IF ANYONE ran Suresh Kalmadi close on the front pages of newspapers and on TV last week, it wasn’t Manmohan Singh, Rahul Gandhi, Mamata Banerjee or any of the usual suspects. It was Ramesh Chandra Tripathi. Tripathi who, you may be tempted to ask. He is the 71- year- old retired bureaucrat who cited, among other things, the chances of disturbance to communal harmony while approaching the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court and the Supreme Court to seek postponement of the Ayodhya verdict which has been awaiting its denouement for over 61 years now.
Last week, the Bharatiya Janata Party accused Tripathi of being a Congress plant, set up by the ruling party that did not want to deal with the political and social consequences of a judicial verdict that, whichever way it went, was bound to pit one community against the other.
Last Friday, the BJP which had earlier decided to maintain a discreet silence on the matter till the verdict of the Lucknow bench was out, broke the silence and blamed the judiciary for failing to resolve the issue.
After a meeting of its core group, the party said it “ was of the opinion that judicial delays over the last 61 years have contributed to the failure of the resolution on the issue… we hope that the resolution of this issue is not delayed any further” . Why the sudden turnaround? My instincts tell me that the BJP is as wary of an early judgment as the Congress. Both national parties have their reasons to believe that the more the issue is allowed to linger on, the less they will be compelled to take a stand.
Take the Congress. The government at the centre already had its hands full even without the near fiasco of the Commonwealth Games. A judgment either way would have forced it to display some steely resolve in dealing with an issue with immense potential to inflame communal passions.
The BJP’s dilemma was no different: if the verdict went against its cause, it would have been left with no option but to take a strident stand, something that the party does not want to do at this juncture.
You can pin it all down to Bihar, where assembly elections are due to take place in the next couple of months. Electoral considerations have always dictated the agenda of political parties. But what we are witnessing now, and for the first time perhaps, is how parties are using their political convenience to cloud the judicial delivery mechanism.
The BJP turnaround came on a day that its leader L. K. Advani R. C. Tripathi was in Somnath from where, — exactly 20 years ago — he started the Rath Yatra. It was when the yatra entered Bihar that Lalu Prasad, then Janata Dal chief minister, ordered Advani’s arrest which led to the BJP withdrawing support to the V. P. Singh government at the Centre and its subsequent fall.
The political landscape may have changed much in 20 years but Bihar remains as polarised now as it was then. The BJP is a partner in the Janata Dal- United- led coalition government of Nitish Kumar who wears his pro- minority credentials on his sleeve. As electioneering picks up, Nitish has told Narendra Modi that he is not needed for campaigning in Bihar. But the party’s central office is facing tremendous pressure from the party’s state unit and RSS cadres to dispatch the BJP’s most charismatic votecatcher to Bihar.
A similar pressure is now being put on the central office from the RSS and hardcore party faithful. In the last few days, as the apex court and the high court tossed the ball back and forth, the RSS and the VHP top brass have meet several times to take stock. Both agree that the issue cannot be resolved through reconciliation and would rather opt for an early verdict from the Lucknow bench. Both have also assured the BJP that whatever outcome will be dealt with peacefully.
While the BJP deals with its internal pulls and pressures, the message is the government is willy- nilly allowing the perception to gain ground that administrative convenience is more important than judicial pronouncements.
In the process, the clear message that goes out is that a state that is scared of implementing a judicial verdict is impeding the judiciary from delivering justice.