BY TEESTA SETALVAD
Union Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani, after many
excuses, did appear before the Justice Liberhan Commission of Inquiry on
April 10 and 11. His second appearance is due on May 14 and 15.
One of the staunch opponents of the Advani–led rath yatra was the head–priest of the Ram temple at Ayodhya, Mahant Lal Das. He articulated his opposition to the blatant politicisation of religion and was made to pay with his life: he was found brutally murdered on November 16, 1993.
The Times of India dated October 18, 1990 reported the priest’s public displeasure at the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation under the headline: ‘Priest asks Advani to halt yatra’. The text of the report read: “Faizabad–Ayodhya: Bharatiya Janata Party president LK Advani should halt his rathyatra and Muslims from outside Ayodhya and Faizabad should also not politicise the Ram Janmabhoomi–Babri Masjid issue, head priest of the Ram temple, Lal Das said.
”The Hindus and Muslims of Ayodhya and Faizabad can resolve
the issue themselves,” Lal Das asserted while commenting on the situation
arising out of Mr Advani’s rathyatra.“In a meeting, Lal Das, the
head priest for the past seven years of the temple which is at the centre
of a controversy, said a 22–member delegation of the people of Ayodhya
and Faizabad had met the President, R. Venkataraman, in Delhi earlier this
month and presented a memorandum on the issue to him.“He said the memorandum
stressed that the people of the two towns could, if given a chance, settle
the issue amicably among themselves. “The delegation, after meeting the
President, had also paid a visit to Shahi Jama Masjid’s Imam, Maulana Abdullah
Bukhari, who had supported the idea of resolving the issue by the local
people, Lal Das said.“The head priest said the offerings at the temple
were being deposited at two banks. He alleged that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad
(VHP) was “looting the people in the guise of making collections for the
temple”.”The VHP and the local administration are conspiring to oust me
from this post, so much so that the local administration are determined
to arrest me at the behest of the VHP,” he added.
“He was equally candid in expressing fears about himself, saying that he has been receiving several death threats, the reason being that he was one of the few local mahants who knew all the details about how the Ayodhya issue had been allowed to escalate by vested interests. He minced no words in repeating that large amounts of money had been collected on behalf of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas.
“Laldas was not the only mahant to level such allegations. Several other local mahants in Ayodhya, including Gyan Das, the mahant of Ayodhya’s oldest temple, Hanuman Garhi and Mahant Vishwanath Prasad Acharya, who heads the town’s biggest religious congregation, also admitted to the Nyas of having collected several crores of rupees. Some even claimed that the figure had crossed Rs 700 crore.” What have been the results of the investigations into his murder?Should not the mystery of the murder of Mahant Laldas concern the Liberhan commission’s investigation? More mystery and gore surround the commission of inquiry: The sudden and mysterious death, by ‘accident’ of OSD, Subhash Bhan Sadh, an official with the Uttar Pradesh home department on April 30, 2000. His father has alleged foul play because he was carrying important documents to submit before the commission. The Indian Express on July 6, 2000 recorded the mysterious events in an item titled: ‘Was UP official killed for Ayodhya links?’ The text read: “Express News Service — New Delhi/Lucknow July 5: A day after the high court ordered the Delhi police to investigate into the death of a senior official of the Uttar Pradesh government on April 30, the police are taking a fresh look at what was initially dismissed as an ‘accident’. The police have been directed to file a report on the death of OSD Subhash Bhan Sadh, an officer with the UP home department, by August 22.
“According to a petition filed by the victim’s father
Bir Bhan Shad, his son was carrying top secret files relating to the Babri
Masjid demolition when he boarded the Kanshi–Vishwanath Express in Lucknow
on April 30. He was to appear before the Liberhan Ayodhya Commission the
next day. But that never happened as Subhash met with an accident just
before the train arrived at the New Delhi station. The files, the petition
said, are missing.
“Counsel for the petitioner, Randhir Jain said that the case should be handed over to an independent agency as it had not been investigated properly. Standing counsel for the state, KC Mittal, said that although they had not suspected foul play initially, they would now initiate fresh investigations. The matter was heard by the division bench comprising Justice Usha Mehra and Justice SN Kapoor, who issued notice to the authorities at the mortuary to explain their apathetic attitude.”
Where does the investigation into the alleged murder stand now? Does it not have a bearing on the proceedings of the Liberhan Commission?