The piece of land in Ayodhya, where once stood the Babri Masjid, is now abuzz with movement of big cranes and drilling machines. Construction of Grand Ram Mandir has begun, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the first foundation stone for the temple in a historic Bhoomi Pujan event on August 5.
Two months after the mega ceremony, it’s now time for judgment in a related case of Babri Mosque demolition. Twenty-eight years after Hindu zealots demolished the mosque on December 6, 1992, the CBI special court in Lucknow will pronounce its judgment on September 30.
However, unlike the title dispute case in the matter that saw final judgment being delivered by the Supreme Court in November 2019, the demolition case still can have a long way to go. After almost three decades it’s the first court in our legal system that is set to give the verdict. Deepening upon the ruling, parties concerned will clearly have a right to challenge the verdict in the higher courts of our country.
Despite that possibility, the now awaited judgment from the trial court holds a lot of significance. The case in its legal history has seen lots of ups and downs, delays and then day to day hearings. Pace of trial and investigating agency, that is the CBI’s moves often got influenced by the governments of the day.
Despite the delay, it has been an exhausting trial in which more than 350 witnesses recorded their statements and CBI filled a consolidated charge sheet in 49 related cases. The case that initially had 49 accused, now has only 32 of them alive.
28 Years Of Demolition Case
After 28 years of often-derailed investigations and trial, the matter saw completion of trial earlier this month. The CBI special court in Lucknow has taken up day to day hearing of the case since 2017, after a Supreme Court order. The last days of trial saw the surviving 32 accused appearing before the court and recording their statements under section 313 of the CrPC. It should not come as a surprise that all the accused claimed innocence and alleged that they have been framed in the case.
Among the key accused are BJP veteran and former deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani, Member of BJP Margdarshak Mandal Murli Manohar Joshi, Former cabinet minister Uma Bharti, Former UP chief minister Kalyan singh, Sitting BJP MP Sakashi Maharaj and BrijBhushan Saran singh and former MP Vinay Katiyar
Demolition and Three Different Types Of FIRs
Just minutes after the demolition of Babri mosque, the first FIR no. 197/92 was registered against unknown “kar sevaks” at 5.15pm under sections 395, 397, 332, 337, 338, 295, 297, 153A of IPC, and section 7 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act.
Ten minutes later, a second FIR (no. 198/92) was registered under sections 153A, 153B, 505 of IPC against LK Advani, Ashok Singhal, Giriraj Kishore, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti, Vinay Katiyar, Vishnu Hari Dalmiya and Sadhvi Ritambhara. This was the hate-and-provocative-speech case.
Forty-seven other FIRs were also registered in the days to come related to offences of assault on media persons, looting valuables like cameras and reporting gadgets from them, etc. All FIRs were filed at Thana Ramjanmabhoomi in Ayodhya.
Cases to CBI
In days following the FIRs, a curious move was made by the then government. While case no. 197 was recommended for CBI probe, case no. 198 against accused politicians was handed to the CB-CID wing of the Uttar Pradesh police. On August 27, 1993, the UP state government transferred all the remaining 48 cases, including case no. 198 for CBI probe.
The CBI took up the investigation in all the cases related to Babri Masjid demolition and filed a consolidated single charge sheet against 40 people in all the 49 cases in a special court of Lucknow on October 5, 1993.
More than two years later, on January 11, 1996, the agency filed a supplementary charge sheet against nine other prominent people. The total tally of accused reached 49.
Charge of Criminal Conspiracy Slapped
Contrary to initial FIRs in the case, the CBI in its charge sheet came up with the argument of having concrete and strong evidence to prove that demolition of the mosque was the fallout of a larger and sinister conspiracy. It also came up with new names as accused, which included top guns of the BJP and RSS, the stalwarts of the Ram temple movement. A charge under section 120(b) of criminal conspiracy was added against the accused.
Legal Battle and Derailments Thereafter
With the charge sheet being filed against the bigwigs of BJP and RSS, the stage was set for the commencement of trial in the case. However, the matter got entangled in legal complexities.
September 9, 1997
The special judge, after hearing the petitioner and the defense counsel, passed an order holding a prima facie case for framing of charges against the accused under section 120(B), that is criminal conspiracy, under IPC and other relevant sections of law. The court ordered that formal charges would be framed in the next hearing.
Some of the accused move the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court against the lower court’s decision to frame charges. The matter kept lingering through legal maneuverings.
February 12, 2001
Justice Jagdish Bhalla of the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court passed a detailed order. He found no illegality in a joint single charge sheet for all the FIRs, since the offenses were allegedly committed in the same course of action for accomplishing a conspiracy.
