WHY MUMBAI WON’T WAIT TILL 2025
by M J Akbar (In Covert 1-15th)
Going by the dubious precedence set by Justice M.S. Liberhan, a half-truth about the catastrophic events of Mumbai 26/11 should become available to Parliament and the Indian public by 2025. Bad luck if you want the full truth, or you want it within your lifetime; you can never hurry a judge determined to be slow.
A fate worse than death awaits the judge whose conscience cannot be purchased at the going rate of a Government bungalow in Delhi. In Mumbai, Justice Srikrishna delivered his findings on the violent consequences of the Babri demolition, a far more difficult and sensitive assignment, well in time. His report has not been allowed formally into the public domain, since it tells the truth, and truth is injurious to the health of a Government that was complicit in the mismanagement of the riots.
The duty of an enquiry is not to restate the obvious, but to repair any faults in the system through a thorough diagnosis of the malady, to lay out the findings fearlessly, and hold the powerful accountable where there has been a violation of trust or a betrayal of the responsibilities of office. A judicial enquiry is much more than a police investigation into guilt. It invokes the highest sense of justice, which is far more than legality. We have become indifferent to the corruption at the lower levels of the criminal-justice system. Are we now being trained to accept partiality and collusion in a judicial enquiry? If nothing is sacrosanct, we will be subject to the dictatorship of the profane.
We did not need 17 years of casuistry to reveal something that was visibly evident within 17 minutes of the first assault on the dome and structure of the Babri mosque on 6 December 1992 – that the BJP, RSS and Shiv Sena were involved. They had led the emotional movement that climaxed on 6 December. BJP leaders like Vinay Katiyar, the alleged mastermind, wear it as a badge of pride. Justice Liberhan has done us no favours by “concluding” what was reported in every newspaper the next day. But he has done the nation and the people a huge disfavour by twisting and contorting elements of the truth in order to hide the conscious collusion of Prime P.V. Narasimha Rao, his home minister S.B. Chavan and eventually, through a conspiracy of silence, the whole Cabinet. It requires a tremendous backward leap of logic to find Rao innocent and hold those who were working to protect the Babri mosque, like leaders of the Babri Masjid Action Committee, guilty. It is true that a few Muslim leaders were shrill in some speeches, but so what? Emotions were high, and their tenor was nothing compared to the rhetoric of others. Incredible as it might seem, this is one of the findings of the Liberhan report.
WITH THE credibility of enquiry commissions in tatters, it is hardly surprising that the protagonists and victims of the barbarous terrorist invasion of Mumbai a year ago are not waiting for any Government-sponsored investigation to run its course. I presume they do not, for starters, want to wait for 17 years. Officers at the very top of the hierarchy, like former police commissioner Hassan Gafoor, have begun to tell their versions to a hungry media. This is not the whole of it. Leaking by police officers on an off-the-record basis has reached monsoon proportions in Mumbai. This constitutes, in theory, an astonishing collapse of discipline; in practice, the Government is utterly incapable of taking any action because anything it does will also expose its own sins of omission and commission.
Widows of martyred police officers have no faith in the Government’s ability or desire to establish a credible narrative of what actually transpired, and why. They are publishing their impression of events, backed up by their individual research, like Vinita Kamte, wife of Assistant Commissioner of Police Ashok Kamte, who died doing his duty while others chose survival over challenge. They are filling a black hole into which the Government has sought to consign that terrible memory. In the process, allegations have been made against serving police officers that cannot be ignored; they must be investigated, and the officers either exonerated or punished.
The reluctance of the politician to pursue the past can be easily understood. Much drama surrounded the resignation of the then Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. Where is he now? Why, in the Union Cabinet, of course, a loyal colleague of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, responsible for managing the whole nation rather than just one State. The resignation drama of 2008 was highly effective, since it staved off any punishment at the polls in 2009. Politicians are certain of one thing if they are certain of anything at all: the voter has a short memory.
Ruling party politicians might find it useful to recall, however, a well-known rule of democracy. When Opposition parties fail to play their role, the people become the Opposition. This takes a long time, and people give their Government a very long rope. But every rope is finite. And a rope can so easily become a noose