When it comes to the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute at Ayodhya, the Supreme Court recently favoured an out-of-court settlement, observing that issues of ‘religion and sentiments’ should best be resolved through talks. On March 31 last, the apex court refused to accord an early hearing on a batch of civil appeals pertaining to this dispute that has been dragging on for over six decades. But the quarter century old trial over demolition of Babri Masjid on 6 December, 1992 is another matter. Calling it ‘a crime that shakes the secular fabric of the constitution’, the apex court on Wednesday ordered restoration of ‘criminal conspiracy’ charges against senior BJP leaders LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti among others. A huge black spot in the country’s post-Independence history, this incident triggered countrywide communal riots that claimed thousands of lives. The razing of Babri Masjid by saffron kar sevaks is inextricably linked with the Godhra riots that burned Gujarat and the serial blasts that bloodied Mumbai in 1993. The Supreme Court has now ordered that the trial be transferred from Rae Bareli to Lucknow special court, it must proceed expeditiously and conclude in two years, no unnecessary adjournments will be permitted, hearings will be taken on day-to-day basis; and the special judge will not be transferred till trial is completed. The SC bench’s order came after it allowed the CBI’s plea challenging trial court and Allahabad High Court orders on dropping conspiracy charges against 21 persons, including top BJP leaders. Coming down hard on the CBI, the bench observed: “The accused persons have not been brought to book largely because of the conduct of the CBI in not pursuing the prosecution of the aforesaid alleged offenders in a joint trial, and because of technical defects which were easily curable, but which were not cured by the Uttar Pradesh government.”
It remains to be seen whether the large-scale conspiracy angle will be indubitably established in trial court. It may conclude in two years but the case will surely go on appeal. High-profile accused like VHP leaders Giriraj Kishore and Ashok Singhal are already dead, LK Advani is around 87 years old. What is certain is that both Hindutva and political conspiracy theories will flourish, which parties will capitalize upon. While the BJP top brass has reportedly assured Advani, Joshi and others of full party support, BJP-baiters like RJD supremo Lalu Prasad have insinuated that this development effectively blocks Advani’s bid to be the country’s next President. AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi has questioned the delay in the trial process, dubbing it a more serious case than Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. While indulging in such talk (for public consumption), these leaders forget that they are also insinuating that the present ruling dispensation at the Centre has some truck with the apex court. The Congress has piously commented that the law of the land has prevailed, that hopefully there will be a speedy trial and all the guilty be punished. Had the Congress government at the Centre in 1986 not gotten the Babri Masjid gates unlocked for ‘darshan’ of Lord Ram, the chain of events may well have been different later on. The Liberhan commission got around to submit its report (still kept under wraps) on Babri demolition in 2009, 17 years after it began its inquiry. The earlier ASI survey report about evidence of a temple beneath the mosque, was roundly contested. The Ram Janambhoomi dispute itself goes back to 1949 when idols of Lord Ram were found inside Babri Masjid, with various parties entering the civil suit in later years. That civil suit is nowhere near resolution. Neither is the criminal conspiracy case in the destruction of Babri Masjid. Hopefully, the Supreme Court’s order will in future compel investigating agencies and fact finding commissions not to wilfully compromise in their work and sit over findings, in the fear that these will inconvenience the powers-be who create the mess in the first place.