SC Questions Clean Chit To Advani And Others In Babri Case
Without turning left and right, let me come straight to the main point. In a major landmark development, the Supreme Court on March 6 hinted in no uncertain terms that it might revive the criminal conspiracy charges against 13 BJP and other Hindu right-wing leaders in the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition case that was dropped by the special trial court in Lucknow on technical grounds. This is something that is unprecedented and it certainly is a cause of big worry for all these leaders who will now have to face the long arms of the law for their alleged involvement in the chain of events that ultimately led to the destruction of the Babri Masjid.
Truly speaking, the clear indication about this came from a Bench of Justices PC Ghosh and Rohinton F Nariman while hearing a petition by the CBI challenging the Allahabad High Court’s decision to uphold the trial court’s discharge order favouring senior BJP leaders LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and Kalyan Singh among others. They also included several VHP leaders. The sudden development came on an appeal filed in the Supreme Court by the CBI in 2011, during the UPA era, against the dropping of the conspiracy charge against LK Advani and other leaders such as Uma Bharti, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi, Vinay Katiyar, Sadvi Ritambara, Giriraj Kishore and Vishnu Hari Dalmia.
Let it be said upfront: Twenty five years of delay in deciding such a landmark case like the Babri case is completely unacceptable. It ought to have been decided on a war footing. But, alas, that was not to be! This is most despicable which only serves to weaken the unflinching faith of people in the Indian judiciary. But finally now we see that the Supreme Court after 25 long years has finally decided to get its act together and has set the cat among the pigeons by reviving the conspiracy charges against 13 leaders.
Before proceeding ahead, let me now recapitulate the entire chain of events that followed after the demolition of Babri Masjid. This will certainly go a long way in enabling my esteemed readers to know how this high profile case proceeded so far. The entire chain of events in a chronological order are as follows: –
- December 1992 – Two FIRs registered in the Babri Masjid demolition case. Crime number 197 deals with the demolition of the Masjid by “lakhs of kar sevaks”. Crime number 198 named LK Advani and others for ‘communal’ speeches before the demolition.
- October 1993 – CBI files a composite charge sheet and accuses Advani and other leaders of ‘conspiracy’.
- February 2001 – The Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court finds a technical flaw. Holds that the UP government did not consult the High Court while referring crime number 198 to the Lucknow special court from Rae Bareilly. Asks it to correct the flaw. Crime number 198 returns to Rae Bareilly court.
- May 4, 2001 – Special Judge SK Shukla drops conspiracy charge against 13 accused, including Advani and Kalyan Singh. Bifurcates crime numbers 197 and 198.
- May 20, 2010 – Allahabad High Court dismisses CBI’s revision petition.
- February 18, 2011 – CBI moves Supreme Court. CBI argued that “the actual demolition of Babri Masjid…can be a concerted conspiracy” and pleaded for restoration of charges of criminal conspiracy against these accused leaders.
- March 31, 2015 – Supreme Court after issuing these accused leaders notice asked them to reply.
- March 6, 2017 – Supreme Court indicates it may revive conspiracy charge and order a joint trial of crime numbers 197 and 198.
Truth be told, while noting seriously that “there is something very peculiar going on in this case”, a Bench of Justices Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Rohinton F Nariman said that it would examine in detail why the conspiracy charge was dropped on mere technical grounds and never revived all these years. No prizes for guessing that there is more to it than meets the eye. It merits a thorough impartial inquiry.
To put things in perspective, Justice Rohinton F Nariman observed orally that, “We prima facie do not approve of the way these people have been discharged…And no additional charge sheet filed so far? See, people cannot be discharged like this on technical grounds.” What Justice Nariman has said is absolutely right. There can be no denying or disputing it.
As things stand, Justice RF Nariman minced just no words in making it crystal clear that, “We will allow you [CBI] to file supplementary charge sheet by including the conspiracy charge. We will ask the trial court to conduct a joint trial in a Lucknow court.” The CBI, represented by Additional Solicitor General Neeraj Kishan Kaul, seemed to agree with the court’s observations and submitted that a joint trial should be conducted. “This is what we want,” Neeraj Kaul submitted.
As it turned out, LK Advani’s counsel and senior advocate KK Venugopal strongly objected to the turn of events and argued that the conspiracy charge against Advani and other leaders was already dropped, and its revival would mean the re-examination of the 186 witnesses who had deposed in the case. Venugopal stated that clubbing of the trial will lead to “de novo” trial (fresh trial) as more than 100 witnesses on both sides will be needed to be re-examined. Venugopal pointed out vociferously that the CBI had appealed in the Supreme Court after an inordinate delay. But the Bench remained firm, saying it would choose to even condone the delay and hear the case next on March 22, 2017.