However, taking note of an administrative lapse on part of the UP government, relating to notification of the trial court for crime no 198/92, that is hate speech case against Advani and others, the high court while upholding framing of charges in all other 48 cases, denied the same in case no. 198 against Advani, Joshi, Uma Bharti, Vinay Katiyar and others.
The high court, however, said the state government’s faulty notification for fixing the trial court dated October 8, 1993 was curable and could be done so through another notification.
May 4, 2001
Against the backdrop of the HC order, the Lucknow court dropped the proceedings against not just the original eight accused, but also against 13 others.
June 16, 2001
The CBI wrote to the UP government, asking it to rectify the error pointed out by the high court and issue a fresh notification empowering the special court for resuming trial. The UP government then headed by chief minister Rajnath Singh decided not to issue any fresh notification.
Trial in Different Courts: Lucknow-Raebareli
January 27, 2003
Following legal deliberations, the CBI moved a petition in the designated court of Raebareli, requesting the court to proceed with the trial of the case 198/92 related to hate speeches against Advani and others.
September 19, 2003
In a major development, special magistrate, Raebareli, discharged Advani in case no. 198/92 but ordered framing of charges against the remaining accused. Advani was then the deputy prime minister of India.
On July 6, 2005, the high court after hearing several review petitions filed against the Raebareli court’s order of acquitting Advani, ordered re-framing of charges against him and all the other accused. Subsequently on July 26, the Raebareli court framed charges against all the accused.
As the matter kept languishing in two different courts, a debate raged about the necessity for it and whether the two separate trials could do justice to the matter in which the sequence of the crimes was related. The earlier order of the Lucknow trial court dropping proceedings against 13 other accused and further striking down the charge of criminal conspiracy against the most important of the accused, also remained a cause of legal concern.
March 20, 2012
After a series of derailments and legal hurdles from the trial courts and high court, the CBI finally reached the Supreme Court in 2011 and subsequently filed an affidavit on March 20, 2012, during the UPA 2 government headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The CBI made a strong argument for a common trial of all the 49 cases. It argued:
1) Investigations in all 49 cases had disclosed that there was a single general conspiracy by all the 49 accused, to demolish the disputed structure.
2) Each of the accused facilitated and participated in the fulfilment of the criminal conspiracy.
3) All the 21 persons against whom the proceedings were dropped were party to criminal conspiracy.
4) The 13 accused who were not being tried for any offenses in any court of law were party to the conspiracy and demolition.
5) Hence, it was in the interest of justice that all the accused involved in criminal conspiracy and demolition of the disputed structure were tried in the court of the special judge at Lucknow.
Supreme Court — April 19, 2017
After remaining pending for almost five years in the Supreme Court, a major moment in the case came on April 19, 2017. The top court ruled against the Allahabad HC order of dropping conspiracy charges. The SC ordered invoking of conspiracy charges against the accused including LK Advani and 20 others. The trial of all cases was also brought back to the Lucknow court.
Day to Day Hearing in Lucknow Court
From 2017 onwards a speedy hearing in the case started, as the charges were framed and trial on the joint charge sheet began. In between, with Kalyan Singh becoming the governor of Rajasthan, trial against him was stopped since he occupied a constitutional office.
However, last year, after he demitted the office of the governor, the trial against him also began. Last month most of the big names in the case including Advani, MM Joshi, Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti, Vinay Katiyar and Champat Rai (general secretary of the Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust) recorded their final statements under section 313 of CrPC.
The trial in the case was completed in first week of September after which the court fixed the date of September 30 for pronouncement of the verdict. Advocate Abhishek Ranjan, who is also the counsel for Advani, Joshi and Kalyan Singh, says, “It was a long and exhausting trial over the years. We are eagerly awaiting the judgment. Post-verdict we will take a call on our future strategy.”
Several Accused, Witnesses Already Dead
Over the course of 28 years, several accused have already died which include Bal Thackeray, Ashok Singhal and Giriraj Kishore. Those alive like LK Advani and Joshi have also faded out of active public life because of the old age. Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, president of Ram Janam Bhoomi Nyas and also the chairman of Sri Ram Mandir Teerth Chetra Trust, too, is battling with old age. Same applies to Kalyan Singh.
Others like Vinay Katiyar and Uma Bharti at the moment remain side-lined within the party. Some like Sakshi Maharaj and Brij Bhushan Singh, of course, still are members of the Lok Sabha. None of the accused except the temple trust chariman Nritya Gopal Das and its secretary Champat Rai got invitation to attend the Bhoomi Pujan event in Ayodhya on August 5. Clearly, pioneers of the temple movement and at the moment the accused in the demolition case have been left far behind over the years.