The Bharatiya Janata Party’s raucous slogan-shouting in the Lok Sabha could not drown out the clear message from Home Minister P. Chidambaram’s reply to the debate on the Liberhan Commission’s report on the December 6, 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid. His oration was in the best traditions of truth-telling — a cool lawyerly marshalling of facts punctuated by sharp punches but also by honest self-criticism that is rare in Indian political discourse. True to form, the BJP leaders defended the indefensible — defiant in their insistence that the “disputed structure” met its brutal end because kar sevaks were at the end of their patience. Mr. Chidambaram, on the other hand, must be commended for showing the mirror to the BJP and also turning it inward, admitting on the floor of the House that the P.V. Narasimha Rao government — which made a “wrong political judgment” — was partly to blame for the demolition. Assembling his facts with care and targeting the protagonists with precision, the Home Minister made out an unassailable case against the sangh parivar and the BJP, accusing the latter of breaking “every single promise” made to the Supreme Court, the Central government, and the National Integration Council. The assault on the disputed structure was “pre-planned, calculated, and cold-blooded.” The evidence lay in the variety of tools and ropes ready at hand for destroying the structure, the inflammatory slogans that encouraged the rampaging kar sevaks, and the passivity of the BJP leaders as well as the police and district administration, which “remained a mute spectator to the demolition.”

Even as Mr. Chidambaram laid bare the details of the Babri conspiracy, which could not have possibly succeeded had the Congress central government done its job, the party’s rising star, Rahul Gandhi, was away in Lucknow, refusing even to acknowledge that he had read the Liberhan report. Had he gone through the 1,000-plus pages, he might have learnt that there were other omissions in the report, besides Prime Minister Rao’s tragic culpability. History will record that the Congress in power made two earlier key contributions to the process that led to demolition. It was Rajiv Gandhi’s government that, under pressure from a VHP-led mobilisation, facilitated the opening of the locks of the makeshift temple in February 1986, and enabled the performance of shilanyas in November 1989. One provided fresh impetus to the Ayodhya movement, the other legitimised the Ram mandir project. It was not part of Mr. Chidambaram’s remit to go into this pre-history of the demolition. But the Congress would do well to follow his lead and complete the much-delayed exercise in truth-telling on Ayodhya — so that full closure can be applied to a benighted chapter in independent India’s socio-political history.

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