Monday, October 6, 2008

Power & Politics / Mail Today, October 6, 2008

ALL GOOD things come to an end. Correction.

Not all good things have to have an end. MS Liberhan was 54 and a judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court when he was appointed to head the commission probing the circumstances leading to the Babri Masjid demolition. PV Narasimha Rao was the prime minister then and since then, Deve Gowda, IK Gujral, Atal Bihari Vajpayee have all moved into and out of Race Course Road and barring a miracle, Manmohan Singh may soon have to pack his bags. But Liberhan, now 70, remains the constant.

Last week, the commission which was set up 10 days after December 6, 1992 and asked to submit its report within 180 days, was given another six months’ extension, the 47th occasion that Liberhan has managed to buy time. The commission has already spent Rs 7.5 crore in the last 16 years, making it the costliest and the longest ever panel in independent India. The question that the government ought to ask Liberhan and is not asking is: What are you waiting for? Evidence and cross- examinations ended two years ago, and Rao, LK Advani, MM Joshi, Kalyan Singh, Vinay Katiyar, Uma Bharti are among the many who deposed before the commission.

Liberhan himself has not offered any reason for the inordinate delay nor has the government order last week given any reason for the latest extension. And that is precisely what keeps the pot of speculation boiling. The latest extension ends on March 31, 2009, which is a few weeks before the next General Elections are due.

Assuming the polls will be held as scheduled, will Liberhan drop a bombshell on its eve to torpedo the prime ministerial ambitions of Lal Krishna Advani? The BJP leader has already been exonerated by several lower courts, but Congressmen are now pinning their hopes on Liberhan pulling a rabbit out of the hat, in the form of a sanyasin, Uma Bharti, whose cross- examinations were completed way back. And herein lies the story. During the demolition and through much of the deposition before the commission, she was in the BJP. But her bitter parting with its leadership has seen Congressmen lick their lips in anticipation of the sanyasin spilling a few beans that would make her former colleagues squirm and botch the ambitions of the BJP’s PMin- waiting. Well placed friends in the Congress have told me that the Liberhan Commission is not money down the drain.

Uma Bharti may ( be coaxed to) express a desire to depose again. If she does, her deposition would arouse more media interest than any murder trial. With terrorists mocking at authorities and the resultant wave of nationalism, the Con- gress cannot hope to fall back on BJP- bashing to win votes. But if Liberhan makes the right noises about Advani, some of the minority votes would accrue to the Congress kitty. Liberhan’s long stint on the job comes at a time when judicial commissions are under scrutiny not for what they do but what they do not do. Whenever Liberhan submits his report, credibility is likely to be at a premium since some will view it as a whitewash and others as a witchhunt.

No comments: