Nearly three decades after the Babri Masjid was demolished by Hindutva activists, leading to massive riots across the country and altering of India’s political landscape, a special Central Bureau of Investigation court in Lucknow on Wednesday acquitted all the 32 accused.
These included BJP’s former heavyweights -- LK Advani, Kalyan Singh, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti. None of them was present in the court.
The order effectively absolves the BJP of all charges in the most awaited case which the Supreme Court had described as an "egregious violation of the rule of law" in its 2019 verdict that handed over the disputed site in Ayodhya to Hindus.
Significantly, the verdict brings the temple issue centre stage just weeks before the BJP faces assembly polls in Bihar. At the time of the demolition, the issue had catapulted BJP on the national dais and enabled it to emerge as a credible alternative to the Congress.
In a judgment that runs into 2,300 pages with enclosures, special CBI judge SK Yadav said there was no conclusive proof against the accused; they were charged with conspiracy, delivering inflammatory speeches and incitement, allegedly to bring down the 16th century structure.
“The demolition of the mosque was not pre-planned.
Also, those who climbed the dome were anti-social elements. In fact, the accused leaders tried to dissuade them,” observed the judge while pronouncing the verdict.
Delivering the verdict on the last day in office – Yadav had been facilitated with frequent extensions earlier – the special Judge refused to accept newspaper reports and video cassettes as evidence.
The court ruled that the video was 'tampered with' and the quality of audio was not good enough. The court further said the agency had failed to substantiate the charges levelled against the accused.
As he pronounced them not guilty, some of the accused chanted "Jai Shri Ram" in the court. So did Advani, a key figure in the Ram temple movement, at his home. "It is a very important decision and a matter of happiness for us. When we heard the news of the court's order, we welcomed it by chanting Jai Shri Ram," he said in a video message.
AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi called the outcome as "obnoxious". "This judgment satisfies the collective consciousness of Hindutva and its followers and ideology," he told reporters in Hyderabad. "Was it some sort of magic that on December 6 the masjid was demolished? Who asked the people to assemble over there? Who made sure that they climbed up the structure?" he asked.
Zafaryab Jilani, senior lawyer and member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), said the verdict will be challenged in the high court.
The Babri demolition trial goes back to the filing of two FIRs in Ayodhya - one against unknown kar sevaks and the other naming the key saffron leaders who were present near the site, accusing them of making communal speeches. The cases were later clubbed together. At one stage, the criminal conspiracy charge was dropped against the key figures but the Supreme Court restored it in 2017. The apex court also ordered daily hearings in the demolition case.
The conspiracy charge was in addition to charges like promoting enmity on grounds of religion. The CBI had argued that the accused conspired and instigated 'kar sevaks' to demolish the mosque.
The accused pleaded innocence, maintaining that there was no evidence to prove their guilt and they were victims of political vendetta by the then Congress government at the Centre.
The CBI has the option to appeal in a higher court against the verdict. However, the agency hasn’t made any statement in this regard thus far.
Vinay Katiyar, Dharamdas, Vedanti, Lallu Singh, Champat Rai, and Pawan Pandey were among the 26 accused present in the court.