Babri Masjid demolition trials: Ayodhya again
The Supreme Court breathes new life into the Babri Masjid demolition trials
A nearly moribund prosecution has been given a new lease of life by the Supreme Court. By ordering a joint trial into two cases arising out of the Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992, and demanding that the trial court in Lucknow hear the matter on a day-to-day basis, the court has reinforced the importance of reaching a speedy judicial resolution in a matter that has already been horribly delayed. It was a mere technicality that resulted in the case relating to the actual act of demolition by numberless kar sevaks being tried in a special court in Lucknow and another relating to BJP political leaders being tried in Rae Bareli on the charge of inciting ill-will and hatred. The Uttar Pradesh government’s failure to cure a technical defect in an earlier notification, and the failure of the CBI to challenge it at the relevant time, led to the situation of separate proceedings continuing for years. It is regrettable that a case relating to the promotion of communal disharmony, one that had a bearing on riots and reprisals in the following months, was mired in judicial stagnation and administrative apathy for a quarter century. The court order reinfuses life into this necessary prosecution and reinforces faith in the rule of law.
The Supreme Court has revived the charge of criminal conspiracy against senior BJP leaders L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and others, a small but significant change in the nature of the prosecution in a case that relates to the speeches they made, which allegedly incited the kar sevaks to pull down the mosque. In political terms, this is an embarrassment for the BJP. It has always maintained that the Ayodhya case against its leaders was essentially political in nature, but this charge now has a hollow ring with the Supreme Court itself reviving the conspiracy charge and fast-tracking the trial. As for Mr. Advani, this draws a curtain on his long political career; if it is true that he nursed ambitions about becoming the country’s next President, this almost certainly puts an end to that dream. But more than Mr. Advani and Mr. Joshi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi may have cause to worry about how to deal with the continuance of Ms. Bharti as a Union Minister. Given that the party had demanded the resignation of charge-sheeted ministers in the previous government, it will now face the uncomfortable predicament of one of its own facing a criminal trial. There is also the question about the propriety of allowing Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh, the man who was the U.P. Chief Minister on that fateful day in December 1992, to remain in the Raj Bhavan. While it is true that he enjoys constitutional immunity because of his gubernatorial office, he will be subject to the law the moment he demits office. There is no legal compulsion for either of them to quit, but the issue for a government that waxes eloquent about probity in public life is to ask if there is a moral case for their continuance.