Congress Member of Parliament Jagdambika Pal, who served as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh for three days in 1998, had to face an awkward moment on Monday during the debate on the Liberhan Commission's report in the House, when the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party pointed out that the report listed him as a karsevak.
Pal was the first Congress leader to speak during the Lok Sabha debate on the report, which indicts top BJP leaders including L K Advani and Atal Bihari Vajpayee, for the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.
But BJP members repeatedly interrupted him to point out that the report lists him as a karsevak (volunteer) who was involved in the demolition. Pal retorted that he was part of the Congress group, along with Arjun Singh and Nawal Kishore Sharma, which was arrested in Ayodhya two days before the demolition, while demanding the dismissal of the state BJP government headed by then chief minister Kalyan Singh.
Renewing the attack on Pal, BJP's president and first speaker Rajnath Singh pointed out that he was only quoting from the Liberhan report, adding, "I welcome karsevak Jagdambika Pal".
When Speaker Meira Kumar gave Pal a chance to clarify his stance, he accused Rajnath Singh of misleading the House, pointing out that he was elected as a Congress Member of Legislative Council in 1982 and again in 1988. He became a Congress Member of Legislative Assembly in 1993, Pal told the House, and added that there was no question of his alleged participation in the demolition.
Rajnath Singh then asserted that Pal had also served as a minister in the BJP government led by Kalyan Singh, but this was proved to be untrue.
BJP leader Shahnawaz Hussain was the first to enquire whether he was the same Jagdambika Pal who had been described as a karsevak in the Liberhan report.
Pandemonium broke out in the House when BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and Ananth Kumar joined the attack and questioned Pal's alleged role in the demolition.
Other BJP members chanted that the karsevak has now turned into a Rahul-sevak (follower of Congress scion Rahul Gandhi).
BJP leader and former UP minister Lalji Tandon, who figures among the 68 people indicted by Justice Liberhan, stated that Pal was dismissing the veracity of the report if he refutes its mention of him as a karsevak.
During his speech, Pal also defended then prime minister P V Narasimha Rao's decision against imposing President's rule in Uttar Pradesh, saying Article 356 was applicable only for remedial purposes and not for preventive purposes.
Quoting Vajpayee's statement during a public rally in Lucknow just a day before the Babri Mosque demolition -- that nobody knew what the karsevaks assembling in Ayodhya would do -- Pal said when BJP leaders themselves were supposedly in the dark, how could Rao have dismissed the state government to prevent the demolition.
He went on to accuse the BJP of misleading the nation by repeatedly declaring that it wants to build a grand Ram Mandir in Ayodhya and claimed that the party had done nothing to resolve the dispute during the regime of the National Democratic Alliance led by it.
Power was dearer to the party than the Ram Mandir, claimed Pal, adding that the BJP had relegated the issue to the backburner fearing adverse reactions by its NDA allies.
"Ye Ram ke pujari nahi, Ram ke vyapari hain (they are not worshippers, but merchants of Lord Ram)," Pal asserted while pleading that the government should immediately direct the Central Bureau of Investigation to initiate a legal course of action against those indicted in the report. He also demanded expeditious completion of the pending court cases regarding the issue as promised in the government's Action Taken Report.