The Supreme Court court will take up on Wednesday the CBI’s plea challenging a trial court’s decision to drop criminal conspiracy charges several BJP and other Hindu right-wing leaders in the Babri masjid demolition case.
Justice RS Nariman, who had criticised dropping of charges against the 13 leaders, however, is not part of the bench that will hear the matter. The bench had hinted at reviving the charges.
The hearing comes a day after a separate bench of the top court called for an amicable settlement to the decades-old dispute over the religious site in Ayodhya, saying the “sensitive and sentimental matter” is best settled out of court.
Chief Justice JS Khehar even offered to mediate such out-of-court negotiations, the latest push from the courts to resolve a dispute over a 2.7-acre land that remains India’s most potent communal flashpoint between many Hindus and Muslims.
The sensitive issue has returned to the limelight after the BJP grabbed power in Uttar Pradesh with a brute majority, reviving hopes among its supporters over the party’s proposed plans to build a Ram temple at the site.
Many Hindus believe that Lord Ram was born at the spot where the first Mughal king Babar had build the mosque. The mosque was demolished on December 6, 1992 by kar sevaks of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), sparking communal riots across the country that left more than 3,000 people dead.
The CBI had booked several BJP leaders including LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and Kalyan Singh but they were later discharged by the Allahabad high court.
On March 6, justice Nariman – who was in the bench with justice PC Ghose — had made some strong remarks against the trial court for dropping the conspiracy charges on technical ground.
“People cannot be discharged like this,” he said at the commencement of the proceedings. Justice Ghose echoed the views.
“There is something very peculiar going on in this case. We prima facie do not approve of the way these people have been discharged,” the bench had remarked.
It hinted at reviving the conspiracy charges and said the trial court in Lucknow would be directed to hold a joint trial. “We will allow the CBI to file a supplementary chargesheet by including the conspiracy charges.”
The court’s suggestion was opposed by senior advocate KK VEnugopal, who appeared on behalf of the lawyers. He raised a technical argument against the CBI appeal and pleaded it was belated. On his request the bench had agreed to hear him at length on his objection.
The criminal cases in the Babri Masjid case stemmed from two crime files – 197 and 198. Both were filed shortly after the disputed structure was demolished. The CBI, however, filed a combined chargesheet in the case.
FIR number 197 was registered against lakhs of unknown kar sevaks and dealt with the actual demolition of the structure. The accused were charged with serious offences including robbery or dacoity with attempt to murder and promoting enmity between different religious groups. This case was being heard by a Lucknow court, which dropped conspiracy charges against the 13 leaders.
The second, FIR 198, was registered against 12 persons, including Ashok Singhal, Giriraj Kishore, Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Vishnu Hari Dalmiya, Vinay Katiyar, Uma Bharti and Sadhvi Ritambhara, who were present at the Ayodhya when the masjid was being demolished. They are accused of promoting enmity, making imputations and assertions prejudicial to national integration and statements conducing to public mischief.
This case is also pending before a court in Rae Barelli.