Needless to state, the Court observed that the trial should not be delayed and proceedings merged. It said that, “These 13 people have been discharged due to technical reasons. A supplementary charge sheet has already been filed against eight people. Why can’t the two trials be clubbed and trial go on?” The appeals were filed by late Haji Mahboob Ahmad and the CBI against the High Court order which agreed with the trial court that the charge of criminal conspiracy was never invoked against Advani and others at the beginning of the trial and was subsequently introduced to make good their case under IPC Sections 153A (promoting enmity between classes), 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 505 (false statements, rumours, etc, circulated with the intent to cause mutiny or disturb public peace).
Let it be brought out here that the BabriMasjid demolition case stemmed from two crime files: Crime No: 197/1992 and Crime No: 198/1992. Both were filed shortly after the disputed structure of Babri Masjid was demolished by a frenzy mob on December 6, 1992. Crime No. 197/1992 was registered in the Ayodhya Station against “lakhs of unknown kar sevaks”. This FIR dealt with the actual demolition of the Masjid. It lined up a bunch of serious offences, including robbery or dacoity with attempt to commit murder, causing hurt by an act endangering life or safety of others, deterring public servants from doing duty and promoting enmity between different religious groups. The most severe of these offences could get the offender up to 10 years in jail.
Let it be also brought out here that the second one, Crime No. 198/1992, was registered against 12 persons, including Ashok Singhal, Giriraj Kishore, Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Vishnu Hari Dalmiya, Vinay Katiyar, Uma Bharti and Sadvi Ritambara, who were on the dais at Ram Katha Kunj when the Masjid was being demolished. They were accused of promoting enmity, making imputations and assertions prejudicial to national integration and statements conducing to public mischief. The maximum punishment, if found guilty for these offences, was up to five years imprisonment. The cases are being tried in courts in Lucknow and Rae Bareilly, respectively.
While craving for my esteemed readers exclusive indulgence, let it be informed here that the CBI took over Crime 197 in Lucknow, while 198 remained with the State CID in Rae Bareilly. Eventually 198 also got transferred to the CBI and began being heard in the Lucknow Court. Now with the CBI investigating both crimes as one, a joint charge sheet was filed on October 5, 1993 accusing Advani and other top Sangh Parivar leaders of hatching conspiracy to demolish Babri Masjid.
For my esteemed readers exclusive indulgence, let it also be informed here that the CBI charge sheet had alleged that a secret meeting took place at the residence of Vinay Katiyar on the eve of the demolition during which the final decision to bring down the disputed structure was taken. The Special Judicial Magistrate and the Additional Sessions Court also found the conspiracy prima facie tenable. No doubt, this cannot be lightly dismissed.
Be it noted, in February 2001, the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court found a technical error in the manner Crime No. 198 was transferred to the CBI without consulting the High Court. Though it did not touch upon the conspiracy charge against the top leaders, the High Court asked the UP government to correct the flaw. Subsequent governments failed to act and crime No. 198 finally got detached and returned to Rae Bareilly.
It must also be noted here that on May 4, 2001, Special Judge, Lucknow, Shrikant Shukla dropped the conspiracy charge against Advani and 20 others on the ground that Crime No. 197 which the Special Court was only trying this crime was only trying this crime was only regarding the actual demolition and not the hatching of any conspiracy. On May 20, 2010, the Allahabad High Court upheld Judge Shukla’s order while dismissing the CBI’s revision petition.
All said and done, truth must come out before the people under any circumstances. Those who were involved in any manner in the unfortunate destruction of the Babri Masjid demolition must be brought to book and made to face the penal consequences for their unpardonable crime which resulted in the death of many innocent people! Only then will the lost faith of the people in the judiciary be again restored which is indispensable for now!
This alone explains why Supreme Court has taken the lead in reviving conspiracy charges against Advani, Uma Bharti and other leaders accused of plotting the destruction of Babri Masjid. It needs no rocket scientist to conclude that it was the demolition of Babri Masjid that lead to huge riots all across the country and also saw bomb blasts in 1993 in Mumbai in which many hundreds of people were killed for no fault of theirs. This also alone explains all the more that why it is so important that those involved in the demolition of Babri Masjid in any manner are not spared under any circumstances and awarded the strictest possible punishment under the law so that the right message goes out to one and all that no one is above the law!
Finally and most importantly, it must also not be forgotten that, “Justice delayed is not just justice denied but also justice buried with victims being the worst sufferers in the whole process”! Supreme Court’s latest initiative in reviving conspiracy charges is most commendable for which I have just no words to laud. It must now make sure that without wasting any time further, those guilty of playing any role in the demolition of Babri Masjid are brought to book as early as possible!