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Babri Demolition: 27 Years of Twists & Turns, With Many Witnesses Dead & Gone

Tarique Anwar |
In a textbook case of ‘justice delayed is justice denied’, the criminal case, involving BJP bigwigs, has moved at a snail's pace. All eyes are now on SC’s deadline early next year.
Babri

Lucknow/New Delhi: Close on the heels of the Supreme Court’s unanimous verdict on the Babri Masjid-Ramjanambhoomi title dispute, the criminal case related to the demolition of the 16th century mosque in Ayodhya — which was brought down on December 6, 1992 — is in its final stage and a judgment is expected in the first quarter of next year. The high-profile case involves ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) veteran LK Advani, MM Joshi, Kalyan Singh, Vinay Katiyar, Sadhvi Ritambhara and others.

A special court of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in Lucknow is hearing the cases related to the demolition and alleged criminal conspiracy behind it on a day-to-day basis. Following a derailed investigation and so many twists and turns, the case — which was moving at snail’s pace — got momentum after the top court on April 19, 2017, ordered day-to-day trial to be concluded in two years. 

On July 20 this year, the top court extended the tenure of the special judge trying the case beyond retirement and ordered him to deliver verdict within nine months, which will expire soon.   

Here is a history of the case – which has been lingering for the past 27 years and 49 of its witness are no more. The accused who are alive include big shots of Indian politics. Among these are Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders, such as former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani, former UP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, former Central Cabinet ministers Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and a few sitting Members of Parliament (MPs).

THE CASE AND FIRs

The first FIR (no. 142/1992 and case no. 197/1992) was filed against “lakhs of unknown kar sevaks” at 05:15 pm — minutes after the medieval period mosque was razed to the ground — by one Ganga Prasad Tiwari, a sub inspector, at Ramjanambhoomi police station on December 6, 1992.

Tiwari said in his complaint, based on which the first FIR was lodged, “At around 12 noon or 12.15 pm, from Fixing Gate No. 1 (the railing barricading the Babri Masjid), a mob comprising thousands of ‘karsevaks’ began gathering near Chabutra (Ram Chabutra a platform erected merely 50 yards away from the mosque’s central dome a platform erected merely 50 yards away from the mosque’s central dome) where saints and priests were sitting in large numbers to perform ‘kar seva’. The ‘karsevaks’ had ‘phawda’, ‘sambal’, ‘gaiti’, ‘bekcha’ (all used as construction tools) in their hands. Instead of letting saints and priests perform the ‘kar seva’, they themselves started performing it. They also began demolishing the mosque. When they were stopped from doing so, they got further agitated and the crowed began swelling. They brought the iron grill barricading around the mosque down, climbed up to the top of the mosque and started demolishing it.”

The sub-inspector went on to state that the policemen stationed there resorted to lathi-charge. “This led to strong sloganeering of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and other provocative chantings from different sides of the crowd. Now, another strong mob thronged to the Babri Masjid complex attacked the building from all sides. As the use of force became ineffective, the police force present there was ordered to fire tear gas shells. The order was followed, but it also failed to stop the crowd as the ‘karsevaks’ had covered their faces. They started pelting stones on the police force. Several ‘karsevaks’ suffered injuries in the police action but the demolition kept going on. The disputed complex was finally demolished and several government properties in the complex such as wire case set, CCTV cameras, dragon lights, ropes, barbed wires, chairs, tables, etc were destroyed,” reads the FIR accessed by NewsClick.

The “unknown karsewaks” were booked under Sections 395 (dacoity), 397 (Robbery or dacoity with attempt to cause death or grievous hurt), 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to a public servant in the discharge of his duty), 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others), 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others), 295 (injuring or defiling place of worship with intent to insult the religion of any class), 297 (trespassing), 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc.) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 7 (Molesting a person to prejudice of employment or business) of the Criminal Law Amendment Act.

Ten minutes later, a second FIR (no. 143/1992 and case no. 198/1992) was filed on the complaint of the same person against LK Advani, Ashok Singhal, Giriraj Kishore, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti, Vinay Katiyar, Vishnu Hari Dalmiya and Sadhvi Ritambahra for hate and provocative speeches.

In this complaint, Tiwari said, “(After discharging my duties), I reached Ram Katha Kunj in the disputed complex where Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Ashok Singhal and Giriraj Kishor, Bharatiya Janata Party’s Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Vishnu Hari Dalmiya (then BJP’s MP from Faizabad) and Uma Bharti and Bajrang Dal’s Vinay Katiyar and Sadhvi Ritambhara were present on a stage. With their provocative speeches, they were emotionally charging the ‘karsevaks’. Their chant was ‘Ek Dhakka Aur Do, Babri Masjid Tod Do’ (Give one more push, demolish Babri mosque). They were also asking the charged crowd to demolish the structure, which, according to them, symbolised Mughal-era slavery. The charged crowed was in between chanting the slogan ‘Katua Kaate Jayenge, Ram Naam Chillayenge’ (when those circumcised get butchered, they will shout Ram’s name), ridiculing Muslims. Amid slogans of ‘Ram Lalla Hum Aayenge, Mandir Wahin Banayenge’ (Lord Ram, we will come and built a temple there only), the leaders were provoking the ‘karsevaks’ to demolish the mosque. As a result, the disputed complex was demolished, which severely dented the national integrity. The incident was witnessed by police and administrative officers and journalists stationed there.”

The FIR was lodged under Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc.), 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration) and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the IPC.

In addition, 47 other FIRs were registered in the following days. These were related to offences of assault on journalists and looting and destroying their cameras and other gadgets.

