Did CBI change charges against Advani?
Is India's premier investigation agency trying to secure a reprieve from court for Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani in the Babri mosque demolition case?
The question was being raised on Saturday in both political and legal circles in Lucknow following Friday's revelation that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had dropped the charge of criminal conspiracy against Advani and seven other prominent ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders in the criminal case relating to the 1992 demolition of the mosque in Ayodhya, by Hindu karsewaks.
When the case came up before a special court in Rae Bareli, about 83 km from Lucknow, for hearing on Friday it was discovered that the CBI had dropped Section 120-B of the Indian Penal Code dealing with criminal conspiracy in its revised list of charges submitted some time in May.
"I was alarmed when I noticed that Section 120-B was missing from the revised chargesheet that was read out on July 18," a senior lawyer representing one of the accused said.
"This all-important section was there in the original chargesheet filed by the CBI in 1997 and it is more than evident now that by removing it in the revised charge-sheet, the agency is out to save Advani's skin," he added.
The BJP's political opponents were also of the view that the whole game was being played to get Advani a clean chit by whatever means.
"It is a shame that the CBI was being manipulated by people in power and, what was worse, the whole game was being actively masterminded by the country's deputy prime minister whose obvious intent was to save his own skin at all costs," state Congress president Jagdambika Pal charged.
"This is bound to have serious long-term repercussions on CBI's credibility, which has so far been regarded as the sole independent investigation agency," Pal said.
This was the second reprieve for Advani ever since the criminal case was instituted against him for his alleged role in the demolition.
Earlier, following an order of the Lucknow bench of the Allahanad High Court in February 2002, cases were dropped against Advani and seven others, including Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti, Vishwa Hindu Parishad chief Ashok Singhal, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray and then Uttar Pradesh BJP chief minister Kalyan Singh.
The bench had held the constitution of the special trial court in Lucknow as invalid. But following a petition in the Supreme Court, proceedings were started afresh in the case before the original court in Rae Bareli.
The chargesheet now contains offences under sections 153-A, 153-B (propagating communal violence), 147, 149 (rioting) and section 505 (spreading ill-will).
Legal experts however wonder how the CBI could leave Advani and other top BJP leaders out of the purview of section 120-B when all the other charges actually lead to criminal conspiracy.
The special court on Friday fixed July 30 for viewing the video clippings showing the events of December 6, 1992, in Ayodhya. "The clippings would throw enough light on what all Advani and his BJP compatriots did to incite passions and to propel Hindu karsewaks into the demolition act", another senior legal counsel said.
Defence counsel Mridul Rakesh however claimed that Advani was never charged under section 120-B, which was used against several other accused persons.
"The original case registered against Advani in Ayodhya did not include any criminal conspiracy charge; it was only in 1993 when the CBI moved in to club two separate cases through a common chargesheet that Advani had got roped in under that section", he asserted.
"However subsequently, following the high court order of February 2002, when the combined chargesheet of the two separate cases was bifurcated, Advani once again ipso facto stood clear of the charge under section 120-B", Rakesh added.