Citing technical grounds, the Supreme Court of India this week rejected the discharge of leaders of the ruling Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the alleged conspiracy to demolish the Babri Masjid.
The top court ordered the much-delayed trial to resume March 22. The demolition on Dec. 6, 1992 of the historic 16th-century Muslim place of worship occurred after a political rally in Ayodhya in the state of Uttar Pradesh turned violent.
The court’s decision has raised the hope of restoring secularism, a fundamental tenet of the Indian constitution which has been undermined recently.
Lal Krishna Advani, a hard-line BJP leader, led a mass campaign in the 1980s and 1990s promoting construction of a Hindu temple where the Babri Masjid stood, arguing that the mythical Hindu god Lord Ram was born at that spot.
Advani’s anti-constitutional, political-religious movement in the 1990s led to the formation of a BJP-led coalition government with moderate Atal Behari Vajpayee as prime minister. Advani became deputy prime minister.
The history of the Babri Masjid case.
After the demolition, two criminal cases were begun. One involved various public-order offences by Hindus. the most serious of which could result in a prison term of up to 10 years.
The second case claimed a conspiracy by BJP leaders, including Advani, who witnessed the demolition and allegedly did nothing to stop it. These leaders were accused of promoting hostility, of making assertions damaging to national integrity and security, disturbing public order and so on.
In 1993, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) submitted a charge sheet to the trial court alleging that prior to the demolition, BJP leaders, including Advani, met secretly and decided to demolish the Babri Masjid.
The special judicial magistrate and the additional sessions court judge at Ayodhya found the conspiracy charge against these leaders was tenable.
Technical flaw found by high court
In February 2001, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court found a technical flaw in the case because the state government of Uttar Pradesh failed to consult the Allahabad High Court while referring the case to the Lucknow special court.
On May 4, 2001, the special judge, Lucknow, dropped the conspiracy charge against Advani and others. And on May 20, 2010, the Allahabad High Court upheld the decision of the special judge Lucknow to drop the conspiracy case.
In February 2011, the CBI stated under appeal to the Supreme Court that demolition of the Babri Masjid should be considered a “conspiracy.”
And last Monday, the Supreme Court said the conspiracy case dropped earlier by Allahabad High Court must be revived and that a trial should begin March 22.
Political and religious unrest follow demolition
The demolition of the Babri Masjid marked the beginning of an ugly period of religious politics in India. Hindu-Muslim riots followed in 1992-93. There were fundamental changes in political alignments along with the consolidation of right-wing political forces.
Hard-line BJP leader Narendra Modi emerged as chief minister of Gujarat, and the state experienced riots in 2002 when more than 2,000 members of the minority Muslim community were killed, property was destroyed and many people displaced.
Modi consolidated his position within the BJP and led the party’s parliamentary electoral campaign, winning a majority in Parliament and forming a government in New Delhi in May 2014.
Justice delayed is justice denied
The Babri Masjid conspiracy case has suffered what seem to be many inexcusable delays. The principle that justice must not only be done but seen to be done is essential now. Delays have undermined the fundamental constitutional importance of the case.
The 1950 constitution of India and its values were formulated by a prolonged popular movement for freedom from British rule. The Supreme Court must ensure these values are realized. The Indian judiciary, like the Indian administration, carries heavy colonial baggage and both fail to uphold the basic values of the freedom struggle embodied in the constitution. Reform must begin now.
Kannabiran, KG 2003 The Wages of Impunity: Power, Justice and Human Rights (Orient Longman)