Not morally tenable

It is unfortunate that the Deputy Prime Minister, L. K. Advani, the Human Resource Development Minister, Murli Manohar Joshi, the Coal Minister, Uma Bharti, and others are trying to shield themselves behind technicalities in the case relating to the demolition of the Babri masjid. The Central Bureau of Investigation had charge-sheeted them and the Special Court, to which the "Ayodhya cases" were referred, had framed charges against them. The stage had been set for evidence.

But then came the Uttar Pradesh High Court verdict. It threw the matter out, not on the merit of the charges framed but on the ground of a technical hitch: The High Court's prior permission, a statutory obligation, had not been taken before issuing the notification on the establishment of the special court. In fact, this was not necessary because the Special Court to which the Ayodhya cases were referred had been constituted after the High Court's permission. The misunderstanding arose because of another notification issued by the Government. This was not necessary. True, the second notification for the constitution of the special court to try the Ayodhya cases was issued without the High Court's permission. But it was irrelevant since the special court before which Mr. Advani, his two colleagues and others were arraigned was validly constituted after the court's permission. Why the second notification was issued is not understandable. But it served the purpose of clouding the real issue: the charges framed against Mr. Advani, his two colleagues and others.

Once it was clear from the High Court verdict that another notification was needed to be issued, the Mayawati Government, by then in position, should have done so after consulting the court. It would have covered up the technicality aspect. But here politics came in. A fresh notification was not issued. Ms. Mayawati made it clear she would not do so. The last date for issuing the notification was September 27. The cat was out of the bag when she held a dalit rally on September 28 in Lucknow where a visibly indebted Mr. Advani was present. That said it all. The BJP felt gratified that the Chief Minister, Mayawati, had acknowledged its debt of the BJP support to her Government. Ms. Mayawati, on her part, proved it publicly that her party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, had paid the BJP its price for the support. Both sides even said at the rally how the combination of the upper castes and the dalits would play a dominant role in the next general election.

However, the notification story is not over. The Supreme Court, which is hearing the appeal against the U.P. High Court verdict, had said earlier in the week that the parties concerned should file their affidavits to explain the position. The Mayawati Government is included. The last word has not yet been said on the subject.

But what happens to the image of the Deputy Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues? Would it not have been better if they were acquitted on the ground that the charges against them had not been proved? To go scot-free on the mere technicality of notification may be legally tenable but not morally. Mr. Advani and others should have themselves told the court not to drop the case on the grounds of a legal flaw.

Look at the future. Posterity may recall that they were let off because there was a lapse on the part of the State Government in withholding the notification. Doubts may continue to lurk whether and how far Mr. Advani, Dr. Joshi, Ms. Uma Bharti and others were responsible for the demolition of the Babri masjid. I do not think that it is good for the three or, for that matter, the Sangh Parivar since they claim to occupy the high ground of morality.

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