From Kapil Sibal to Amit Shah, Ayodhya issue made late entry into Gujarat poll narrative, gave parties new fodder
Political parties capitalised on the Babri Masjid issue, and made it a poll plank ahead of Gujarat Assembly elections, scheduled for later this week
The Supreme Court this week resumed its hearing in the long-standing Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute. Incidentally, it was also the 25th anniversary of the demolition of the structure in Uttar Pradesh's Ayodhya. This week will also see the first phase of polling for Assembly elections in Gujarat. The coming together of the two meant politicians cutting across party lines used the former as a poll plank for the latter.
Senior Congress leader and former Union minister Kapil Sibal set the ball rolling in the court. Sibal, who is also a senior advocate representing the Sunni Waqf Board in the dispute, told the court that its next hearing in the case should be postponed until 2019, after the Lok Sabha elections take place. Although he didn't mention the election specifically, he said the case has ramifications on polity of India".
Deferring the judgment, he said, will ensure parties don't use the issue or the verdict as a poll plank for the parliamentary elections.
Sibal said that since it's a sensitive matter and the issue is used to polarise voters, a verdict before the Lok Sabha elections wouldn't be fair. However, the court rejected his plea and set the next date for hearing on 8 February, 2018.
A day later, however, the Waqf Board disagreed with its counsel's remarks. Haji Mehboob, a member of the Waqf board, was quoted as saying by News18: "We have been fighting the legal battle for long. We want an early decision from the court. Though Kapil Sibal is our lawyer, I personally don't agree with him that the hearing be deferred beyond 2019."
Sibal's remarks also led to a flood of criticism from Opposition parties and leaders. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while addressing a rally in Gujarat, repeatedly attacked the Congress over the issue.
"In the Supreme Court, Congress MP Kapil Sibal was arguing (which is his right) for the Babri Masjid. He is entitled to do that, but is it right for him to say postpone hearing till 2019?" Modi said while addressing a rally in Gujarat's Dhandhuka on Wednesday.
"Why does he have to link a Ram Mandir (temple) with elections? Is such thinking proper?" Modi asked the crowd, later accusing the Congress of linking the Ram Temple issue with the elections. "Now Congress links Ram Mandir with elections. They are least bothered about the nation."
BJP leader Subramanian Swamy also said Sibal shouldn't politicise the issue. "He (Sibal) just gave his arguments on the political level, as they will lose the elections if they lose this case," Swamy said. "Sibal presented the view that this judgment would affect 2019 elections. He tried to give political angle to the case. They are trying delay the hearing of the case."
BJP party president Amit Shah took to Twitter to blast Sibal and the Congress party, saying that the Waqf board detaching itself from Sibal's remarks proved that the veteran leader was speaking on behalf of the Congress party and not the petitioners. "Now that Sunni Waqf board has said that they don't agree with what Kapil Sibal said in court, it is certain that Sibal spoke in his capacity as a Congress leader, with the blessings of their 'High Command'. Shameful posturing by Congress on Ram Temple issue," Shah tweeted.
Now that Sunni Waqf Board has said that they don’t agree with what Kapil Sibal said in court, it is certain that Mr. Sibal spoke in his capacity as a Congress leader, with the blessings of their High Command. Shameful posturing by Congress on Ram Temple issue!
— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) December 6, 2017
The Congress later detached itself from Sibal's remarks, saying he was a practising lawyer and was entitled to his views. "Congress has nothing to do with whose lawyer Kapil Sibal is, as it is his personal decision. Our decision is clear: Whatever decision the Supreme Court takes on Ram Janmbhoomi should be accepted by all," said Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala.
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