A day after Congress MP and lawyer Kapil Sibal, appearing for one of the Muslim litigants in the Ayodhya lawsuit, told the Supreme Court to defer final hearing in the matter until July 2019, the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Wakf Board, one of the three parties in the title suit, disagreed with his statement, pointed to his political affiliation and said it favoured an early decision.
The Sunni Wakf Board’s decision to distance itself from Sibal’s statement resonated in poll-bound Gujarat where Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised the Wakf Board and attacked the Congress for “the sin of keeping important issues unresolved” for electoral advantage and “making a mess of the country”. BJP president Amit Shah too trained guns on the rival party, and tweeted “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, an influential member of the Wakf Board, told The Indian Express that Sibal should not have said what he said 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”.
Addressing a rally in Dahod, the Prime Minister 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 vexed issue.
In Dhandhuka, Modi told a gathering: “Is everything to be decided on the basis of elections? Or should 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 and 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.”
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.”
“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.