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Saturday, October 31, 2020

The demolition

CBI must appeal Babri verdict. To try and answer question: Does majority and the mob have right of way in a democracy?

By: Editorial | Updated: October 1, 2020 8:28:45 am
From August 5, 2019, the government’s actions in J&K have smacked of hubris, as if to say, “we do what we do because we can”.

The Babri Masjid was demolished in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, but there was no demolition plan, nor any demolition men and women, just an on-the-spur outburst by unknown “anti-social elements.” That’s the essence of the verdict by the special court in Lucknow in the 28-year-old case on Wednesday, acquitting all the surviving 32 accused. It challenges facts and does not promise closure. The razing of the masjid, after all, was a public event. It was followed by communal riots in which lives were lost, and, significantly, it was preceded by a highly publicised and carefully crafted movement which had spelt out its goal: “Mandir wahin banayenge”, a temple will be constructed where the masjid stands. The BJP-VHP whipped up visible mobilisations, LK Advani’s rath yatras happened in full public view, and from Ayodhya on D Day, there were eyewitness accounts, photos and videos of the bringing down of the masjid amid exhortations of “ek dhakka aur do…”. More than 10 years ago, the Justice Liberhan Commission had concluded that the evidence underlined that the mobilisation of the kar sevaks was “neither spontaneous and voluntary… was orchestrated and planned”. Indeed, the gravity of the crime was acknowledged by the Supreme Court even as, in November last year, it laid the title suit to rest, handing over the disputed 2.77 acres to the Hindu side and paving the way for the construction of the Ram mandir that began this year on August 5, the Prime Minister laying the first brick. In the same verdict, the apex court had called the demolition an “egregious violation of the rule of law”.

Earlier, in April 2017, the SC had reversed the judgements of the lower courts to revive the conspiracy charges against LK Advani and others, while clubbing the cases so that the demolition and the speeches made by leaders could be seen as part of the same action. Now, at the end of a tortuous legal process that has stretched over nearly three decades, as the court holds no one accountable or punishable, as it shifts the entire blame to the faceless kar sevak, there is only one way forward: The CBI must appeal against the verdict so that the justice process can run its full course.

It’s not just procedure. The rule of law is at stake. The Babri masjid demolition on December 6 was a moment of shame for a constitutional democracy. It also set in motion large political changes. Many of those transformations — the consolidation of the “Hindu” vote, the rise of the BJP, the resetting of the centre of political discourse towards the religious right — have taken on a life of their own. But underlying these transitions and transformations, is a fundamental question of justice, of the rule of law, that is still unchanged, three decades later: Will the majority and the mob have the right of way? This is a question that the investigative machinery and the judiciary still need to answer in the demolition case, within the ambit of the Constitution. How this question is addressed — and answered — will define a democracy’s commitment to due process.

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