Catharsis in Waiting

A judicial commission set up to examine the evidence of the mosque destruction and fix responsibilities has finally presented its report to the Indian government.
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A lifetime of a nation is often punctuated with trials by fire. India's one such test was on 6 December, 1992. It had seemed that fateful day that India's whole social fabric was being torn asunder by a group of marauding religious Hindu radicals.

Heeding a call given by the Viswa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) and Bajrang Dal (group in the name of Hindu mythological figure, Hanuman), two affiliates of the Hindu radicalist organization, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Force) and its political wing, Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People's Party), this violent group of religious thugs attacked a 14th century mosque in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh to destroy it thoroughly in a classic show of philistinic rage reminiscent of the Middle Ages.

A dark cloud of a deeply uncertain future descended over India that day. The central government of the day, led by the Congress Party, put up a show of helpless hand wringing, while the state government of Uttar Pradesh, led by the BJP maintained a defiant silence. The religious riots that commenced the utter destruction are now part of India's history.

But some of the memories are now being revived after 17 years because a judicial commission set up to examine the evidence of the mosque destruction and fix responsibilities has finally presented its report to the government -- another led by the Congress Party. The commission was set up with an original mandate to come up with its findings in span of three months. They have finally delivered after close to two decades.

The chairman of the commission, retired Justice MS Liberhan has not explained the reasons, which delayed for so long his presentation of the report. Indian media is currently in the mode of questioning the efficacy of such commissions that produce their findings long after the wounds have festered.

But this line of inquiry actually obfuscates the motive forces that have guided such a decision to present the report now in all its four volume, thousand page glory. The report of the commission has come at a time when the key participants who could have been indicted for the mayhem of 6 December, 1992 have either died or on the verge of retirement. PV Narasimha Rao, then prime minister and a man deeply culpable for gross inaction, is dead. KS Sudershan, then RSS chief who was one of the primary instigators is dead too. LK Advani, the BJP leader who mobilized thousands of people, blinded by religious fury, is on the verge of passing on from public sphere at the age of 82, especially after losing this general election to the Congress Party.

Those who remain are either not guilty or at best minor co-conspirators that have witnessed their political fortunes dipping with each passing day since their dastardly act. But when acted upon by the Congress Party-led government, the report's recommendations would help to build bridges with the Muslim community. That would in turn bring electoral dividends for the former.

On the other hand, the yet-to-be-made-public report could be a ticking bomb. If it has failed in its task to point out wanton failure of the system at the level of the society, governance, and the polity, it could open the old fissures once again.

It needed to be utterly dispassionate in its examination of the contemporary Indian society that could still be roused to a communal frenzy by skillful practitioners of vicious politics. It needed to mark out the faultlines of governance that allowed such heinous acts to occur. And it needed to throw harsh light on the role of the political parties that abetted such hate to surface.

The government in turn would do well to kick off a debate within the country on the basis of the report about what modern India should subscribe. Not many expect a status quoist party like the Congress to trigger a dialectical examination of the relation between the Hindus and Muslims in the production processes of contemporary India. For, that would mean examining the root causes of bigotry at the social level, robbing most of the political parties in the country their easiest tool for public mobilization.

In other words, the Liberhan Commission report or rather what it is meant to be, contain the potential to bring seminal change in the political firmament of the country, provided the actors at hand decide to go beyond the conventional.

The country's home (interior) minister, the Harvard University educated P Chidambaram was asked what the government was planning to do with the report. He was of course reported as saying, "In the life of a nation, there are moments (of consensus)... Let's wait for it." That meant the government is seeking for a consensus to act on the recommendations of the report. In other words, it could also mean that Commission's report would languish in some dark recesses of a government vault as the nations seeks to make up its mind about healing its own wounds.

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