The BJP may have left Babri behind to embrace the forward-looking development agenda represented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but Babri is reluctant to abandon the BJP. On the day that the party’s star-studded campaign for the last stage of elections in Uttar Pradesh ended, the Supreme Court indicated that criminal proceedings may be reopened against sangh parivar elders like L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti, Kalyan Singh and Vinay Katiyar. This surprise reversal, against the backdrop of crucial elections in UP, for which the party has pulled out all the stops, follows on from a CBI appeal from 2011, focusing on the allegation that the demolition of the Babri Masjid was not the result of spontaneous public action, but of premeditated conspiracy.
Two FIRs were registered in 1992 relating to the Babri Masjid demolition case, numbered 197 and 198. The former refers to lakhs of kar sevaks, persons unknown who brought down the domes of the mosque. The latter names the top leadership of the sangh parivar and accuses them of making communal speeches which led to the demolition. The two threads were connected by the CBI in 1993, when it accused the leadership of conspiracy. However, they were sundered by the courts in 2001 on account of a procedural lapse. The matter relating to anonymous kar sevaks and that pertaining to the leadership were heard separately. In the Rae Bareli court, the charge of conspiracy connecting the two was dropped.
Now, the Supreme Court has expressed its discomfort about the accused being discharged not on merits, but on a legal technicality, and without the filing of an additional chargesheet. It may agree to hear the two cases jointly on March 22, despite the delay of several years. Justice delayed is better than justice denied, the court seems to say. It has sprung to the defence of due process, the mechanism on which the entire justice system pivots, and which may have been poorly served in this matter. The shadows of Babri and the mandir no longer fall sharply across the political landscape. The temple lingers on only in election manifestos, a hedge rather than an equity investment. But outside the political process, it is also necessary for constitutionally valid closure of the Babri demolition issue. The Supreme Court’s willingness to re-examine the question of a conspiracy is a step towards legal closure.