- Whether CBI tampered records to implicate BJPleaders?
Before writing anything on Ayodhya and acquittal in criminal cases about demolition of Babri structure, one should remember the golden words of the Supreme Court Justice S. P. Bharucha in M. Ismail Faruqui (Dr) v. Union of India:
“Hinduism is a tolerant faith. It is that tolerance that has enabled Islam, Christianity, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism to find shelter and support upon this land. We have no doubt that the moderate Hindu has little taste for the tearing down of the place of worship of another to replace it with a temple. It is our fervent hope that that moderate opinion shall find general expression and that communal brotherhood shall bring to the dispute at Ayodhya an amicable solution long before the courts resolve it.”
Twenty-eight years after the demolition of the Babri structure, a Special CBI Court, today on 30th September 2020, acquitted all accused including noted politicians like Lal Krishna Advani, Uma Bharti, Vinay Katiar, Sadhvi Ritambara and Murli Manohar Joshi from all the charges. This is a significant milestone in the historic chronology of Babri-Ram Janmabhumi controversy. The judgment is surprising because the judge criticised CBI of tampering the evidence to implicate the top leaders of BJP, VHP etc.
How did the court conclude?
The special judge explained the background and reasons why accused have been acquitted in a 2,300-page-long judgment. The Special Judge said: “The charge sheet has no evidence on the basis of which it can be established that the named accused had incited any riot or were part of it.”
Singhal asked Kar Sevaks to return
The trial court explained how the VHP leaders were trying to convince some Kar Sevaks to return and not to damage the structure, Judge said: “It has also been established that on December 6, 1992, around 12 pm, everything was normal and when Ashok Singhal announced again about how the Kar Seva would proceed, a section of Kar Sevaks got agitated and stone-pelting on the structure started and some broke barricades and climbed the disputed structure. Ashok Singhal again asked this group that was part of the Kar Sevaks to return, but everyone started attacking him.”
The judge further dealt with evidence and explained there was no conspiracy: “Evidence also suggests that RSS and VHP volunteers were taking care of arrangements and regularly making announcements. Seating arrangements for women, the elderly, the media, and parking were being handled by them. This points to the fact that there was no scheme of the named accused to bring down the disputed structure on 6 December 1992.”
Judge also said: “The group that created a ruckus was from a section of the Kar Sevaks, but they were definitely hooligans because if they were actual believers of Lord Ram they would have paid heed to Ashok Singhal’s statement that the disputed structure is also a temple and you have to protect it.”
Answering the question who raised those slogans, court said “As far as the prosecution witnesses describing slogans raised by the accused and have pointed to some accused saying they raised the slogan – ek dhakka aur do, Babri Masjid tod do (give one more push to demolish Babri Masjid) – the charge-sheet makes it clear there were lakhs of Kar Sevaks in the complex and they were raising slogans, on the question of the named accused raising these slogans, in this respect no record or matching voice samples have been presented.”
The Court further said: “That the named accused got together in common cause with anti-social Kar Sevaks to bring down the disputed structure, there is no evidence in the chargesheet to prove this. The leaders seated on stage and those near the Ram chabutra – Ashok Singhal, Vijaya Raje Scindia – did not suspect that a section of the Kar Sevaks will get agitated and climb the disputed structure.”
Court held that they are edited and tampered, saying: “Which accused person gave what speech on December 6, 1992, the prosecution has not managed to prove this with evidence. The video cassettes that have been presented, their related witnesses have themselves accepted these are edited and tampered.”
Who incited violence? Court said it is not proved: “To prove an offence under Section 153 A and 153 A of IPC (Indian Penal Code), the prosecution has to prove that which accused gave what specific speech that led to enmity between two groups and led to a breakdown in communal harmony. If the accused have merely given a inciting speech, only on that basis the person cannot be pronounced guilty.”
Following paragraphs of judgment are highly relevant to understand the conclusions drawn by the court.
“The evidence related to accused LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Sadhvi Rithambara, Uma Bharti, Vinay Katiyar and Acharya Dharmendra Dev makes it clear they were on stage at the time of the incident. There has been a detailed examination of the evidence presented against the accused.”
“On the question of the accused raising slogans, the recordings of slogans raised by a specific accused were not correlated with voice samples of that specific accused and presented in court, which is a strong evidence about which accused raised which specific slogan that led to religious sentiments being hurt.”
