Nearly three decades after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya by rampaging kar sevaks belonging to the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh-led Sangh Parivar, a special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in Lucknow acquitted all the 32 accused on Wednesday. Among those who got reprieve were Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) former president Lal Krishna Advani, the political face of the Sangh Parivar’s Ayodhya Ram Mandir agitation during the 1980s and 1990s. Other important functionaries of the BJP and other outfits of the Sangh Parivar such as former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, former Union Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Uma Bharti, Bajrang Dal founder Vinay Katiyar and Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Champat Rai were also in the list of accused in the case. Their acquittal, the special CBI court said, was due to lack of evidence with regard to the criminal conspiracy leading to the demolition cited in the charge sheet.
Originally, charges were framed against 48 persons after the demolition of the Masjid on December 6, 1992. During the course of the trial 16 of the accused died. All but six of the accused were present in court at the time of the pronouncement of the judgment. Octogenarians Advani, Kalyan Singh, and Joshi cited age-related infirmities for not being present, while Uma Bharti is admitted in hospital after testing COVID-19 positive. Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, chairperson on the trust formed to oversee the construction of the Ram temple at the spot where the Babri Masjid stood, and VHP leader Satish Pradhan also quoted ill health for being absent. Zafaryab Jilani, leader of the Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC) and secretary of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), said the special CBI court’s judgment was faulty and announced that the BMAC “will appeal against the judgment in the High Court”.
Predictably, there is much jubilation over the verdict in the Sangh Parivar, especially the BJP. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath called up Advani and Joshi over phone and congratulated them for the verdict. He interpreted the judgment as a victory of truth. He said: “It is clear from the judgment that there was no conspiracy leading to the demolition. The then Congress government had wrongly framed and defamed respected religious leaders as well as important functionaries and office-bearers of the BJP and the VHP. This was done on account of political prejudice and politics of vote bank. The public of this country will not leave those responsible for this.” These words of the Chief Minister have been picked up by Sangh Parivar activists across the country with direct and indirect threats about launching fresh assaults on secular parties, minority communities and their institutions.
Observers of the Ayodhya developments over the last three and a half decades pointed out that the tardy nature of the CBI investigations into the case had by itself signified that the charges on the demolition were not being pursued properly and objectively. The detailed reports that had appeared following the demolition in all forms of media, including newspapers and magazines, television and other audio-visual formats, underscored the deep-rooted conspiracy and overarching planning hatched by the Sangh Parivar as part of the demolition operation. Frontline had also published comprehensive reports highlighting this conspiracy and its execution, including thorough detailed timelines that mapped the orchestrated activity of various Sangh Parivar outfits and leaders during the time when the demolition was carried out.
After the verdict many leaders of minority communities in Ayodhya, including Sikhs and Christians apart from Muslims, remembered the media coverage approximately three decades ago and how it thoroughly exposed the Sangh Parivar game plan and its execution. They told Frontline that the whole of Ayodhya and twin town Faizabad as well as large parts of Uttar Pradesh knew clearly the hows and whys of the demolition and also who were behind it. But, they were of the view that the legalese known as “lack of evidence” has once again been put into play in yet another of travesty of justice.