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India: Now That We Have a Temple, What About the Mosque Demolition Case?

Sunday 10 November 2019, by siawi3


Photo: Screen grab of Hindutva activists demolishing the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992.

Now That We Have a Temple, What About the Mosque Demolition Case?


What’s the news?

It’s been more than two years since the Supreme Court, in an extraordinary order concerning the Babri Masjid demolition case, directed a sessions court in Lucknow to hold daily hearings against those accused and deliver its judgment within, well, two years.

The apex court directed that there would be no transfer of the judge conducting the trial until it was concluded. The case, it stipulated, was not to be adjourned on any grounds except when the sessions court found it impossible to carry on the trial for a particular date. It also ordered the CBI to ensure that prosecution witnesses would always be present for each date fixed for evidence so that the matter would not be adjourned for want of witnesses.

As many analysts have pointed out, the demolition of the Babri Masjid was not just the destruction of a religious structure but a direct attack on the constitution and the very idea of India. The apex court at the time also acknowledged this fact: While ordering a time-bound trial, it referred to the demolition of the mosque as a crime which “shook the secular fabric of India”.

The Supreme Court also held that the charge of criminal conspiracy should be made against Advani and 20 others named as the accused in case no. 198. This was contrary to the judgment passed by the Allahabad high court which dropped the charges of criminal conspiracy.

History of criminal proceedings

In his report titled, “Now That Title Suit Is Resolved, Can We Talk About Babri Masjid Demolition Case?”, Mahtab Alam traced the tortuous history of the prosecution in that case.

“In the wake of Babri Masjid demolition, two FIRs were lodged – FIR 197 and FIR 198. FIR 197 was filed in an Ayodhya police station immediately after the demolition. This FIR was against “lakhs of unknown kar sevaks”. The other FIR, 198, contained several names and was registered against Lal Krishna Advani and seven others, including Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti, Mahant Avaidyanath, Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Vishnu Hari Dalmia and Ashok Singhal for making incendiary speeches leading up to the demolition. Unlike the first FIR, notably, the conspiracy charge was missing in the second.

“On October 5, 1993, the CBI filed a joint chargesheet citing 40 persons as the accused. This included prominent leaders of the BJP, VHP, Shiv Sena and Bajrang Dal. However, the conspiracy charge was dropped against some of the Hindutva leaders on technical grounds.

“It was only 25 years after the demolition, in April 2017, that the Supreme Court finally reversed the judgments delivered by the subordinate courts.”

Who was responsible for the demolition?

“The individuals against whom the Supreme Court directed that additional charges under Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code (conspiracy) be framed included leading lights of the BJP such as L.K. Advani, Vinay Katiyar, Uma Bharati, Sadhvi Rithambara, Murli Manohar Joshi and Vishnu Hari Dalmia. Kalyan Singh (the chief minister of UP at the time of the demolition) was granted immunity under the provision of Article 361 because he was then governor of Rajasthan.

“However, the Supreme Court in its judgment noted, “the court of sessions will frame charges and move against him as soon as he ceases to be governor.”

Title suit fast-tracked, criminal case delayed

“It has been more than six months since the deadline fixed by the Supreme Court of India, and the trial has yet to be concluded.

“Though there was no urgency for a matter pending since 1949, the title suit was heard on war footing in recent days. But the demolition case, which pertains to what the apex court now calls “an egregious violation of the rule of law” and the killing of more than 2,000 people across the country, is not being treated with the same urgency.

“On July 19, 2019, the apex court extended the tenure of the special judge hearing the demolition case.

“The court said that the extension of tenure of the special judge, who was set to retire on September 30, would only be for the purpose of concluding the trial and delivering a verdict in the case. The apex court also asked the judge to deliver a verdict within nine months.

“Is justice likely at the end of the remaining six months or will another extension be granted, as was seen in the case of the Liberhan Commission. Before giving another extension, the apex court would do well to remember its own order, which rightly noted that the crimes committed in the demolition case “shook the secular fabric of the constitution of India,” Alam adds.


Ayodhya’s Class of 1992: The Key Conspirators

The Wire takes a look at the personalities and the events that led to the demolition of the mosque — a fact which takes on the great significance on a day when the title dispute verdict has come from the Supreme Court.