50-year-old litigation ,28-year history of charges
The litigation about Ayodhya was more than half-a-century old as there were suits which were filed before the Civil Court at Faizabad between 1951 and 1986, after the idols were placed on the night of December 22, 1949. During the span of 36 years, District and High Courts ordered the maintenance of the status quo, that prevailed, and no new litigation was undertaken by the parties.
One advocate Umesh Chandra Pandey filed an interim application in the Original Suit of 1950 seeking opening of Locks of Babri structure and permission to worship in the Central Dome of the Masjid under which Ram Lalla idol was kept. It was rejected. Advocate escalated it to District Judge who permitted it and directed authorities to facilitate darshan and worship of Ram Lalla, saying that such act would remove any unnecessary irritant.
This was the beginning of the revival of movement for Ram Temple at Ram Janmabhumi which was believed by Hindus, to have been destroyed to build Babri masjid in the same place. With politics entering the fray, BJP announced its agenda to build bhavya Ram Mandir. Various allies of BJP organized nationwide Kar sevaks movement while Lal Krishna Advani’s “Ram Rath Yatra” went on in Northern India till Bihar CM Lalu Prasad Yadav stopped it at Samastipur on October 23, 1990. This has changed the spectrum of politics in the nation catapulting the party from 2 seats in the Lok Sabha in 1984 to the present formidable position as ruling party at centre. In the process, the nation witnessed several campaigns, turbulent times, riots, and violence.
The VHP performed “Shilanyas’ i.e., ground-breaking ceremony for the construction of a temple near the disputed structure in 1990. The content of the speeches of the leaders is reported extensively in media and several records are also available to understand whether those speeches were made to prevent or provoke the demolition.
BJP-VHP gave a national call saying, “Ram Lalla Hum Ayenge, Mandir Wahin Banayenge” (Ram Lalla we shall come, temple shall be constructed there only). In response to this call, kar sevaks travelled from all the corners of the country and assembled at Ayodhya. They did not hesitate to identify themselves as Kar-sevaks with bands in saffron, trishools, and other equipment to destroy any structure.
Demolition of Babri Structure
The dooms day was 06 December 1992, Kar-sevaks arrived in Ayodhya from all over India rallied around the structure with chants of “Ek Dhakka Aur Do, Babri Masjid Tod Do” (Give another shove and break the Babri Mosque), climbed the domes of the Babri Masjid and brought it down. A makeshift temple was raised atop the rubble. The Centre imposed President’s Rule after dismissing the Government of UP and other BJP ruled Governments in northern states.
Two key FIRs
In addition to the 47 other FIRs, two specific FIRs were registered on the incident of demolition, i.e., one-FIR No. 197, against millions of kar sevaks, with allegations of dacoity, robbery, causing hurt, injuring/defiling places of public worship, promoting enmity between two groups on grounds of religion, etc. Two- FIR No.198 against L.K. Advani, Ashok Singhal, Vinay Katiar, Uma Bharati, Sadhvi Ritambara, Murli Manohar Joshi, Giriraj Kishore, and Vishnu Hari Dalmia alleging conspiracy to demolish the structure etc.
A special court was set up in 1993, at Lalitpur in UP for conducting trial of these cases, in consultation with Allahabad High Court. Before the transfer, the Special Magistrate had added charges of conspiracy to the kar sevaks FIR. The Uttar Pradesh government notified the trial against the kar seaks. Then U.P. Govt. issued a notification after amending the earlier notification to include the FIR against political leaders, which was not mentioned in previous notification. This was struck down for lack of consultation with the High Court under Section 11(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code.
Later, after completing the investigation the CBI has filed a consolidated charge sheet against 48 accused including Bala Saheb Thackeray, Kalyan Singh, Moreshwar Save, Champat Rai Bansal, Mahant Avaidyanath, Dharam Das, Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, Param Hans Ram Chandra Das, and others on October 5, 1993.
Supplementary charge against Advani
BJP’s L.K. Advani, Ashok Singhal, Vinay Katiar, Uma Bharati, Sadhvi Ritambara, Murli Manohar Joshi, Giriraj Kishore, and Vishnu Hari Dalmia were named in a supplementary charge sheet filed by CBI in 1996.
