After having its say on the Liberhan Commission report in Parliament on Monday and Tuesday, the Bharatiya Janata Party showed its fear of a proper debate on the demolition of the Babri Masjid by trying to prevent Home Minister P. Chidamabaram from replying to the points it had made.
Throughout the minister’s hour-long speech, BJP MPs screamed and shouted at the top of their voices and later even resorted to throwing paper. The Speaker, for some reason, chose not to intervene and have them evicted from the House, thus depriving all those citizens who had tuned in to the live telecast on Lok Sabha TV from hearing what the government had to say.
In a curious way, the orchestrated chaos inside the House was like a farcical reprise of the tragic drama that played out in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992.
Seventeen years ago, according to Justice Liberhan, activists of the BJP, RSS, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Shiv Sena demolished an ancient mosque while the party’s top leaders either celebrated, smiled quietly or expressed “feeble protests”.
On Tuesday, Sushma Swaraj and Ananth Kumar, the senior most BJP leaders present at the conclusion of the debate, did nothing to rein in backbench MPs who went about demolishing parliamentary tradition and the public’s right to information with lusty abandon.
On Monday’s BJP president Rajnath Singh sounded angry and hurt at Mr. Liberhan’s reference to party leaders Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi as “little men”. But on Tuesday, his party handed itself over to little men with oversized, bullying voices. Mr. Chidamabaram refused to yield but he could barely be heard above the din.
Unfortunately for Indian democracy, this was not the first time the BJP has behaved like this in Parliament. Last August, the party refused to allow Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to reply to the confidence motion moved against him. His speech was entered into the records without actually being delivered. Indeed, during the term of the last Lok Sabha, the BJP continuously sought to disrupt proceedings under one pretext or another.
On Tuesday, the pretext was a reference Congress MP Beni Prasad Verma made to Messrs Vajpayee, Advani and Joshi that the BJP said was offensive. Even though Mr. Chidambaram apologised and the reference was expunged from the record, BJP MPs refused to take their seats. And when the Home Minister began speaking after a brief adjournment, the shouting resumed.
Mr. Chidamabaram was combative, insisting that the only issue the House was debating was who demolished the “Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid structure” and not the historicity of mosque or temple. He placed on record the Government’s concurrence with Justice Liberhan’s principal finding -- that the demolition was the result of a “joint common enterprise” by the BJP, RSS, VHP and Shiv Sena and their leadership. And their crime did not end there. More than 2000 innocent people died as a result of the violence that the Sangh Parivar’s calculated act of vandalism unleashed across the country.
Having thus described the crime and identified the criminals, the Home Minister must now find a way of turning debate into action, jaw-jaw into law-law. The UPA government won the war of words in the Lok Sabha by default because the other side kept shouting. But winning the battle for justice will require a stronger display of political will than anything we have seen the Congress put up so far.