Ayodhya Committee WB9


Peter Stone

At the end of WAC-3 in New Delhi, a Committee was set up to investigate the ban on discussion of the Ayodhya issue at the Congress. At its meeting in Cape Town, Council asked that the text of the Committee’s report be disseminated to members. It is produced below with slight editorial amendment.

A Report To The Executive Of The World Archaeological Congress

Michael Rowlands and Pedro Funari

Introduction

We were asked to report to the Council on the circumstances leading to the ban on discussion of the Ayodhya issue at WAC 3 in Delhi December 1994. We understood our brief to be limited to the events that displayed weaknesses in the procedures for consultation and decision making and how these might be avoided in future.

To achieve these aims we interviewed two members of the WAC Executive of 1994, Professor Jack Golson and Professor Peter Ucko, and two members of the organising committee in India, Professor B.B. Lal and Dr Makkam Lal. Whilst there was some disagreement over the recall of events, we did not make any attempt to establish the veracity of statements and consider them here only in so far they demonstrate weaknesses in consultative and decision-making procedures.

Background

The key issue concerns the decision by the WAC Executive in Delhi in 1994 to ban discussion of the Ayodhya issue at the Congress in response to external pressures. Based on the interviews and without any insider knowledge of the issues, neither author of the report feels competent to make nor would wish to make any statement about the wisdom of this particular decision.

However, we can point to a sequence of events which suggests the Ayodhya issue had been raised earlier than this on at least two occasions and that some lessons on good practice can be drawn from what happened.

All parties agreed that the Ayodhya issue had been discussed initially at the inter-congress in Mombasa in 1992 and the problem this posed for free and open discussion had been recognised by the local organisers and by both members of the Executive. The former believe that it was accepted that every attempt would be made to exclude discussion of Ayodhya at the Congress and that this was subsequently revoked by Professor Golson. Professors Golson and Ucko deny this but claim instead that it was recognised that such a sensitive issue would require special attention. The latter also claim that an offer was made by the WAC Executive to provide specialist advice on how to deal with such a conflict of interest and this was rejected by the Indian committee. The Executive did not feel they could impose this advice and the offer lapsed.

Professor Golson went to India in March 93 to advise on the organisation of the Congress and he expressed his personal worries about the BJP coming to power in India and the effects this might have if the new government was funding the Congress. The question of funding and impartiality had apparently not been raised until then. It was also recognised, perhaps for the first time, that the date of the Congress would fall on the second anniversary of the destruction of the Ayodhya mosque and this could be a time when violence could easily be triggered. Professor B.B. Lal claimed that on this occasion Professor Golson went back on his earlier undertaking not to allow discussion of Ayodhya at the Congress and raised the issue of the principle of free speech and open discussion. By this time there were also tensions between the Executive and the local Indian organisers over money and rights to publication and semi-repressed anxieties over how well the local committee was coping with the strains of organising a large international congress. Dr Lal obviously still feels considerable grievance and complained that neither he personally nor Indian archaeology in general had received any benefit from holding the Congress.

In July 1994, JG and PU went to Delhi by invitation to discuss a call by Nadini Rao for a session to be organised on the Ayodhya issue at the Congress. It would appear that the threat of a boycott or the threat of external political interference in the Congress became apparent at this meeting. A compromise was claimed by the Executive members that whilst there would not be a special session since there was insufficient time to organise one, papers on Ayodhya could be presented at any session in the Congress. The organisers claimed that the government had been assured that there would be no special discussion of the Ayodhya issue at the Congress and even individual papers would cause difficulties.

The ban on discussion of the Ayodhya issue took place immediately prior to the opening of the Congress under the threat that the Congress and delegates could not be protected from possible violent consequences if discussion took place or a resolution condemning the destruction of cultural property was passed at the Plenary. There was disagreement about whether this was actually said at the meeting with the Indian Minister, was the Executive going back on previous understandings, was the WAC constitution sufficiently clear on what would form an infringement of its statutes and suspicions expressed about attempts to ‘bump’ the Executive into initiating a ban. Since the Congress was about to start and delegates had either already arrived or were in flight, a nightmarish choice was presented of either of issuing the ban on the one hand, or cancelling the Congress on the other, on the basis that the principle of free speech and open discussion had been impugned (in a manner clearly different from the prior experience of the ban on South African participation, which was not intended to exclude issues from discussion). The question this raises for our report however is not whether the Executive made the right decision but whether the decision could have been taken earlier and more proactively.

Recommendations for discussion

We have outlined certain events neither to present a full account of ‘what happened’ nor to verify accounts of what happened but as illustrations of weakness in consultative and organisational procedures.

We suggest the following points for discussion by the Executive:

Is there a clear statement in the WAC statutes about the principles of free speech and open discussion at a Congress or Inter-Congress and that any interference on this principle cannot be tolerated?
Is it clearly stated that the local organising committee of a Congress or Inter-Congress is expected to adhere to this principle and agree to do so in some formal manner?
Are the President and Officers expected to pronounce on behalf of WAC and are they empowered by the WAC Executive to speak on its behalf? Is the President allowed to act without consulting the Executive or Council, particularly if time does not allow for this?
How are decisions made on whether actions by local organising committees or members of the Executive infringe the WAC constitution?
How was it possible for the Ayodhya issue to have been raised several times over a two-year period, and its possible implications clearly recognised, without an emergency meeting of the WAC Executive being called to decide what to do? The Ayodhya issue was not introduced at the last minute and yet for many it appeared wrongly to have been so.
Based on this experience, relations between local organising committees and the WAC Executive require reconsideration. There is clearly a reluctance by members of the Executive to appear to be interfering or showing a lack of confidence in local organisation. However, it should be possible to require as part of the agreement to organise a Congress that the local committee should be informed of those matters about which it must consult the WAC Executive.. It appears that there was considerable lack of clarity regarding the relative responsibilities of the WAC Executive, some of its officers and the local Indian organising committee.
In 1994 there was too much background acrimony over money, rights to publication, and general control of resources. Also, we gained a sense that an atmosphere of general and unending emergency pervaded, with flying visits and expert advice being offered for open discussion but with an absence of confidence- raising over the Congress in general. This constituted a poor background for dealing with the particular issue of Ayodhya and meant that relations of trust had already been undermined .
We present these opinions as items for discussion based on our limited opportunities to discuss the issues with four main participants. We do not pretend to know the history in full, and we have written our report on that basis. We present the foregoing suggestions in a spirit of initiating discussion.

Both Council and Executive discussed the Report and Officers have been tasked to ensure that all appropriate action possible is taken to ensure that a similar situation does not arise again.