THE INVESTIGATION

Interestingly, the case (FIR no. 142/1992 and case no. 197/1992) related to demolition against “unknown karsevaks” was handed over to the CBI for investigation, while the other case (FIR no. 143/1992 and case no. 198/1992) against the high-profile politicians were transferred to the CB-CID of the Uttar Pradesh Police.

All the remaining 48 cases, including the case no. 198, was finally transferred to the central probing agency on August 27, 1993. On October 5, 1993, the CBI filed a consolidated chargesheet against 40 people in all 49 cases in a special court in Lucknow. It also filed a supplementary chargesheet in the case on January 11, 1996 against nine other well-known people. So, the total number of accused climbed up to 49.

TWIST AND TURNS DURING ONGOING TRIAL

After chargesheets were filed against top leaders of BJP and its affiliates, it was time for commencement of trial. But the road ahead was not easy for prosecution as the cases were full of legal complexities.

Surendra Kumar Yadav, the special judge hearing the matter, on September 9, 1997 held that the case prima facie was fit for framing of charges against the accused under Section 120(B) — criminal conspiracy. After the court ordered that the charges would be framed against the accused in next hearing, some of the accused knocked at the doors of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court against it.

The matter was pending till February 12, 2001, when Justice Jagdish Bhalla of the Lucknow Bench passed an order, observing that there was no illegality in a consolidated chargesheet for all 49 FIRs because the crimes were committed in the same course of action for accomplishing a conspiracy.

However, the High Court found a lapse on part of the Uttar Pradesh government in setting up a designated court for the trial of case no. 198/1992 — the case related to hate speech against Advani, Joshi, Singhal, Bharti and others.

The court upheld framing of charges against in all 48 cases, but denied the same in case no. 198 against the political bigwigs — Advani, Joshi, Uma Bharti, Vinay Katiyar and others. The High Court, however, observed that the state government’s faulty notification dated October 8, 1993 for setting up a designated trial court was curable and could be done through another notification.

As a result, the trial court in Lucknow stopped its proceedings on May 4, 2001.

On June 16, 2001, the CBI wrote to the state government and asked for rectification of the error in its notification pointed out by the High Court so that the special court could be empowered to resume trial. But the state government, under the chief ministership of BJP leader Rajnath Singh, did not issue any fresh notification.

The CBI then filed a petition in another designated court in Rae Bareli on January 27, 2003, appealing it to proceed with the trial of the case no. 198/1992 — which is related to hate speeches.

On September 19, 2003, in an interesting turn of events, a special magistrate in the Rae Bareli court discharged Advani in case no. 198/1992 but ordered framing charges against the remaining accused. Advani was then Deputy Prime Minister of the country.

The Rae Bareli court’s decision was challenged in the High Court, which on July 6, 2005, ordered re-framing of charges against Advani and all other accused. The charges were finally framed by the Rae Bareli court against Advani and all other accused on July 26, 2005.

With the trial hanging between two courts (Lucknow and Rae Bareli), the CBI approached the Supreme Court in 2011 and filed an affidavit on March 20, 2012, arguing that there should be a common trial of all 49 cases. The probing agencies made the following submission:

(a) Probes in all 49 cases had revealed that there was a single conspiracy hatched by all accused to demolish the disputed structure.

(b) All the accused took part and played their roles in fulfilling their common goal, which was demolition. So, they are accused of criminal conspiracy. All 21 accused against whom the proceedings were dropped on the order of the Allahabad High Court were part of the criminal conspiracy.

(c) The 13 accused who were not being tried for any offences in any court of law were party to the conspiracy and demolition.

(d) Therefore, it is 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 special judge at Lucknow.

Left pending for around five years in the top court, the apex cour,t in a major development ,ruled on April 19, 2017 and struck down the Allahbad High Court’s order to drop conspiracy charges. The SC ordered to invoke the charges of criminal conspiracy against the accused, including Advani and 20 others. The trial of all cases was also brought back to the Lucknow court.

WHAT’S PRESENT CASE STATUS

The Supreme Court on July 19, 2019, using its extraordinary jurisdiction under Article 142, extended the tenure of Special Judge SP Yadav to complete the trial against Advani and others in a time-bound manner.

Giving the directive, Justice RF Nariman said, “Judge Yadav had said he has made substantial progress in the case and has sought extension of time to complete the trial.”

The apex court also set a deadline of nine months to complete the trial. The SC said that examination of all evidences, as well as prosecution and defence witnesses must be completed within six months from today (July 19, 2019). Oral arguments should be kept to the minimum, all parties to file written arguments, the SC said.

“Judgment in the case should be delivered within a maximum of nine months from today,” Justice Nariman had said.

Following the SC’s earlier and the new order, there has been a speedy trial in the case as the charges were framed and trial on the single consolidated chargesheet began. But since Kalyan Singh was appointed as Governor of Rajasthan, the trial against him was stopped since he occupied a constitutional office.

After Singh demitted the office of Governor last year, the trial against him began. Witnesses related to his case have started to appear in court but so far only three witnesses have been examined. Another 35-40 witnesses are yet to be examined.

Overall, 336 witnesses have been examined in the Babri demolition case. Most statements of witnesses relating to the rest of the accused in the case, which involves many BJP veterans, have been examined. The investigation officer witnesses are now being examined.

While 57 witnesses had appeared in the Rae Bareli court, 291 had appeared in the special court in Lucknow so far.

SEVERAL ACCUSED ALREADY DEAD

Several accused, such as Giriraj Kishore, Ashok Singhal, Bal Thackeray and many others have died over the course of 27 years, as the matter now goes through day-to-day hearing. The case has examined around 300 witnesses so far. Around 50 of them have passed away.

The case has voluminous news reports, written statements and government orders as evidence to be examined.

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