TAMIL NADU

This Vajpayee speech campaigns against the NDA

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

Lucknow

A new entrant on Uttar Pradesh's political scene this election season is the Atal Behari Vajpayee Himayat Committee (ABVHC), a "forum of Muslim intellectuals," that has the express intent of "highlighting the positive steps taken by the Prime Minister for the welfare of minorities" and "removing the confusion in the Muslim community about the BJP." The committee has been holding a series of campaign meetings in different parts of the State to send out this message: the leadership of parties such as the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress have used Muslims merely as vote banks while Mr. Vajpayee has consistently tried to assist them. Video and audio recordings of his speeches are being circulated to drive home the point that "though Mr. Vajpayee is part of the Sangh Parivar, he does not identify with the extremist Hindutva elements."

But a six-minute-long video clip of one of Mr. Vajpayee's speeches is quietly doing the rounds in Lucknow and other parts of Uttar Pradesh with another purpose: "calling the ABVHC bluff." This video recording, circulated by a loose grouping of anti-Sangh Parivar activists, Hindu as well as Muslim, and not formally associated with any political party, is that of a speech made by Mr. Vajpayee in Lucknow on December 5, 1992 — a day before the Babri Masjid was demolished.

According to Kamar Alam, joint convenor of the State unit of the Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC), the video footage "rips the mask off" the carefully-cultivated secular, statesmanly image of Mr. Vajpayee. "The speech and its video evidence," asserts Mr. Alam, "clearly shows that Mr. Vajpayee was part of the Sangh Parivar conspiracy to demolish the Babri Masjid." Mr. Alam and several other anti-Sangh Parivar activists allege that the speech instigates kar sevaks to demolish the Masjid and build a makeshift Ram temple.

The video clip, which this correspondent has viewed, raises questions about the content and tenor of the speech. The peroration, in typical Vajpayee style, has elements of the figurative and the allegorical. These portions are open to interpretation, especially when viewed against the background of the sequence of events at Ayodhya on December 6, 1992.

The clip begins with Mr. Vajpayee's interpretation of the Supreme Court's order of November 1992 prohibiting construction on the 2.77 acres. The interpretation is that the Supreme Court has not prohibited kar seva but has only "told us not to start construction till the final verdict of the Lucknow bench of [the Allahabad] High Court is delivered." This is followed by a reference to the permission given by the Supreme Court to do bhajans and keertans. Mr. Vajpayee elaborates on this, ending with a rhetorical question: "Bhajan is not done by a single individual. It is done collectively. And for keertan even more people are required. And bhajan and keertan cannot be done standing. How long can one keep standing?"

His answer: "There are sharp-edged boulders there [at the place of the congregation for kar seva in Ayodhya], and no one can sit on that. So the ground has to be levelled, made fit enough to sit."

The video clip shows that this allusion to "sharp-edged boulders" and the need to "level the ground" is greeted with prolonged applause and cries of "Jai Sri Ram" from the crowd. Mr. Vajpayee pauses after this round of ovation and adds: "We will also be doing yagya, so there will be some construction also, at least a vedi [an altar for performing rituals] will be constructed, and I don't think that the Supreme Court has prohibited any of these. If bhajan, pooja, keertan and yagya take place, then those who are performing these may also think in terms of putting up a shamiana."

Mr. Vajpayee adds that he does not know how all these activities will be carried out in Ayodhya on December 6,1992: "I do not know what will happen there tomorrow" but everything "will be decided by the kar sevaks." In the concluding portion of the clip, he says he "was keen to go Ayodhya" but has been "asked to go to Delhi."

The video clip ends with his statement that he "will abide by the order, but is watching" the developments.

There is a short interactive session after each screening of this video recording by the anti-Parivar activists. Certain points get reiterated.

"Why should a leader of Mr. Vajpayee's stature go into such mundane details as the sharp-edged boulders at Ayodhya and the need to level the ground," asks Krishna Chandra Dubey, a freelance writer who attended one of the private screenings. Mr. Dubey, like many others, is convinced that Mr. Vajpayee was making an allusion to the Babri Masjid and giving a call to demolish it. He calls attention to the fact that the kar sevaks in Ayodhya indulged in some construction — as indicated by Mr. Vajpayee when he talks about the yagya — after the demolition of the Masjid. "They put up the makeshift temple placing the idols of Ram, Sita and Lakshman, and even mounted a shamiana over it exactly as pointed out by Vajpayee."

According to some of the anti-Parivar activists, a more detailed video recording of Mr. Vajpayee's December 5,1992 speech was presented before the Justice Liberhan Commission inquiring into the demolition of the Babri Masjid on February 9 this year. The recording was reportedly submitted to the Commission by the Crime Branch of the Uttar Pradesh police and was played before it at the request of advocate I.B. Singh, who appears for the former Faizabad District Magistrate, R.N. Srivastava, and the Senior Superintendent of Police, D.B. Roy.

Mr. Singh told The Hindu that he had got the recording played before the Commission because he found Mr. Vajpayee's statement about getting orders to go back to Delhi intriguing. "Mr. Vajpayee does not make it clear," he noted, "as to who gave him orders to go back to Delhi or why such an order was issued. As a lawyer looking after the interests of some individuals involved in the case, I think that knowing the organisational and political motivations of the order given to Mr. Vajpayee is crucial to unravel the whole truth."

However, Mr. Singh's request that the Prime Minister be summoned for cross-examination on the basis of his speech has not yet been accepted by the Liberhan Commission. The lawyer is still hopeful that the commission will accept his request.

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