Lal Krishna Advani

When it comes to the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the violence that preceded and followed it – in which the lives of thousands of Indians were lost – former deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani’s name comes first. The Bharatiya Janata Party was founded in 1980 and Advani assumed leadership of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in 1984 before becoming party president in 1986.

He was the face of and the brain behind the rath yatra of 1990 which stirred support for the demand for the construction of a Ram temple at the very spot where the Babri mosque had stood since 1527. The yatra left to large scale violence and rioting along its path. During the yatra ,Advani made it abundantly clear that he was not carrying a message of peace. Pictures of him carrying a trishul, an axe, a sword and a bow and arrow also emerged.

In a separate profile, “L.K. Advani, the Chief Provocateur”, Kabir Agarwal reviews the damning evidence that has already been recorded against the senior BJP leader. Yet, on Saturday, following the Supreme Court’s Ayodhya title suit judgment, Advani said he had been “vindicated”.

Rajiv Gandhi

If responsibility is to be apportioned for preparing the ground and providing fuel for the rise of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, Rajiv Gandhi assumes key role. Between 1949 – when idols of Lord Ram were surreptitiously placed inside the Babri Masjid – and 1986, the Ayodhya dispute had been a relatively low-intensity one. Until then, the premises of the masjid had been locked and a priest was allowed to perform a ritual puja for the idols only once a year.

It was Gandhi’s decision – aided by his prime strategist Arun Nehru – on February 1, 1986, to open the locks of the Babri masjid that provided the wind in the sails of the Sangh parivar’s movement to ‘break free’ the idols of Ram.

This opened up the Babri masjid for the Hindu community and more importantly the Sangh parivar whose cultural, ideological and political agenda was to take control of the ‘birthplace’ of Ram. Within six years of the opening of the locks of the Babri Masjid by the Rajiv Gandhi government, the structure was demolished by kar sevaks led by BJP leaders including L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi as the state machinery stood, watched, aided and abetted.

Kalyan Singh

As chief minister of Uttar Pradesh at the time the Babri masjid was demolished, Kalyan Singh was responsible for maintaining law and order in Ayodhya and the protection of the Babri masjid as 1,50,000 kar sevaks led by BJP leaders gathered around it.

But, the role he played was in stark contrast with his responsibilities and duties.

According to the CBI chargesheet in the demolition of the Babri mosque case, Kalyan Singh had in 1991 said that during his tenure “a temple of Shri Ram will inevitably be constructed.”

Vinay Katiyar

Katiyar was the sitting member of parliament from the Faizabad Lok Sabha constituency – where Ayodhya is located – when the Babri mosque was demolished.

According to the CBI chargesheet in the criminal case of the demolition of the Babri mosque, a key meeting on December 5, 1992 – one day before the mosque was brought down – was held at Katiyar’s home.

In this ‘secret meeting’ which was attended by LK Advani, Pawan Pandey, etc, the final decision to demolish the mosque was taken.

The next day Katiyar was present on the dais about 150-200 metres from the mosque where leaders of the BJP including L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti made provocative speeches.

Murli Manohar Joshi

According to the CBI chargesheet, Joshi played a key role in stirring up sentiment for the building of a Ram temple and demolition of the Babri mosque. Joshi too is mentioned as a conspirator by the CBI.

The chargesheet noted, “According to the investigation, Murli Manohar Joshi had said at Mathura on December 1, 1992, on his way to Ayodhya that no force can stop construction of Ram temple and he was encouraging the kar sevaks from the manch on December 6, 1992, for the demolition of the disputed structure and was shouting provocative slogans.”

Uma Bharti

Bharti was another BJP leader who was present at the dais next to the mosque prior to the demolition. She has been indicted both by the Liberhan commission and the CBI for her role in provoking the kar sevaks gathered at the site of the mosque on December 6, 1992.

According to the chargesheet, some of the slogans that Bharti used were, “Masjid girao, mandir banao, Babar ki aulad ko Pakistan bhagao” (‘Demolish the mosque, construct the temple, sends Babar’s progeny to Pakistan’).

P.V. Narasimha Rao

Rao, who famously remarked that ‘not taking a decision is a decision’ was prime minister when the Babri Masjid was demolished. His indecisiveness in the period leading up to the demolition proved decisive in the end.

