February 21, 2002



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The Election Interview/Arun Jaitley

'It's a land that belongs to Hindus'

As the Vishwa Hindu Parishad steps up pressure on the Union government for construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya, the prime minister has turned to his law minister, Arun Jaitley.

Election 2002

The VHP has fixed the deadline of March 15 to begin construction, and has demanded that the 67 acres of undisputed land situated around the now razed Babri Masjid should be returned to the Ram Mandir Nirman Nyas.

Entrusted with the task of thrashing out the 'legal issues' of the 'undisputed land', the Union minister discussed its subtle points and the politics of Uttar Pradesh with Sheela Bhatt. Excerpts:

How do you look at the hung assembly syndrome in Uttar Pradesh?

Analyse the last five years in UP. What can a political party do if the electorate repeatedly throws up hung assemblies? Politics doesn't operate in a vacuum. You elect independents, you elect various parties, you give hung assemblies. You are, as a result, laying out an agenda for a combination to rule because a state can't indefinitely remain without a government. The problem in UP is that you have to accommodate a lot more people, otherwise there is no government. If instead of the BJP, any other party had formed the government, UP would have faced the same problem.

But nothing seems to be changing since the last few elections.

But I can tell you, in the last one year the way [Chief Minister] Rajnath [Singh] has led the state is creditable. He tried to get rid of criminals, he got rid of undesirable elements. He tried to inject an element of honesty into the administration. I think he put UP back on the rails. UP had to suffer not because of [its] chief ministers but because it had to carry a bandwagon of people in the government.

It was a political compulsion, not out of any ideological necessity but because of the very nature of a hung assembly which was inflicted on UP.

What, according to you, is the solution?

The only solution for UP could be if there are no hung assemblies. If people throw hung assemblies, they will suffer the consequences of hung assemblies!

In a democracy everybody has a right to vote, agreed. Voters will get a [state] assembly which they elect. You can't elect an assembly and expect the BJP to provide a majority government.

Do you notice any new trends?

I don't see any new trends in UP. It's a state-restricted election. Much as I would have liked to see issues like governance, reforms and improvement in the quality of politics to be the relevant issues, what I saw was that a substantial part of this election was still bogged down by three issues. First is caste, second is caste, and the third is caste. In UP people don't cast their vote, they give away their vote to their caste.

There has hardly been any development in the last five years...

If development had been an issue in our elections, Parkash Singh Badal would have succeeded again. Sitting in Delhi, you don't realise that you have to struggle to find a hutment in rural Punjab. Procurement price has increased by 80 per cent, rural empowerment has taken place, wealth has been generated, highways have been built across the state, for the first time sewerage schemes have been improved. Poverty levels have gone down in Punjab, but still he [Badal] is not winning this time.

Why I lose or you win is not because of one issue in our political kitty. What I am highlighting is -- if development was the issue, Badal would have swept the polls. And even these allegations of his corruption are nothing but bazaar gossip. This perception has been created without any single case. I assure you that neither will the BJP's morale be affected by the results of the assembly elections nor will there be any difference to the NDA government.

Ayodhya, the biggest issue faced by the country after Independence, has been referred to your ministry. What are you looking into? Some secularists have objected to the matter being referred to you at all when the Allahabad high court is looking into it.

I have been asked to tender advice on the legal aspect of what the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the sants have asked the prime minister. Therefore, I can't share that with you.

I would only talk about two matters -- correctly define who the 'secularists' are in this matter. And check the correct facts in relation to Ayodhya. There are two separate pieces of land. There is land A, which is the disputed land on which the Ram Janambhoomi/Babri Masjid structure stood prior to December 6, 1992.

Who gets that land will depend upon what the full jury of the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court decides. The issue of that land and to take a decision in relation to that land is not open to the executive as of today. That's an issue, which is squarely pending before the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court. And the issue is pending since the last 50 years.

The Narasimha Rao government tried to make a reference to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court declined to answer the reference.

Besides this disputed land, which is very small in size, there is a huge land measuring about 70 acres or so. That belongs to the Hindus on which certain Hindu structures existed -- such as Sita Ki Rasoi and Manas Bhawan. These had also been taken over by the central government. The VHP is demanding that the central government return this land back to the Hindus.

The status quo order applies to the disputed land. The Supreme Court has also said that some part of this land may be necessary for the effective enjoyment and for access to the disputed land.

This land may go to those who win the case. The surplus may have to be returned to the original owner. I am only looking at the legal issues. And the facts being examined are of the non-disputed land only. With regard the non-disputed land there is no pending litigation. It's a land that belongs to Hindus for which the Hindus are saying please give it back to us. I am examining it and as soon as I am able to finish, I'll give my advice.

This is such a big issue. At one point of time India was almost vertically divided on the issue. And still our courts are not deciding the issue. It's a shame that such an important issue lies undecided even after 50 years. Justice delayed is justice denied.

I share the sentiments behind your question, I only hope our judges will also understand the feelings behind what you are saying.

Can't Parliament ask the judges to arrive at a decision quickly? Is there no way out to seek an early judgment? After all, this is the hottest issue between Hindus and Muslims.

To expedite this case is one of the issues referred to me and therefore I am going to make some suggestions.

Even for a legal brain like you, don't you think Ayodhya is the most complex issue?

I don't think so. I am only concerned with the 'legalisms'. Secondly, if you work on the principle -- when in doubt, go straight -- you won't commit an error.

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