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New Delhi
Sunday 19 January 2020

Sibal puts Congress in the dock

New Delhi: Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal has caused a massive embarrassment to the party by demanding postponement of hearing of the Babri Masjid case in the Supreme Court on Tuesday, a day before the 25th anniversary of demolition of the 16th century structure.

Whatever he or his party may say in the defence of his statement, the BJP, which was looking for another issue after the controversy surrounding Congress’s uncrowned prince Rahul Gandhi’s religion, has got one to talk about during the remaining days of campaigning in Gujarat where the first phase of the two-phase polls for the new Assembly will be held three days later, on 9 December.

The extent of damage Sibal has caused cannot be assessed immediately, but his argument in the court has certainly queered the pitch for the party in the coastal State, ruled by the BJP for the past 22 years.

The BJP was not fighting an easy battle in the State due to the anti-incumbency factor and the act of some caste leaders including Hardik Patel of joining hands with the Congress.

BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have rightly, therefore, raised the issue at pubic meetings in the poll-bound State. Campaigning for the first phase will end on Thursday, but Sibal is likely to be the topic of discussion during the campaigning for the second phase of polling on 14 December as well.

Congress leaders claim that, whatever Sibal has said in the court, he has done as a lawyer for the Sunni Waqf Board, which is one of the litigants in the case. In other words, they have sought to convey the message that this is not the party’s view.

However, the problem for the party is that one of the litigants — Haji Mahboob — has denied that this kind of brief was given to him. As per the information with Hindusthan Samachar, Mahboob is not a member of the Sunni Waqf Board, contrary to the news circulated by another news agency. First, the main litigant, Iqbal Ansari, said this to us. Subsequently, Mahboob confirmed that he is a litigant as he inherited the case from his father like Ansari did from his.

To compound the problem for the party, Sibal has also said that the Sunni sect is interested in an early settlement of the dispute as it has lingered on for more than 70 years. Sooner the court gives the verdict, he said, better for the community as well as the Hindus who want to construct a temple at the site.

This has given rise to another question. The question is: How long will the party distance itself from him? A few weeks ago, he had appeared in the same court and opposed tripletalaq. An embarrassed party had called the statement his own on that occasion, too.

To be fair to him, the party has not always treated him well. Whenever it faces a crisis, it calls him to find ways to wriggle out of the situation. But if his statement or view goes against the interest of the party, he is asked to fend for himself. The party should stand by him on all such occasions.

Sibal was used by the party in Gujarat when Patel caste leaders insisted  on reservation for the caste in job and educational institutions. He worked out a formula that pleased them. The formula has not been made public by the party but whatever it is it has got the approval of the likes of Hardik. As such, it should have defended him for his statement on Babri masjid case.

Besides, being an advocate Sibal is also a member of the party in Parliament; he has also been a minister in the Congress-led UPA government. So, his suggestion, whether in this case or others, matters. His opinion may be the opinion of a section of the party. Therefore, the party cannot completely distance itself from him in the Babri case. More so because, if he has said or done something against the avowed policy of the party, some anti-party action should have been taken against him, which has not been done yet.  All this puts the Congress in the dock.

                                              Hindusthan Samachar/R Narayan/Surajit Dasgupta

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