Several months prior to the demolition, the Union home ministry had planned to take over the mosque to prevent any untoward incident from occurring. It waited for the go-ahead from Rao to arrive. That never did.

He has also been criticised for the decision to not dismiss the BJP-led Uttar Pradesh government which had been accused of acting in a partisan manner and whose political agenda it was to build a temple at the spot where the Babri Masjid stood.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee

Vajpayee was largely known for his relatively moderate and liberal stand on issues that tend to invoke great passion among the Sangh parivar. But, Ayodhya was one of the issues where Vajpayee’s proverbial mask came off.

A day prior to the planned kar seva which led to the demolition of the mosque, Vajpayee gave a speech in Lucknow where he said, “Ab bhajan, kirtan karne ke liye baithna padega aur nukilee patthar par to koi baith nahi sakta, zameen ko samtal karna padega.” (‘In order to offer prayers, one will have to sit. One cannot sit on sharp and pointed stones. The ground will have to be levelled’).

VHP president Ashok Singhal

Singhal was one of the key movers and shakers behind the Ram Janmbhoomi movement and assumes particular importance as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad was fighting the legal battle of the Ayodhya title dispute on ‘behalf’ of Ram lalla virajman – the deity who being a ‘perpetual’ minor needed a shebait (or manager, who serves the deity).

He was among the first voices to demand that the gates of the Babri Masjid be opened in 1984 and launched the Ram Janaki Rath Yatra, which was the first large scale movement for the Hindu claim on the disputed land.
Why the Ayodhya Judgment is Intensely Worrying

In his analysis titled, ”The Ayodhya Judgment in India’s Enveloping Darkness”, Harsh Mander writes, “Finding land to build a mosque or temple was never the question. It was whether those who razed the mosque should be punished, or rewarded for their illegal act by being allowed to erect a temple at the site of their crime.”

Mander writes, “From the opening paragraphs of the judgment, it is apparent that the judges of the Supreme Court regarded this case to be in the nature of a dispute between the Hindu and Muslim people of India. This it was not. It was a dispute between self-styled organisations which claim to represent the sentiments and interests of Hindus and Muslims, but have no explicit mandate to do so, nor empirical evidence that they enjoy the wide support of people of these faiths...

“In the opening paragraph of the judgment, the court states that the ‘Hindu community’ believes that the disputed site was ‘the birthplace of Lord Ram, the incarnation of Lord Vishnu’. This is simply not true. Some Hindus believe that Ram was born at that precise location, and others do not. On what grounds does the court privilege one ‘faith and belief’ that Ram was born under the domes of the demolished mosque over the ‘faith and belief’ of innumerable other Hindus that Ram was born elsewhere?

“There is one other issue of enormous moral and legal salience which the judgment completely sidesteps. This is the consequence of three criminal acts which resulted in the de facto conversion of the mosque into a temple. The first criminal act which interrupted worship in the mosque was the surreptitious and illegal introduction of the Ram idol in the mosque in 1949. The second was the celebratory demolition of the mosque in 1992 by a fevered mob, cheered by leaders like Lal Krishna Advani. The third was the violation of court orders prohibiting any alteration of the status quo of the site, by building a makeshift Ram Temple where the demolished mosque stood, during the 36 hours which followed the demolition of the mosque.

“While the judgment recognises at least two of these crimes, what it does in effect is to reward those who broke the law, defied the orders of the Supreme Court, and above all dishonoured the guarantees of India’s constitution and the central article of faith of India’s struggle for freedom – of the equality of all religions. This order would probably have been inconceivable if the mosque still stood at the disputed site. The court does acknowledge in its judgment this wanton debasement of the law, yet rewards the party responsible for this, for the multiple assaults on the law, the constitution and the Supreme Court. It seems unmindful that these crimes took the toll of hundreds of innocent lives in communal violence that rocked the country from 1989 to early 1993, and that its unhealed wounds continue to tear apart the country decades later. It believes the award of five acres of land for the building of a mosque is “restitution” enough, overlooking the fact that finding land to build a mosque or temple was never the problem in this protracted dispute. It was whether those who razed the mosque should be punished or rewarded for their illegal act by being allowed to erect a temple at the very site of their crime.”