After 25 years, leaders of India’s Babri mosque demolition await court verdict
The demolition of Babri Masjid, a disputed mosque, by Hindu extremists in broad daylight in 1992 was a watershed in post-independent India. However, the conspirators used every trick to evade the proverbial long arm of the law for a quarter of a century.
Now, at long last, the law seems to have caught up with them to the relief of those who feared that the mosque wreckers would go scot-free in the constitutionally secular but predominantly Hindu nation.
The Babri demolition case trial began this week in a special court in Lucknow, capital of Uttar Pradesh province, where the six key accused belonging to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party were slapped with criminal conspiracy charges.
BJP big guns who stood in the dock are L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharati, Vinay Kaitiyar, Sadhvi Rithambara and Vishnu Hari Damia. They face trial for instigating the armed mob, which pulled down the 16th century mosque in Ayodhya, claiming that it was built exactly where the mythological Hindu deity, Ram, was “born”.
Bharati is a lawmaker and cabinet minister in Modi’s government. Advani and Joshi are BJP Members of Parliament. Advani was Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister during BJP rule from 1998 to 2004; Joshi too was a key minister in the first BJP government headed by ex-premier Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Katiyar is a four-time BJP MP. Sadhvi and Dalmia are hardliners with a history of inciting hatred against Muslims.
Some believe that the trial suits Modi for two reasons: its outcome won’t affect the government’s or party’s standing and, more importantly the half a dozen men and women in the dock are perceived as rabidly anti-Modi and the trial will further marginalize them.
Advani, 90, who developed serious differences with Modi despite mentoring him, was eyeing the top constitutional post after President Pranab Mukherjee’s term ends in July. But the trial has killed his prospects. Even Bharati – who somehow managed to enter Modi’s cabinet – is known for her trenchant criticism of the premier.
The Babri case was trapped in India's notoriously complex legal system with the powerful accused hiring top lawyers and exploiting myriad loopholes in the law to avert a trial.
But in April the Supreme Court put its foot down and said that the trial must be completed in two years. It also ruled that the trial would be held on “a day-to-day basis” and that “on no grounds, will it be adjourned” to ensure the verdict is delivered in two years.
The VVIP treatment accorded to Modi and other accused by Uttar Pradesh’s BJP government when they reached Lucknow for the trial shows that the party doesn’t regret destroying the Babri Masjid and is determined to build a grand temple at the very site where the mosque once stood.
The BJP’s stand became crystal clear when UP Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, a hardliner known for his hate speech targeting Muslims, visited Ayodhya no sooner the trial began to pray at the make-shift temple built at the site of the razed mosque.
An ongoing court case to decide the ownership of the land where the Babri Masjid stood until 1992 is the biggest obstacle in the path of the Ram temple BJP wants to build in Ayodhya.