The Special Judge at Lucknow perused the charge sheets, expressed satisfaction that a prima facie case was made out against the eight leaders, and accorded permission to prosecute, on 09 September 1997. This order of Special Judge was challenged before the Allahabad High Court and, on 12 February 2001, the High Court set aside the order.
There was a technical issue that led to nullification of notification transferring FIR No. 198 to Lucknow. It was a curable defect if the State government permited the CBI. The CBI made a request. But the then UP government has turned down the request. Meanwhile, the CBI chose to file a supplementary charge sheet before the Judicial Magistrate in Rae Bareli for prosecution of the BJP and other political leaders.
Dropping the names
There was another development in 2001. The Special Court dropped the charges against 21 accused including all leaders of various political parties, 8 accused and 13 others who were included in supplementary charge sheet. This judgment of Special Court was questioned describing it as illegal before the Allahabad High Court.
Allahabad High Court’s upholds
The High Court has upheld the special judge’s order dropping the charges based on the difference between FIR against kar sevaks and political leaders. The High Court also found that the additional charge of conspiracy against the leaders levelled in supplementary charge-sheet as not acceptable because the same was absent in its earlier notification. The CBI’s supplementary charge-sheet filed at Rae Bareli had no charge of criminal conspiracy, which means that charge was never made out against the 8 leaders.
Supreme Court Restores the charges
Thus, the High Court approved the discharge of the top leaders from allegations of conspiracy to destroy the structure in Ayodhya. The CBI approached the Supreme Court in 2011 against the discharge of the political leaders. The appeal consumed six years and in 2017, a bench of Justices Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Rohinton Fali Nariman heard the arguments for three days, March 22-23, and on 06 April 2017. Justice Rohinton Nariman took the case beyond the procedural deficiencies that created hurdles and technical infirmities so far on prosecution of accused of high-profile nature. The Supreme Court bench has invoked its special powers under Article 142 of our Constitution, to do complete justice, and ordered the consolidation of all trials arising from all the FIRs before the Special Court at Lucknow. The Supreme Court has rightly agreed with the judgment of the Allahabad High Court that both the offences, – the demolition by the kar-sevaks and instigation by the leaders formed a part of the same transaction. But the SC did not agree with the conclusion of the Allahabad High Court’s 2011 judgment.
The apex court held that HC was wrong and transferred the trial from Rae Bareli to the Special Judge in Lucknow. The Supreme Court directed the Special Judge at Lucknow to add the charge of criminal conspiracy against L.K. Advani, Vinay Katiar, Uma Bharati, Sadhvi Ritambara, Murli Manohar Joshi and Vishnu Hari Dalmia, which was dropped by HC. As decades passed, the SC directed Lucknow court to hear all matters on day-to-day basis. In addition, the Supreme Court’s judgment barred the transfer of the judge conducting the trial, de novo trial, and grant of adjournments for want of witnesses, unless absolutely necessary, and for reasons to be recorded in writing. It is again because of the deadline fixed by the SC the trial of these cases ended today. First it was August 19, later it was extended to September 30.
Land dispute resolved in favour of temple
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court resolved the Ayodhya tangle on November 9, 2019. A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court held: “The destruction of the mosque took place in breach of the order of status quo and an assurance given to this court. The destruction of the mosque and the obliteration of the Islamic structure was an egregious violation of the rule of law.”
What the White Paper published in February 1993 regarding Ayodhya by Government of India has said about the demolition? We should read:
What happened on 06-12-1992 was not a failure of the system as a whole, nor of the wisdom inherent in India’s Constitution, nor yet of the power of tolerance, brotherhood and compassion that has so vividly informed the life of independent India. It was, the Supreme Court observed on that day, ‘a great pity that a constitutionally elected Government could not discharge its duties in a matter of this sensitiveness and magnitude’. Commitments to the Court and Constitution, pledges to the Parliament and the people, were simply cast aside. Therein lay the failure, therein lay the betrayal.” The CBI court’s judgment cannot be used for politics, but it is quite tempting for the politicians to use for furthering their interests in winning next elections. As the CBI was criticised for not efficiently producing evidence and giving linking materials to conclude that accused gave provocative speeches or conspired to destroy the structure, they may take the case in appeal to High Court and further. Media reported that CBI was thinking to go in appeal after reviewing this judgment. The religious matters are beyond the purview of civil disputes, and crime must be proved beyond reasonable doubt. The issues about places of worship should be resolved not in court but in social sphere only.