Finally, the wheels of justice are turning in the Babri Masjid demolition case. The possibility of due process leading to justice and closure in one of the most seminal cases in India’s political history seems within reach now, 25 years after the 16th century mosque at Ayodhya was demolished by Sangh Parivar activists in the wake of the rath yatra of the-then BJP chief L.K. Advani, shaming a nation and setting powerful new political dynamics in motion. The Supreme Court’s order on Wednesday sets back on track the judicial process and lays down conditions to ensure that the trial is not delayed or compromised further.
The apex court has ordered that the two separate trials related to the demolition be bunched together and heard in the same court in Lucknow. Splitting the accused into two groups and holding the trial in different courts in different districts has been an important factor in slowing down the judicial process. Significantly, the apex court has restored the CBI’s charge of criminal conspiracy against the accused facing trial in a Rae Bareli court on the relatively mild charge of addressing an unlawful assembly.
This group, which includes Advani, senior BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi and Union Minister for Water Resources Uma Bharti, will now be tried for conspiring to demolish the mosque. Kalyan Singh, Uttar Pradesh chief minister at the time of the demolition, and now the governor of Rajasthan, has been exempted on the ground of constitutional immunity. Both Bharti and Singh, however, must immediately step down in order to uphold the principle of propriety and the dignity of the office they hold .
The two-judge bench has ordered daily hearings, sought a verdict in two years, indicated that the trial judge should not be transferred and ruled against the demand for a retrial. These directives should have come earlier, but even if belatedly, they have revived hopes that the perpetrators, and conspirators, of the heinous assault on the rule of law and the edifice of secular India, will finally be punished. Over 2,000 persons were reportedly killed in the nation-wide riots that followed the demolition.
The events of December 6, 1992 in Ayodhya were the culmination of the abdications of several institutions. The Supreme Court has initiated a welcome process that carries within it a belated opportunity to rectify this shameful record. When it begins, the trial will be monitored closely, especially since the BJP is in government in Lucknow and at the Centre. The quality of prosecution and the cooperation of state agencies will be key to the smooth conduct of the trial. At stake is not merely the fate of an important case, but the ability, and willingness, of the constitutional republic to stay true to its foundational principles.