Babri Verdict: Is Rule Of Law At The ‘Mercy Of Those In Power’?
“We’re hardly left with any credibility in the investigation & prosecution systems,” writes advocate MR Shamshad.
Babri Masjid was demolished on 6 December 1992. It was not a general criminal incident. The Supreme Court said that ‘a five-hundred-year-old structure which was defenceless and whose safety was a sacred trust in the hands of the State Government was demolished’. This had the effect of shaking faith in the rule of law and the constitutional process in our country. It is apparent from a reading of the chargesheet that it was planned for months by organised mobs under the leadership of known political masters, who later rose to very high offices in government and politics.
Cases/FIRs Filed – And How The Path For a ‘Combined Trial’ Was Paved
FIR 197 was registered on 6 December 1992 against lakhs of kar sevaks, alleging offences of
- voluntarily causing grievous hurt by act
- endangering life or personal safety of others
- injuring and defiling place of worship with intention to insult the religion of any class trespassing burial places
- promoting enmity between different groups
The same day, almost at the same time, another FIR – FIR No 198 – was registered against eight persons including LK Advani, Giriraj Kishore, Ashok Singhal, Murli Manohar Joshi, Vinay Katiyar, Uma Bharti and Sadhvi Rithambara and Vishnu Dalmiya, under various other sections of IPC.
Apart from these two FIRs, about 47 more FIRs were lodged for committing cognisable offences and non-cognisable offences. Finally, FIR No 197 was handed over to the CBI on 13 December 1992.
FIR No 198 remained with the CBI/CID, but later, on 26 August 1993, this investigation, along with 47 other FIRs, were also handed over to the CBI. Accordingly, all 49 cases were entrusted to the CBI.
The CBI prepared a combined chargesheet on 4 October 1993, and a supplementary chargesheet on 10 January 1996.
On 9 September 1993, the state government issued a notification creating a special court in Lucknow for the trial of ‘all cases’ – but the schedule of cases in the notification mentioned ONLY FIR No 197.
This error (might have been a deliberate action of the state government) proved to be a godsend gain to complicate the issue of the trial at the hands of the accused for years.
The trial court kept travelling from Lalitpur to Raebareli to Lucknow. Finally, the Supreme Court resolved it in 2017, to pave the way for a combined trial before one court in Lucknow, to enable the conclusion of the trial – and now we have the final judgment.
What The Chargesheet Said
Originally, 49 accused were chargesheeted. In the last 28 years time, 17 accused died and 32 survived. 351 witnesses were proposed in the cases before this court.
The chargesheet states that ‘in order to ensure possibility of successful achievement of the objective of the conspiracy for demolition of disputed structure a well programmed practice session of kar sevaks were organised for rehearsing demolition of disputed structure’ – and its operational control was in fact supervised and convened by Ramesh Pratap Singh.
On 5 December, Vinay Katiyar had publicly stated that ‘kar seva’ won’t mean ‘bhajan’ and ‘kirtan’. At the same time the Government of UP positively assured to protect the structure.
Based on evidence, the chargesheet stated that the stage was set for 6 December 1992, in accordance with the ‘scheme of criminal conspiracy’.
It also stated that Shri LK Advani – in close proximity of the disputed structure, shortly before the actual demolition of the disputed site amongst other facts duly projected by him – had also emphasised that 6 December was the last day of the kar seva, and the kar sevaks shall do the last seva on that day.
How The Babri Masjid Demolition Was ‘Incited’
The chargesheet also records that LK Advani advised another co-accused Kalyan Singh, the then Chief Minister of UP, not to resign till the demolition of the disputed structure was complete. In order to aid and abet criminal conspiracy, inadequate force was deployed at the disputed site and non-deployment of sufficient force was strategic and deliberate, which helped to abate the offence. The same Mr Kalyan Singh refused granting permission to use force to stop the foreseeable demolition saying it will lead to violence in the entire state of UP and the country itself.
The demolition went on for five hours. Media persons were attacked, and injured and their cameras, notebooks etc were snatched.
Sadhvi Rithambara and Uma Bharti provoked the accused kar sevaks to demolish, and made an appeal through the public address system saying, ‘Ek dhakka aur do, Babri Masjid tod do’ (Give one more blow; demolish Babri Masjid). Uma Bharti shouted ‘Masjid girao, mandir banao’.
Acharya Dharmendra Deo incited and encouraged the kar sevaks by saying ‘Ek ek eint prashad kay tor kar le jao’. Immediately after the demolition, Jai Bhagwan Goel admitted that he and Moreshwar Save were in-charge of commanding the demolition. The chargesheet, running into many pages, has set out such statements based upon their investigation and evidence collection.
Thousands of pages of oral evidence have been recorded before the court, which explains how this entire demolition was planned.
Consistently, witness after witness has testified in court about these chants and slogans.
If we go by the court verdict, the chargesheet of the premier investigating agency in our country has no credible evidence, meaning that the allegations are ‘baseless’. If that is so, then let us admit that we are hardly left with any credibility in the investigation and prosecution systems.
If not, then the investigations and prosecutions are based on issues with strict regulatory control from outside agencies.
Consequentially, we can say with reasonable assurance that the Rule of Law is at the mercy of the people in power.
Today we need to understand whether or not the court system is upholding the constitutional norms. The Code of Criminal Procedure and the Supreme Court of India (in the Lalita Kumari case) says that once somebody approaches the police with information about a cognisable offence, the police is mandatorily required to register a case. Throughout the country, we have seen police officials committing contempt of this Supreme Court judgment on a daily basis, by not registering many complaints relating to cognisable offences and filing FIRs as they should.
Documented Evidence To Prove That The Demolition Was ‘Planned’
When aggrieved persons approach the court, the courts liberally grant time to the concerned police force to file the response for the non-registration of FIRs. For the common citizen, it is too hard to understand a 2300-page court judgment and find out what weighed in favour of the accused.
The only thing that can be said is that there are many documented facts, most importantly the report of the Liberhan Commission, which go to prove that this demolition was ‘planned’ and ‘conspired’.
We have seen how the higher courts are very liberal in propounding the principles of law, fitting into and advancing the constitutional norms. However, when it comes to applying them to the specific facts, a fine distinction makes the issues meaningless. In many similar cases, evidence collected by the same investigating agencies make the entire process more meaningful.
However, when it comes to the issues of the vulnerable, the culpability of the investigating agencies are ignored, and matters remain confined to high judicial principles without applying in to the specific facts of the case.
There was a chance to rectify the ‘national shame’ for the incident of demolition. However, now we see what has happened in the court process. All those acquitted today are celebrating the verdict – the verdict which is more to be doubted than to be made sense out of.
(MR Shamshad is an advocate practising at the Supreme Court of India. He has appeared in the Supreme Court in both civil and criminal cases related to the Babri Masjid dispute. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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