New Delhi: Congress leader and senior advocate Kapil Sibal has withdrawn himself from the controversial Babri Masjid case in the Supreme Court.
Sibal was the counsel for Iqbal Ansari, the legal heir of Hashim Ansari, the oldest litigant in the case. He had been pursuing the case pro bono (without charging any fee) for over a decade.
“Sibal is unavailable for the case now, so he is not being briefed. Dr Rajeev Dhawan has been leading the arguments for the Muslim parties,” a source involved in the case said on condition of anonymity.
ThePrint has learnt that Sibal gave in to pressure from within the Congress to not pursue the case as his statements were thought to be hurting the party.
Sources said the Congress brass was worried Sibal’s statements would be portrayed as the official party line.
Sibal, a Rajya Sabha member, first missed a hearing in February, citing the Budget session. He had, however, attended three meetings where lawyers briefed him for the hearing. Sibal has not appeared in any hearings this month.
He declined to comment when reached by ThePrint.
Sibal’s bid to distance himself from the case fits in with the Congress’ strategy to re-align itself as a party not perceived as anti-Hindu and pro-Muslim.
Earlier this month, speaking at the India Today conclave, previous party chief Sonia Gandhi had said that the BJP had managed to convince people that the Congress is a Muslim party, but the vast majority of Congressmen are Hindus but there are Muslims too.
“I used to visit temples when I used to travel with Rajivji…Rahul also used to visit temples, but now we are doing it publicly because of the narrative that BJP built with regard to us,” she said.
Sibal’s controversial statements in court
Sibal, along with some other senior advocates representing Muslim petitioners in the case, had requested the court not to hear the case until 2019, saying the verdict could influence the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
During his campaign for the Gujarat polls last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had criticised Sibal’s stand as being a “delaying tactic”, which stoked a controversy. Even the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board initially distanced itself from Sibal’s statements even though Sibal had not appeared for the board.
In the triple talaq hearing, Sibal appeared for the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and his stance defending the practice for instant divorce was widely criticised. The BJP used it to highlight the Congress’ failures to reform the Muslim personal law.
Sibal’s argument that “triple talaq is a sin but a sin that a Muslim woman signs up for” became the poster statement for criticism against the Congress for not standing up for women’s rights.