Politics over Ayodhya resonated in poll-bound Gujarat and in New Delhi a day after Congress MP and lawyer Kapil Sibal, appearing for litigant Iqbal Ansari in the Ayodhya lawsuit, asked the Supreme Court to defer the hearing until July 2019.
After Haji Mehboob, one of the defendants, disagreed with Sibal and said he favoured an early decision in the matter — a lawyer for the UP Sunni Central Wakf Board said Haji Mehboob was not its member and Sibal not its lawyer — but in Gujarat, Prime Minister Narendra Modi picked on Sibal’s plea, praised the Sunni Wakf Board and attacked the Congress for “the sin of keeping important issues unresolved” for electoral advantage and “making a mess of the country”.
He told a poll rally in Dhandhuka that Sibal “appears for the Muslim community” and asked the gathering “should we keep an issue such as Ram Mandir pending in the name of elections”. BJP president Amit Shah too trained guns on the rival party, tweeting about “shameful posturing by Congress on Ram Temple issue”. In Ayodhya, before attending the Yaum-e-Gham (Day of Sorrow) meeting to mark 25 years of the demolition of the Babri Masjid, Haji Mehboob told The Indian Express that Sibal should not have made the statement he made in court.
“I don’t like this appeal of Sibal Sahab to adjourn the hearing till 2019. I was in Delhi for three days and I met him on Monday but he did not discuss any such opinion… He is also a Congress leader… Unko aisa nahi kehna chahiye tha (he should not have made such a statement). Faisla jald ho aur desh me aman kayam ho (there should be an early decision, and peace should prevail in the country)… We will accept the verdict of the court,” Haji Mehboob said.
Iqbal Ansari, the litigant for whom Sibal is appearing, said he too had no idea that Sibal would seek deferment of the hearing. But Ansari said he had no objection to what Sibal said. “Lawyers check technical things. Sibal found some shortcoming. Hence, he made the appeal,” he said.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board, in a statement, said a stand was taken by lawyers representing Muslim parties “on instruction of their respective clients” that “it was not the right time to take up the matter for final hearing” and “the Board endorses and confirms” it.
The AIMPLB “expects political statements not to be made by parties, as we have heard since yesterday in relation to court proceedings”. Shakeel Syed, one of the two Advocates-on-Record for the Sunni Wakf Board, told The Indian Express: “First of all, we have no senior counsel, so Kapil Sibal is not our counsel. The order of the Supreme Court starts making it clear that Kapil Sibal is Iqbal Ansari’s lawyer. Also, in the office report prepared by the registry in the Supreme Court, it has been made clear that the appeal has not been serviced to all, so the matter is not ready. How are arguments possible if the pleadings are not there? Unless appeals are ready, it cannot be heard.”
“Haji Mehboob is not a member of the Sunni Wakf Board, so he cannot speak on their behalf. He is there in his own capacity.” Shakeel Syed said. The Sunni Wakf Board has two appeals, with an Advocate-on-Record for each — the other being Syed Shahid Husain Rizvi. After his father’s death, Haji Mehboob replaced him as one of the defendants.
In Gujarat, addressing a poll rally in Dahod, Prime Minister Modi said: “I want to thank you, Sunni Wakf Board, for saying that Kapil Sibal’s request for deferral of Ayodhya land dispute case till 2019 election is wrong. I want to thank them because they have come forward for the unity of the nation… Congress people should stop creating obstacles” in finding a solution to the issue.
In Dhandhuka, Modi told a gathering: “Is everything to be decided with election as basis? Or should the welfare of the country get priority? Yesterday, you must have seen Congress MP and lawyer Kapil Sibal. He appears for the Muslim community. It is his right and we do not have any complaint with that. He tries advocacy to save the Babri Masjid. It is his right and we do not have a problem with that. It’s a rule of Indian judiciary that you present your case in detail.”
“But you dare to say that hearing of the case should not happen until 2019 because there are elections to Lok Sabha in 2019. Brothers and sisters, should we keep an issue such as Ram Mandir pending in the name of elections? Now, I have understood how they (Congress) have made such a mess of the country. They have committed the sin of keeping important issues unresolved as per their electoral calculations,” he said.
“Is the Wakf Board going to fight elections? Congress leaders are saying that these are Kapil Sibal’s personal thoughts. Are the thoughts of fighting elections that of the Wakf Board? Congress is fighting the elections. Should we keep in mind the welfare of India or the political advantage, disadvantage to the Congress if the Supreme Court decides on Ram Mandir,” Modi said.
Reached for comments, Sibal sought to de-link his roles as a professional lawyer and a Congress politician. “First of all, I am a professional. I represented Iqbal Ansari,” he said.
On his request to defer the hearing till July 2019, he said: “People of the country know what the BJP stands for. The Prime Minister just proved it today. My plea was that there should be no divisive politics in India.” “Congress doesn’t want to divide this country. Mr Modi has forgotten his development agenda, his promise of giving employment to people… He has no principles in politics… has no idea what this nation desires at this point, what the youth is craving for, what this country needs. His only concern is how he should retain power,” Sibal said.
On the Prime Minister’s remark that the Congress wants to keep the issue unresolved for political gains and losses in elections, he said: “Congress doesn’t want gadar (mayhem) in this country. Congress wants unity in this country. Congress wants the country to progress and develop. Congress wants people to get employment, farmers to get cost plus 50 per cent, Congress wants exports to increase, Congress wants GDP to be 8 per cent. That is what the Congress wants.”