Senior BJP leaders, LK Advani, Uma Bharti and Murli Manohar Joshi and nine others were on Tuesday charged with criminal conspiracy in the 1992 Babri mosque demolition case by a special CBI court. The court later granted them bail on a personal bond of Rs 50,000 each. Apart from the three, charges were framed against nine others including BJP’s Vinay Katiyar, VHP’s Vishnu Hari Dalmiya and one-time Hindutva firebrand Sadhvi Rithambara. The CBI had earlier opposed their bail plea.
The charge of conspiracy is in addition to the existing charges against them for promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion. The serious charge of criminal conspiracy was restored against them by the Supreme Court which on April 19 had directed clubbing two cases relating to the demolition. The court had also directed that the trial be concluded in two years.
The other charges against them include indulging in deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings, uttering statements leading to public mischief, rioting and unlawful assembly. The maximum punishment in such a case would be five years in jail or a fine or both, according to a lawyer who attended the proceedings in the court.
Advani, Bharti and Joshi, who appeared in court for the first time today, had petitioned the court to discharge criminal conspiracy charges against them. The court, however, quashed their plea. Apart from the criminal conspiracy charge, they have also previously been charged with promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion.
Earlier this year, the court had stated that BJP leader Kalyan Singh, who is currently the Rajasthan Governor, will not be tried until his tenure in office is complete. Singh is entitled to immunity under the Constitution while he remains in office. The masjid was demolished when Singh was chief minister of Uttar Pradesh.
Reactions to the verdict
The Congress demanded the resignation of Uma Bharti, who is currently serving as Union Water Minister. The party asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to uphold the law and the Constitution. “One of the accused, Uma Bharti is a Union Cabinet Minister. Having been charge-sheeted, she must resign. Prime Minister must come forward and uphold the rule of law and the Constitution,” AICC incharge of communications Randeep Surjewala said.
Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu came to the defence of the BJP leaders, saying they are ‘innocent’ and will come out ‘unscathed’. He told reporters, “Our leaders are innocent. They will come out unscathed,”
Meanwhile, BJP leader Vinay Katiyar lashed out at Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, saying a case should have been registered against him regarding the firing of police on karsewaks in Ayodhya in 1990. “He (Mulayam) himself has admitted that 16 people were killed. He murdered them, he should be booked for it. Babri Masjid was not there, the place belongs to the Ram temple and even the High Court has passed the order,” Katiyar alleged. When asked about the charges framed against himself, he said, “I don’t want to say anything on this, the court has to take the decision and we will follow it.”
What is the case all about?
The Babri Masjid, a mosque that is said to have been built in Ayodhaya during the tenure of Mughal emperor Babar, came under wide dispute in 1949 after idols of Lord Ram were found inside it. It was alleged that the idols were placed there by Hindu men who have claimed that the mosque was built on the foundations of a temple that marked the birthplace of Lord Ram. Following years of dispute, the temple was raised to the ground by karsavaks in 1992, and a temporary temple was erected in its place. The demolition triggered riots across the country, leaving at least 2,000 people dead. BJP leaders were named in the original FIR filed in 1992 for conspiring to pull down the structure and promoting enemity between different religious groups.
For a detailed timeline of the events of the case, click here.
Fast forwarding to recent events, the Supreme Court, which ordered the prosecution of Advani, Bharti and Joshi in April this year, ordered a day-to-day trial to be held to conclude the case in two years. It described the destruction of the medieval-era monument a ‘crime’ which shook the ‘secular fabric of the Constitution’.
You can read more about LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti facing trial 25 yrs later, here.
In a strict verdict, the top court had said, “There shall be no de novo (fresh) trial. There shall be no transfer of the judge conducting the trial until the entire trial concludes. The case shall not be adjourned on any ground except when the Sessions Court finds it impossible to carry on the trial for that particular date.”