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'I don't believe India has moved on'

Last updated on: October 01, 2010 20:19 IST
Madhav Godbole was India's home secretary when the Babri Masjid was demolished in December 1992. He resigned from the Indian Administrative Service soon after.

Speaking over the telephone from his home in Pune with Rediff.com's Abhishek Mande, Godbole says he had hoped Thursday's judgment in the Ayodhya title suit case would take the case to some kind of finality and that despite everything, India has not moved on insofar as religion is concerned.

Do you feel that the verdict bring us closer to some sort of a closure or has it aggravated Muslim angst over the demolition?

I wouldn't say it has increased the dissatisfaction of the Muslims, but I certainly believe that this is not the final say on the subject.

There are going to be appeals in the Supreme Court and we will have to wait for the final verdict.

Would you say that the verdict will truly be complete only if those responsible for the demolition are brought to justice?

That is a separate issue. This was a civil case pertaining to the title of that particular land.

There are separate criminal cases that are going on independently.

We have to see how the Central Bureau of Investigation produces the evidence because as you know the CBI dragging its feet in respect of pursuing those cases.

Unless there is enough public pressure those cases won't see the light of the day soon.

But I do hope that one day those responsible for demolising the Masjid are brought to book.

Would you say that in principle this judgment legitimises what happened in 1992?

No, I don't think so. But I have problems with the verdict from another point of view.

This verdict is more in the nature of arbitration than deciding on the title of the land.

The judges have tried to find an amicable settlement of the issue. Now that is not the charter of the court.

These kinds of efforts were made again and again to find a solution that would be acceptable to all parties with this precise kind of an arrangement that the court has ordered (to divide the land three ways).

In fact, this was suggested way back in 1991 by one of our former Presidents who suggested of the three domes, the central dome should have the temple, one dome should be kept as a mosque and the third dome should be converted into a monument which will signify the secular character of the country.

At that time it was not acceptable to anyone.

Now the court has ordered more or less the same thing. I hope this arrangement is acceptable.

But the issues, which are being raised, are equally important and therefore need to be settled in the Supreme Court.

One can legitimately argue that this judgement effectively regularises the encroachment by the Hindus on that mosque by placing the idols in 1949.

Secondly, the fact that it (the judgment) says that because Hindus believe Ram was born there they have the right to occupy the place.

Now this is something that can happen in arbitration, but not in a court of law.

A court of law has to make its decision on the basis of evidence presented before it.

As far as I am aware there is no evidence to show this is the place where Ram was born. In fact, all that the court has said is 'Hindus believe'.

Hindus believing is one thing than the fact of Ram being born there.

It is being misinterpreted by some sections of society that the court has held that this is the Ram Janambhoomi.

So there is that subtle distinction that must be borne in mind.

The Hindu newspaper comments that the Allahabad high court decided the dispute 'on the basis of an unverified and unsubstantiated reference to the "faith and belief of the Hindus" rather than 'legal reasoning and facts'.

I believe this is what the position is.

So the judgment should have been more black and white than the shades of grey which it is right now.

Yes, that is right.

Do you think the judgment complicates the process of bringing those responsible for the demolition to justice?

It doesn't. Because even if this was to be the Ram Janambhoomi, the fact that there was a masjid at the time -- (this) the court has upheld -- then demolishing it was a criminal act.

Therefore, that case is not compromised by this decision of the court.

In retrospect, do you believe that then prime minister P V Narasimha Rao deliberately allowed the demolition because he calculated that it would deprive the Sangh Parivar of the symbolism that made the mandir movement so effective in mass mobilisation in the early 1990s?

I do not know if you are aware, but I was the home secretary in 1992 and in my memoirs published in 1996 I brought out all that happened during that period and my assessment of the situation and why decisions were taken or were not taken.

Subsequently in 2006 when Rao's book Ayodhya: 6 December 1992 was published, I had written a review in the Economic and Political Weekly in which all issues are discussed.

Rao has himself said that his own party made him a scapegoat. They wanted to take credit if the movement passed off peacefully, but wanted to discredit him if the masjid was demolished as it finally happened.

