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Babri Masjid case: Advani, Joshi, Bharti charged with criminal conspiracy; Naidu says BJP leaders innocent

A special CBI court also granted bail to LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti after they appeared before it in connection with the Babri Masjid demolition case.

india Updated: May 31, 2017 00:48 IST
Pawan Dixit
Pawan Dixit
Hindustan Times, Lucknow
LK Advani met Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath after he arrived at the VVIP guest house in Lucknow before leaving for the special court on Tuesday.
LK Advani met Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath after he arrived at the VVIP guest house in Lucknow before leaving for the special court on Tuesday.(Deepak Gupta/HT Photo)

Criminal conspiracy charges were framed on Tuesday against BJP stalwarts LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, water minister Uma Bharti and nine more leaders in connection with the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid. (Highlights)

They appeared in a special CBI court in Lucknow, pleaded not guilty and were granted bail.

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath met the three accused outside the court in a sign of support. He will visit Ayodhya and pray at the disputed site on Wednesday.

Kalyan Singh, the BJP chief minister of Uttar Pradesh when the mosque was razed, was not arraigned because of the immunity given to governors from legal proceedings. He is now the governor of Rajasthan.

“I don’t consider myself a criminal. It was not a conspiracy,” said Bharti, the 58-year-old water resources minister in the Narendra Modi government.

Fellow accused Vinay Katiyar, a former BJP parliamentarian, said: “The demolition was spontaneous and there was never any conspiracy.”

The BJP, which is committed to the construction of a temple in Ayodhya, defended the accused.

“They are innocent,” Union minister M Venkaiah Naidu said.

But the opposition Congress demanded Bharti’s removal from the ministry after the court order.

“She must step down. We hope the Prime Minister will ask her to step down,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said.

Thousands of “kar sevaks” or supporters of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) razed the Mughal-era mosque in Ayodhya, which many Hindus believe was built on top of the birthplace of god Ram.

The destruction on December 6, 1992, unleashed some of the deadliest religious riots across the country since Independence, killing more than 3,000 people. The disputed site, comprising 2.7 acres, remains India’s most potent religious flashpoint.

Advani, a former home minister, said he tried to stop the clashes.

A CBI court dropped charges of criminal conspiracy against Advani and long-time comrade Joshi, aged 83, on technical grounds 16 years ago. The Supreme Court revived the case this April, saying the demolition shook “the fabric of the Constitution”.

Tuesday’s order is viewed as a setback for the 89-year-old Advani whose name is doing the rounds in political circles as a possible candidate for the presidential polls. President Pranab Mukherjee’s term ends this July.

Besides the BJP leaders, the others accused in the case are firebrand Hindutva campaigner Sadhvi Rithambara, Vishnu Hari Dalmiya and Ram Vilas Vedanti of the VHP, Shiv Sena leader Satish Pradhan, Bakunth Lal Sharma, Champat Rai Bansal, Mahant Nritya Gopal Das and Dharam Das.

The judge framed charges against them under Section 120(b) of the Indian Penal Code, which stands for criminal conspiracy.

They face trial for conspiracy in addition to charges against them for promoting religious enmity and defiling a place of worship with the intent to insult a religion.

“I was one of those who pulled the dome down,” right-wing leader Vedanti said on Tuesday ahead of his appearance in the special court.

When negotiations failed
The framing of charges against top right-wing leaders comes against the backdrop of numerous failed out-of-court settlements in Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute
  • 1859 After some clashes, British administration erected a fence to separate the places of worship. The inner court was to be used by Muslims and the outer court by Hindus. The arrangement didn’t last long as Mahant Raghubar Das filed a suit in 1885 for permission to build a canopy on Ram Chabootra
  • 1990 Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar tried to resolve the dispute through negotiations when VHP volunteers partially damaged the mosque. But the talks failed next year
  • Dec 16, 1992 Ten days after the mosque was razed, PM PV Narsimha Rao was instrumental in setting up a commission of inquiry underJustice Liberhan. The panel submitted report on June 30, 2009. Its contents were not made public
  • June 2002 Prime Minister AB Vajpayee set up an Ayodhya cell and appointed senior official, Shatrughna Singh, to hold talks with Hindu and Muslim leaders. This too could not bear any fruit
  • July 26, 2010 The Lucknow bench of Allahabad HC reserved its judgement and advised all parties to solve the issue amicably. But no one was keen and the court said the verdict would be pronounced on September 24
  • Sep 23, 2010 A plea for an out-of-court settlement reached Supreme Court. But the court rejected it and subsequently gave nod to the Allahabad HC to deliver the judgement. The high court chose September 30 as the verdict day
  • Feb 24, 2015 Mohammad Hashim Ansari,the oldest litigant from Muslim side, met Akhara Parishad president, Mahant Gyan Das, to discuss a new proposal for resolution which they planned to put before the Supreme Court. The formula for settlement that talked about the 70 acres of disputed site accommodating both mosque and temple could not take off
  • April 10, 2015 Another attempt to negotiate started when the litigants from both the parties met in Ayodhya. Swami Chakrapani, president of All India Hindu Mahasabha,the main litigant from Hindu side, met the Muslim litigants fighting the case. From the Muslim side, the oldest litigant of Babri Masjid case, Mohammad Hashim Ansari, his son and his legal representative were present
  • May 31, 2016 Representatives from both Hindu and Muslim communities met again. Mahant Narendra Giri, president of the All India Akhara Parishad, met Hashim Ansari, who passed away in July at the age of 96.

The maximum punishment in such a case would be five years in jail or a fine or both, according to a lawyer who attended the proceedings.

The CBI had charge-sheeted 21 people but many of them, including Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray and the VHP’s Acharya Giriraj Kishore, Ashok Singhal, Paramhans Ram Chandra Das and Mahant Avaidhynath, died before the long-drawn trial ended.

This April, the Supreme Court ordered the lower court to wrap up the trial in two years.

(With inputs from HTC New Delhi and agencies)

First Published: May 30, 2017 18:01 IST