhan was wrong to have indicted Mr. Vajpayee without issuing a formal notice to him.
Speaking to this correspondent from his Chandigarh home, Justice Liberhan said the Commission issued notice to the BJP and many of its leaders were examined as witnesses. He said, “Nobody can dispute that Mr. Vajpayee is a tall leader in that party, which is a legal entity. Just like a Managing Director is responsible for the misdeeds of a company, a leader is equally responsible for the misdeeds of a party.”
When it was pointed out that Mr. Gupta was of the opinion that notice under Section 8-B of the Commissions of Inquiry Act ought to have been issued to Mr. Vajpayee and he should have been examined before any reference was made to him, Justice Liberhan said, “I don’t think so. You read my report. I have not said anything about Mr. Vajpayee in his individual capacity. What I have said is applicable to him as a leader of a party. How can you say that a leader is not responsible? Once a notice is issued to the party, no separate notice is necessary to an individual.”
In his conclusions in the report, Justice Liberhan said: “It cannot be assumed even for a moment that Mr. L.K. Advani, Mr. A.B. Vajpayee or Mr. M.M. Joshi did not know the designs of the Sangh Parivar. Even though these leaders were deemed and used by the Parivar as the publicly acceptable faces and the articulated voices of the parivar and thus used to reassure the cautious masses, they were party to the decisions which had been taken. These people, who may be called pseudo-moderates, could not have defied the mandate of the Sangh Parivar and more specifically the diktat of the RSS, without having bowed out of public life as leaders of the BJP.”
Justice Liberhan, in his report, said there was no manner of doubt admissible in the culpability and responsibility of Chief Minister Kalyan Singh and other icons of the Ayodhya temple movement including Mr. Vajpayee. These leaders could not be given the benefit of the doubt and exonerated of culpability, he said in his report.
Talking to The Hindu, Mr. Gupta, however, said that under Section 8 B of the COI Act notice was necessary if the reputation of any person was likely to be prejudicially affected by the enquiry. He also pointed out that a specific request to summon Mr. Vajpayee as a witness was rejected by the Liberhan Commission on July 29, 2003.
He said the Commission, in its 17-page order, had held that no useful purpose would be served by summoning the (then) Prime Minister at this stage. While so, Mr. Gupta wondered “how can Justice Liberhan now say that notice is not necessary?”