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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 15.04.01
Wordplay is part of the armoury of any successful politician. Politicians use words to their convenience, sometimes to cover their tracks, sometimes to dissemble and sometimes to suggest something which is the opposite of their real beliefs and feelings. The better the politician at wordplay, the craftier he is. Indira Gandhi, in her time, was a master of saying one thing and meaning another. Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee has slowed down physically, but has lost none of his skills in the use of words. The importance of wordplay was on display when the former prime minister, Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao, and the current home minister, Mr L.K. Advani, deposed before the Liberhan commission, which is investigating the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. Both Mr Rao and Mr Advani were key players in the horrible drama that was enacted in Ayodhya on that day. Mr Rao was then the prime minister and many felt that he, like the Roman emperor, Nero, had remained idle while an act of devastation was carried out. Mr Advani was on the other side. His critics have maintained that he was the real author of the demolition. It was his rathyatra that had roused the rabble. He had prepared the ground for the destruction of the mosque. Mr Advani had been present in Ayodhya and had witnessed the demolition. It is significant that both leaders, despite their innumerable political differences, used their appearances before the Liberhan commission to make political points. The task of the commission is to find out what had happened in Ayodhya on December 6, to bring together a narrative based on a number of different versions of the event presented before it. Those who are being called to give testimony are supposed to help the commission in its task. Behind the commission is the will to truth. That truth may be elusive and multi-layered, but it harbours for its self-sustenance the illusion of impartiality. The testimonies of Mr Rao and Mr Advani emphasize this illusion. Both provided evidence that was self-serving. It might satisfy Mr Rao's ego to say that he was "explaining to history". But that was not why he had been called before the commission. History is quite capable of arriving at its own explanations without Mr Rao's help. Similarly, the fact that Mr Advani had been profoundly depressed by the events of December 6, 1992 is of no consequence to the commission. Such a confession may absolve Mr Advani of his own feelings of guilt but it does not help in understanding the events of that day. Mr Rao tried in his statement to explain his inactivity by passing on the responsibility to the then chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mr Kalyan Singh. Mr Advani decided to use the terms, de jure, and de facto to suggest what had been demolished was de jure - a temple with the superstructure of a mosque. Behind the Latin phrases is the refusal to explain or help explain why a structure dating back to the 16th century had to be brought down. That the anger of the crowd had precipitated the destruction is at one level self-evident, and at another deeper level, it is a refusal to answer the question why the mosque was the target and what had fuelled the anger. Mr Advani, because he wants to detract from his own role, glosses over the agenda of his rathyatra. Like Mr Rao, he is also content to pass the buck. It is interesting to see the affects deployed in this act of whitewashing. History, Latin phrases, personal pain, court orders, betrayals are all called into play to help politicians project themselves in a favourable light. The self-serving character of both testimonies is to an extent expected since neither Mr Rao, nor Mr Advani would like to implicate themselves in the demolition of Babri Masjid. What is worth underlining is that the sites of their testimonies are complementary. Their personalities have become more important than the demolition: how they want to be judged by history has taken precedence over what was done to a historical building.