The premature exposure of the Liberhan Commission's report on the Babri Masjid demolition may have given the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a day to put its thoughts together. But the extra time wasn't of much help since the earlier revelations proved to be reasonably accurate after the report itself was placed before parliament on Tuesday.
Nor was this turn of events unexpected since the "leaks" were published and telecast by reputed newspapers and television channels. There was no reason to suspect, therefore, that they were wide off the mark.
All that could be said of the early disclosures was that they put the Manmohan Singh government in an uncomfortable position. For one, it was accused of having leaked the report to divert attention from the various controversies which were affecting its position, such as the scams involving Union Minister A. Raja and former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda, the sugarcane ordinance, and so on.
For another, the government was hard put to explain why it was hesitating to place the document before parliament. The fact that it did so a day after the leak showed that its explanations for the delay -- problems of translation, compilation of the Action Taken Report (ATR) -- were not very credible.
For the BJP, the revival of the Babri Masjid issue is not a welcome development. For a start, the renewed emphasis on the Ramjanmabhoomi movement will remind the hardliners in the party and in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) about the gap that has developed between the BJP's present moderate professions and its hawkish rhetoric of the early 1990s.
In addition, the party will find it difficult to disown all that it did and said in those heady days when its exploitation of Hindu religious sentiments yielded huge political dividends. For the BJP now to claim that its present interpretation of Hindutva as an "inclusive" outlook was the right one, as L.K. Advani recently did, would sound unconvincing when juxtaposed against the anti-minority rhetoric of the earlier period.
These are not the only problems for the party. The charge that the demolition was a meticulously planned affair and not the spontaneous explosion of anger by the kar sevaks would not be easy to refute, especially when leaders like Murli Manohar Joshi have already proudly underlined the party's role in mobilizing the people.
There are also hardliners like Vinay Katiyar of the Bajrang Dal, who has revived the memories of those days by refusing to recognize the Babri Masjid as a mosque and has described the day of its destruction as the happiest day of his life. Considering that Advani has long been on record in saying that it was the saddest day of his life, the contrast between the two widely varying strands of opinion in the saffron brotherhood will again come to the fore.
None of this will be helpful to the BJP for consolidating its political position at a time when it is riven by internal differences on personal and ideological grounds. The belief that the Liberhan report will compel the party to close ranks may be true, but the unity will be at the expense of the moderates, among whom Advani himself likes to be counted these days. The result will be that the BJP's position at the head of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will be jeopardized.
It has to be remembered that to constitute the NDA, the BJP had to put the Ram temple issue on the back burner. Now that it has come to the fore again, the party's secular allies in the NDA, such as the Janata Dal-United, will feel uneasy.
In this context, if Advani sticks to his plan to embark on yet another rath yatra to explain his position, as he has hinted, then he will be making a grave mistake. Even if it helps him to regain his 1990 image of the fiery hardliner, it will lead to a fatal splintering of the NDA, making it virtually impossible for the BJP to return to power at the centre. Besides, it will ensure a further consolidation of the RSS's hold on the BJP, thereby strangling all of the latter's future initiatives.
The only issue on which the BJP can be said to have scored over the government was the strange inclusion in the Liberhan report of Atal Bihari Vajpayee's name among those who fomented communal discord. Since Vajpayee remains one of the few genuine moderates in the party, this charge will not be believed. Besides, it is no secret that Vajpayee had opposed Advani's 1990 rath yatra, had pointedly stayed away from Ayodhya on the fateful day and had offered to resign from the party after the demolition.
But for this faux pas, the report has been a reasonably fair one although its virtual clean chit to the Narasimha Rao government, which failed to stop the demolition, will raise a few eyebrows.
The suggestion in the action taken report (ATR) about the central government taking charge of a specified area for the sake of riot control is, however, significant in this respect. This was one way in which the Narasimha Rao government could have intervened since the state government of Kalyan Singh was blocking all other efforts to check the rampaging demolishers.
The granting of statutory powers to the National Integration Council is also relevant since it was the BJP's false assurances to the council (and to the Supreme Court) which lulled the Narasimha Rao government into inaction.
But while the Liberhan report hasn't added much to what was always known, to most people it would seem to be a pity that no one has yet been punished for one of the most heinous crimes of modern Indian history since the desecration of a place of worship had never taken place in this country since medieval times.