In my memoirs too I have said that the home ministry had prepared a contingency plan for the takeover of the monument before the kar sevaks arrived and to deploy central forces so that it would be protected.

That would have required Article 356 and imposition of President's Rule. Rao didn't want to do that. What political reasons prevailed on him I do not know but one can imagine there must have been political pressures on him not to intervene.

The general sentiment portrayed in the media throughout the day of the verdict was that India has moved on. Would you agree with that view?

Moving on has become more of a cliche. I don't believe India has moved on insofar as religion is concerned.

India has moved on in other ways, but the common man in the streets still has a lot of links attached to religion.

And till such a time there is a separation of religion from politics we will not be able to move on.

Therefore, it is simplistic to say that India has moved on.

India has moved on from the point of view of the 'chatterati' and the so-called urban elite. But as far as the rural areas have concerned India has not moved on.

What should be the next step according to you?

Should the Centre engage both sides in finding a settlement acceptable to both communities?

Quite frankly, no political party has any credibility left to engage seriously in any kind of dialogue for arriving at a compromise.

My view is that we should leave the matter to be settled finally by the Supreme Court... even if it takes several years to take a final decision.

Let the cases be argued in open court.

Let everyone have the feeling that the court has heard this case and let the court independently announce a judgment that is binding on everyone.

Has the notion of a settlement become redundant especially since the Hindutva adherents sense victory?

I wouldn't say it is becoming redundant because of the proposal to have a mosque and a mandir adjacent to each other!

When this kind of a proposal was under discussion in 1991-1992 the Hindu parties were opposed to the mosque remaining adjacent to the temple.

They were prepared to make all efforts to honourably move the mosque, but it would have to be 8, 10 kilometres away.

Now, according to the court's decision, the mosque will be next door to the temple.

But I am still not sure if it is acceptable to the Hindu parties unless the Supreme Court upholds the same view.

Will the high court verdict make a different Supreme Court verdict -- if that happens -- difficult to accept for those cheering Thursday's judgment and who have previously stated that courts cannot rule on matters of faith?

If we have all matured as a democracy and if we have moved on in the real sense of the term, then the Supreme Court's decision -- whether one likes it or not -- is binding on everyone. And all the responsible persons will have to submit to it and accept it.

In your opinion, what are the positives and negatives from Thursday's verdict?

One positive aspect is that it has defused the situation. A great deal of it was hype with policemen all over the country and continuous blaring by all the media that something terrible is going to happen.

All this had created a fear psychosis in the mind of people. But overnight all of it has subsided with this kind of decision in which everyone has got something.

The court itself has said that it would give a stay of three months for the implementation of this decision. So all parties concerned can go to the Supreme Court. So that is a good feature too.

The third question is the question of faith and whether faith is something the court should adjudicate upon.

A few years ago the Archaeological Survey of India had advised the Government of India that Ram is a mythological figure and not a historical one.

On the basis of this the Government of India submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court following which there was a lot of agitation in Parliament about this kind of thing going against the Hindu ethos of the country.

The government then withdrew the affidavit and said that it isn't the government's position. But the fact remains that if according to the ASI, Ram is a mythological figure, on what basis can the court say that because the Hindus believe this is where Ram was born and therefore it must be given credence?

I haven't seen the judgment, but I believe the other point that the court seems to have made is that the mosque was not built according to the Shariah principles.

Now if it can be ruled that it is a religious place for the Hindus since they were praying there, the same kind of rules and logic must be applied to both cases.

It can be argued, for instance, that it is a religious place for the Muslims too, whether or not it has been built on Shariah principles or not since the Muslims were praying there for a number of years.

Issues such as these will now be argued in the Supreme Court and it will have to apply its mind to these.

Finally, would you say you are truly and completely happy with the judgment?

I expected this judgment to take this case more towards finality, at least the factual position.

The Supreme Court is not supposed to go into the factual position. It is supposed to look into the issue of law.

Even today a number of factual issues are hanging in the air.

So I won't be surprised if the Supreme Court remits the case to the high court for further consideration on certain points.

I am not sure I got my answer. Are you happy with the judgment?

I am happy only in one sense -- that it has defused the situation.

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