Will the Congress gamble pay off?

The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was clearly opposed to any further deferment of the Allahabad High Court verdict in the Ayodhya title suit. This was reflected in the views expressed by Attorney-General Goolam E. Vahanvati in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, when he made a plea for an end to uncertainty, and pointed out that “the law and order machinery” could not be kept “in sustained animation.”

Party sources said the UPA government, which had been steeling itself for the last few weeks to face the impact — if any — of the Allahabad High Court judgment, was forced to take a political call after the Supreme Court last week stayed the High Court judgment, pending its efforts — in response to a petition filed before it — for an out-of-court settlement.

With the Central government already working to a plan, this was a new situation that it needed to respond carefully, official sources said, especially as it found itself being accused of trying to defer the judgment. Worse, a majority of the parties to the dispute had responded negatively, ruling out the possibility of any out-of-court settlement and stressing that they wanted the judgment. Finally, the negative reaction to the deferment from the Muslim community, party sources said, shook up the Congress, as it is trying hard to consolidate its minority vote base.

The Centre had been against any long-term stay on the verdict, official sources added, especially as it would have meant reconstituting the Bench with one of the three judges on it due to retire soon. This made it doubly resolute about ensuring, as far as possible, that the court verdict should not be delayed any further, even though there was a minority view in the government that it should take advantage of the delay, in view of the coming Commonwealth Games and the situation in Kashmir.

But this view was rejected, as it was felt this would damage the Congress and the government far more, while lending credence to the BJP's propaganda that it wanted to defer the judgment. It was this position that was mirrored in the arguments made by the AG in the Supreme Court.

Indeed, if the judgment had been postponed indefinitely, official sources said, the government would have had to rework the plan it had put together. It had already taken several anticipatory steps, keeping in mind the possible impact of the judgment, even though the reports from the ground the party was receiving was that the sangh parivar was not being able to mobilise much support — and the Muslims were silent. The government had not only helped to strengthen security arrangements in Uttar Pradesh and other “sensitive” parts of the country, banned bulk text messages but also requested the media not to sensationalise the situation — the Union Cabinet, and later, Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, had issued appeals to the people to maintain peace and pointed out that the aggrieved party could appeal to a higher court. And from Monday night, there is a 24-hour control room set up in the Press Information Bureau to monitor all news channels.

The first hint that the Congress, too, was opposed to deferment came when Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh, on Monday, on the eve of the Supreme Court order on Tuesday, said, “We want the law to take its own course and the judgment should come.”

Now, it remains to be seen if the Congress gamble pays off, as all parties to the dispute wait for the much awaited High Court verdict, posted now for September 30.

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Printable version | Apr 16, 2021 6:38:17 AM |

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