(This is Part-I of a series of commentary on the Babri demolition verdict of 30 September 2020. The Quint has invited experts to weigh in on the matter. Part-II can be accessed here.)
Whether it was a good film or not, it is apt to recall, even if for a moment, the 2011 Bollywood biographical thriller No One Killed Jessica.
The 30 September 2020 verdict by the Special CBI Judge, Surendra Kumar Yadav, in the Babri demolition case, is a replay of the title. But unlike the real life events on which the film was made (unrelated to our subject here), there will no pushback from civil society on this occasion.
This day marks the closure of the Babri Masjid demolition case, and along with it, much more.
In November 2019, while delivering the final judgment in the Ayodhya civil case, the Supreme Court termed the “destruction of the (Babri) mosque and the obliteration of the Islamic structure” an “egregious violation of the rule of law”. It had even noted that this violation of law had taken place “in breach of the order of status quo and an assurance to this Court”.
Justice Yadav’s Contention – That The Demolition Was ‘Unplanned’ – Merits Scrutiny
On a previous occasion in 2010 in connection with another Ayodhya matter, two apex court judges, Justices PC Ghose and RF Nariman, termed the demolition a “crime which shook the secular fabric of India”. Even Justice Manmohan Singh Liberhan, in his voluminous report, had unambiguously written that it “cannot be assumed even for a moment that Vajpyee, Advani and Joshi did not know of the designs of the ‘Sangh Parivar’”.
Paradoxically, the CBI court stated that the demolition was a “spontaneous” act. It might as well have chosen the phrase used by the proponents of the Ram Janmabhoomi, to describe the forcible installation of the idol inside the Babri Masjid in December 1949: “divine intervention”.
If the Supreme Court – its opinion is certainly weightier – considered the crime as being grievous, why then has no one been convicted of the charges?
Justice Yadav listed several reasons, foremost among them being his contention that the demolition was “unplanned”.
Other reasons cited include two that will not do – the already feeble reputation of India's premier investigative agency, the CBI – any good. Justice Yadav cited “insufficient evidence” and “inability to ascertain authenticity of the audio and video footage” provided by the agency.
And this, after twenty-seven years since the crime was committed.
It merely suggests that from the very beginning, no government was intent on securing a conviction.
From the onset, the cases were filed without a plan, and pursed with little interest. The case was shifted from one city to another; from Lalitpur to Raebareli, and then finally Lucknow, but on the direction of the Supreme Court.
Justice Yadav’s contention – that the demolition was ‘unplanned’ – merits scrutiny. Was the intention to demolish the mosque ‘unknown’?
Indeed – Was The Intention To Demolish Babri Masjid ‘Unknown’?
In the days after the demolition, there were umpteen media reports by correspondents backed by photographers on the field, who provided exhaustive accounts of how the demolition was rehearsed by activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, fancifully called kar sevaks.
The reports detailed last minute meetings in various locations in the temple-town and that these were attended by several of the accused, some now deceased as well as the living.
Furthermore, during his public speeches delivered in the course of the yatra from Varanasi to Ayodhya to drum up support for the event in Ayodhya on 6 December 1992, Advani emphatically stated before a raucous audience that the programme “would be performed with bricks and shovels and not by merely singing devotional songs”.
It is also pertinent to ask the accused to explain photographs depicting gleeful faces of several leaders while the mosque was being demolished. Similarly, how many were seen shouting the provocative slogan “Ek dhakko aur do, Babri Masjid tod do.” (Give another push, smash the Babri masjid).
Furthermore, it is worth recalling the primary plea of the Sangh Parivar when it became a party to the dispute before emerging as the lead pleader on behalf of the plaintiff, Ram Lalla Virajman, the idol of the child god Ram.
Why Did The Court Not Take Note Of The VHP’s ‘Intention’?
The VHP had not been founded when the first of the civil court cases were filed in January 1950 by a Ayodhya priest seeking the right to pray inside the locked-up shrine. The RSS too was uninvolved at this stage, and the entire plan was hatched and executed by Hindu Mahasabha leaders.
After having launched the political agitation in the mid 1980s, the VHP decided to become a party in the civil case. Deoki Nandan Agarwal, a former High Court judge, also VHP vice president in July 1989, showed the way. He petition in the Allahabad High Court on behalf of the idol as its “next best friend” was accepted and the VHP became a major party.
The Supreme Court verdict stated that Agarwal unambiguously sought “an injunction against interference in the construction of a new temple after the demolition (sic) of the existing building”.
The question arises: why did the court not take note of this intention of the VHP and affiliated organisations, declared in a court of law three and half years prior to the assault? Was this information not provided by the prosecution or was this self-admission of purpose not considered admissible?
After all, those accused were part of a political agitation in various capacities. They endorsed decisions of one another and cannot avoid responsibility of actions of colleagues. Agarwal was for long an active member of the VHP and lent support to all the Sangh Parivar affiliates. He remained a party in the civil suit till his passing in 2002.
A Blow To The Dreams Of Indian Muslims
The defence case was built on the argument that there was no conspiracy, and that the demolition was the result of a mass upsurge due to a sustained people's movement for “restoring national glory”.
The Babri demolition case verdict is the second judgment after the apex court verdict, that shows the judiciary of being mindful of the dominant majoritarian sense in society.
The development is worrisome because the judiciary is still seen the last bastion of hope. Judges of the apex court who passed the verdict in November balanced the judgment by being politically correct and legally upright on the criminal act of demolishing the mosque. It did not, however, have to adjudicate on this. On the issue before it, the five judges went chiefly by possession – actual and proof of this – in the past.
For India’s Muslims, the judgment, subsequent jubilation outside the court, and the self-congratulatory statements of Ram temple votaries, is yet another blow to the belief in the dream that they, or their forefathers, chose over Pakistan in 1947.
This is despite the fact that the bulk of them lost interest in the Babri Masjid after 1992. But the continuing majoritarian onslaught rubs salt into the wounds and serves as a reminder to these symbols.
The acquittal of the accused in the demolition case will deepen their existential crisis.
It will add to the pressure to adjust to a 'New India' where Hindutva is the dominant ideology.
The Congress rightly asked the central and state governments to appeal against the verdict and the official response this will demonstrate if processes of law are still being followed or have already been abandoned.
(The writer's first book was ‘The Demolition: India At The Crossroads’. He is currently working on a new book on the subject. He tweets @NilanjanUdwin. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)