Senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti will be prosecuted for criminal conspiracy in the politically sensitive Babri Masjid demolition case, with the Supreme Court on Wednesday ordering day-to-day trial to be concluded in two years.
The apex court, which dubbed the demolition of the medieval era monument as a “crime” that shook the “secular fabric of the Constitution”, allowed the Central Bureau of Investigation’s plea on restoration of the criminal conspiracy charge against the VVIP accused.
The court, however, said there will be no fresh trial, no transfer of the judge conducting the trial until the entire trial concludes, and that the sessions court will complete the trial and deliver its judgment within two years.
The ruling was also seen as a jolt to presidential ambitions of Advani, 89, and Joshi, 83. Others who will be tried in the 1992 demolition case include Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh, BJP MP Vinay Katiyar, Sadhvi Ritambara and Vishnu Hari Dalmia.
The court noted that Singh, during whose tenure as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh the disputed structure was razed, is entitled to immunity under Constitution as long as he remains in gubernatorial position. However, the sessions court will frame charges and move against him as soon as he ceases to be governor, it said.
The court came down heavily on the CBI for the delay of 25 years in the trial and said, “The accused persons have not been brought to book largely because of the conduct of the CBI in not pursuing the prosecution of the aforesaid alleged offenders in a joint trial, and because of technical defects which were easily curable but which were not cured by the state government.”
Issuing a slew of directions, a bench comprising Justices P C Ghose and R F Nariman said, “The proceedings viz. Crime No. 198/92 (against Advani and others) in the court of the special judicial magistrate at Rae Bareli will stand transferred to the court of additional sessions judge (Ayodhya matters) at Lucknow.”
The CBI will need to frame charges against Advani, Joshi and others under the Indian Penal Code section 120B, that relates to conspiracy, before the court starts examining over 200 witnesses. Several of these witnesses have died. The apex court, in its 40-page judgment, termed the Allahabad High Court’s February 12, 2001 verdict dropping conspiracy charge against Advani and others as “erroneous”.
The renewed hearings in the case are set to bring the issue of Ram Janmabhoomi to the forefront of national consciousness. It offers Sangh Parivar outfits like Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal to come into prominence in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and keep the pot simmering on the issue.
The matter will also enable not only the BJP but also Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government to distance themselves from the issue and let the Sangh Parivar take the lead. The VHP on Wednesday demanded that Parliament pass a law to facilitate early construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site.
Bharti said she was proud of being a part of the (Ram temple) movement and would sacrifice her life for the construction of the temple at Ayodhya.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley denied the possibility of Bharti quitting the Modi cabinet. Several in the BJP disagreed with the assessment that the case was a jolt to those named in the case. Instead, one leader said, those named will be celebrated in the months to come for their role in the movement.
The BJP core committee, comprising most of its senior leaders including party chief Amit Shah and Jaitley, met on Wednesday and discussed the Supreme Court order, among other issues.
Opposition parties, including the Congress, welcomed the order. Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad alleged the ruling was a “well-thought-out politics” of the Prime Minister to remove Advani’s name from the presidential race. “It is well known that the CBI does what the government desires,” the RJD chief said.
However, BJP sources said neither Advani nor Joshi was being considered as the party’s nominees for the President’s post.