The recent prod by maverick politicians Subramanian Swamy and Sanjay Raut of Shiv Sena to the Centre to wind up criminal proceedings in the Ayodhya demolition case may have given voice to a latent sentiment within Hindutva votaries. However, it is legally untenable and politically mischievous.
Swamy tweeted earlier this week, that the case of criminal conspiracy and other offences against a galaxy of Bharatiya Janata Party and sangh parivar veterans, including Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti, Kalyan Singh, Kalyan Singh, Sadhvi Rithambara, Brij Bhushan Singh and Sakshi Maharaj, is “silly”.
Likewise, Raut asked what “stopped the Modi government from quickly initiating procedures to shut down the Babri Masjid demolition case”.
The thrust of contentions was that since the Supreme Court awarded the disputed site to Hindus and construction of the temple was underway, the criminal case was a small matter.
- The recent prod by Subramanian Swamy and Sanjay Raut of Shiv Sena to the Centre to wind up criminal proceedings in the Ayodhya demolition case is legally untenable and politically mischievous.
- It cannot be overlooked that the apex court’s judgement paving the way for Ram Mandir was based on “possessory title” having little to do with what transpired on 6 December 1992 in Ayodhya.
- Would it be politically prudent for the Centre to alter stance of prosecuting agencies and counsels at this stage?
- Criminal proceedings on the demolition are feverishly continuing on parallel tracks to meet the Supreme Court deadline of August 31.
- Although many politicians milked political capital from the demolition, they are unwilling to accept legal responsibility.
- It would be poetic justice if one charge or another, at least against a few accused, is proven and they are pronounced guilty.
Demolition and Possession Are Separate Issues
However, it cannot be overlooked that the apex court’s judgement was based on “possessory title” having little to do with what transpired on 6 December 1992 in Ayodhya. In fact, it is necessary to remind all, the two leaders most importantly, what the five judges, who waded through the legal minefield after several preceding worthies skirted past it during their tenures, said of the demolition.
The judges noted in November 2019 that the “destruction of the mosque took place in breach of the order of status quo and an assurance to this Court. The destruction of the mosque and the obliteration of the Islamic structure was an egregious violation of the rule of law.” On another occasion in 2010, a two judge bench called it a “crime which shook the secular fabric of India”.
The issue is thus simple: Is it not necessary to know who conspired or committed this crime? Is the Centre within its rights to withdraw the case, now in its final stages after almost three decades? Finally, would it be politically prudent for the Centre to alter stance of prosecuting agencies and counsels at this stage?
Politics on Ram Mandir
Swamy limited himself to a prod to the Centre. But, Raut asked a politically playful question: “why can't the BJP and its top leaders show the courage and conviction to own up to the demolition instead of blaming it on a mob of kar sevaks?”
He added that his party leaders never shied from taking responsibility and drew attention to Bal Thackeray's assertion: “we are proud the Babri Masjid was demolished to construct the Ram temple at its rightful site.”
The political narrative surrounding the Ram temple is centred on the impending ‘Bhoomi Pujan’ on August and the likely guest list. There are also speculations over the contents of a possible statement Prime Minister Narendra Modi will make on the occasion. Furthermore, it has to be seen if the Vishwa Hindu Parishad issues an appeal, as being suggested on social media, for people to light lamps (diyas) at home on the evening of the ceremony.
Chronology of the Criminal Case Proceedings
Outside the political discourse, criminal proceedings on the demolition are feverishly continuing on parallel tracks as the Supreme Court has set the deadline of August 31 to Special Judge in Lucknow, SK Yadav, to deliver judgement. On May 8, the Supreme Court asked him to use video conferencing facilities to complete recording of evidences and hearing of applications.
Earlier, the top court had directed the Special Court to conduct day-to-day hearing on April 19, 2017 and deliver its verdict within two years. The apex court also revived the conspiracy charge against the political stalwarts and clubbed various cases being heard separately in Lucknow and Rae Bareilly.
The cut-off date passed unnoticed amid election campaign in 2019. Subsequently, the Supreme Court set a fresh time-limit of nine months. This was again missed amid lockdown on April 19, leading to the last extension.
Time-frame being extended ad nauseam, has been a regular feature of legal cases connected with the Ayodhya matter. The Supreme Court verdict on the land possession was passed almost a decade after the matter reached the apex court. Previously, too, the case lingered on at various levels since 1950. The Justice Liberhan Commission, established days after the demolition submitted its report in June 2009 after receiving whopping 48 extensions.
Politicians Have Milked Babri Demolition Without Taking Responsibility For It
While most depositions had been recorded, the criminal case was slowed down because political stalwarts did not make appearances regularly and sought repeated adjournments. However, after having been directed to use video conferencing facilities, Justice Yadav made considerable headway.
The court is conducting a day-to-day hearing to complete its trial by August 31. Depositions have been made by Uttar Pradesh’s former chief minister, Kalyan Singh and former union minister, Uma Bharti. On 23 July, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi deposed via video conference. LK Advani deposition is slated for 24 July.
Significantly, in oral submissions, Singh and Bharti claimed innocence and denied involvement in conspiracy and other charges.
Both accused the Congress government of time of making “false and baseless allegations” and registering cases borne out of political vendetta.
Their depositions and the similarity in tonality of assertions of other accused so far, suggests that although they milked political capital from the demolition, they are unwilling to accept legal responsibility. Acceptance would tantamount to acceptance of ‘guilt’ in courtroom. There is possibility that the Special Judge may not succeed in completing all proceedings and pronounce a judgement on August 31 or before, and be granted another extension.
It did not take the Supreme Court two observations to tell us that the Babri Masjid's demolition a serious assault on the Indian Republic's foundation. Possibility exists that the judge acquits the accused on account of weaknesses in the prosecution case.
Yet, it would be poetic justice if one charge or another, at least against a few accused, is proven and they are pronounced guilty. This is another case on which rests the autonomy and impartiality of Indian judiciary. Besides, of course, the integrity of investigative agencies.
(The writer is an author and journalist based in Delhi. He has authored the book ‘The Demolition: India at the Crossroads’ and ‘Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times’. He can be reached @NilanjanUdwin. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)