A special CBI court acquitted all 32 accused, including BJP veterans LK Advani, MM Joshi and Uma Bharati, of involvement in the demolition of Babri Masjid 28 years ago.
The Opposition said the verdict ran counter to the spirit of the Constitution as well as last November’s Supreme Court judgment that had called the demolition illegal.
In a 2,300-page judgment, the CBI court held vandals among kar sevaks responsible for the demolition, adding that there was no evidence to prove that the accused and “the unruly elements” planned and met each other at any time to hatch the alleged conspiracy. It said volunteers from the RSS and the VHP handled the situation, and that the late VHP president Ashok Singhal wanted to save the structure because Ram idols were inside.
Delivering the verdict on the day of his retirement, special judge SK Yadav did not accept newspaper reports and video cassettes as evidence. “The video cassettes were not sealed and even the videos were not clear and as such the same cannot be relied on,” he said. The CBI had relied on newspaper evidence, photographs taken by photojournalists and video cassettes. But, the court pointed out their originals were not produced for authentication. It added that none of the video cassettes or footage, including those provided by the then director of Delhi Doordarshan, was sent for forensic testing to rule out tampering. Referring to the Ayodhya-based Hindi daily Janmorcha, produced as evidence of then Ayodhya MP Vinay Katiyar’s alleged comment that “kar sevaks would come secretly”, the judge said neither was the reporter examined nor the original paper produced.
Twenty-six of the 32 accused were present in the Lucknow court when the judge read out the operative portion of the verdict, an exercise which took five minutes. Advani, Joshi, Bharati, former UP CM Kalyan Singh, Ram Janmaboomi Teerth Kshetra Trust President Nritya Gopal Das and Shiv Sena leader Satish Pradhan had sought exemptions from personal appearance. Singh and Bhaarti are recovering from Covid-19; Das tested positive last month.
The verdict came less than a year after the SC’s judgment in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute that paved the way for the construction of a temple at the Ayodhya site. The court had then called the demolition an “egregious violation of the rule of law”.
With the exoneration, low-key celebrations broke out at the residences of Advani and Joshi, who were glued to their TV sets while the verdict was read out. Advani, 92, flanked by his lawyers and family, clutched his daughter’s hand through the hearing and turned emotional upon his acquittal. A few supporters raised slogans outside, while Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad swung by to congratulate him. Messages and calls from the senior leadership poured in through the day. Later, in an official statement, Advani said the verdict was a vindication of his commitment to the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. Joshi, 86, said the verdict proved that there was no conspiracy in the BJP’s programmes and that the controversy should now come to an end.