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Advani and Joshi have been eyeing the post of President and Vice President respectively
Advani and Joshi have been eyeing the post of President and Vice President respectively

BJP leaders L K Advani, M M Joshi and Uma Bharti will face trial in the 1992 Babri Masjid demolition case as the Supreme Court on Wednesday allowed the CBI plea and restored criminal conspiracy charges against them. The court also clubbed the trial in the matter pending against the leaders and ‘karsevaks’ and said the proceedings should be completed in two years.

“We have allowed the CBI appeal against the Allahabad High Court judgement with certain directions,” a bench comprising Justices P C Ghose and R F Nariman said.

The apex court, however, noted that Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh enjoys Constitutional immunity and can be tried only after he ceases to hold the office. Kalyan Singh was the chief minister of UP in 1992. The court also gave significant directions including that separate trials being conducted in trial courts at Raebareli and Lucknow will be clubbed and conducted in the capital of Uttar Pradesh only.

It also said that the trial judge of Lucknow “shall not be transferred” till conclusion and delivery of judgement in the sensational case.

The court further said that no party shall be granted adjournment without the sessions judge being satisfied of the reasons for it and conduct day-to-day trial which should be concluded within two years. It also directed probe agency CBI to ensure that prosecution witnesses appear on each and every date for recording of evidence in the case and the trial court should start the proceedings within four weeks from Wednesday.

It, however, clarified that there would be no de novo (fresh) trial in the matter.

The bench also directed that its order should be followed in letter and spirit and granted liberty to the parties to approach it if its directions are not followed.

There were two sets of cases relating to the demolition of the disputed structure on December 6, 1992. The first involved unnamed ‘karsevaks’, the trial of which is taking place in a Lucknow court, while the second set of cases relate to the leaders in a Raebareli court.

The charges for which BJP stalwarts L K Advani, M M Joshi, Uma Bharti and other VVIPs will be tried in the politically sensitive Babri Masjid demolition case, entails a punishment ranging from two to five years imprisonment. The Supreme Court today restored the offence of criminal conspiracy which was originally invoked against them along with other charges in the case.

They will be tried under Indian Penal Code offences for allegedly promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion etc, imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration and statements conducing to public mischief of the IPC for which the maximum punishment is five years.

Other charges of injuring or defiling place of worship with the intent to insult the religion of any class entails maximum sentence of two years, while for the offence of deliberate and malicious acts intending to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs, carriesa maximum penalty of a three-year jail term.

Besides Advani(89), Joshi(83) and Bharti(57), others who will face trial are Champat Rai Bansal, Satish Pradhan, Dharam Das, Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, Mahamadleshwar Jagdish Muni, Ram Bilas Vadanti, Vaikunth Lal Sharma and Satish Chandra Nagar.

Those who have since died include Bal Thackeray, Giriraj Kishore, Ashok Singhal and Paramhans Ram Chandra Das. In the other case, charges framed against unknown karsevaks involve dacoity, which entails minimum 10 years jail or life imprisonment.

Other charges include robbery which entails a punishment of seven years, causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others and trespassing which carry two year and one year imprisonment.

The remaining charges are the same as that of the VIPs.

Murli Manohar Joshi on Wednesday met party veteran L K Advani and is understood to have discussed the Supreme Court’s verdict restoring the criminal conspiracy charge against them in the Babri mosque demolition case. The apex court order is being seen as a big setback to the two leaders whose names are doing the rounds for the posts of the President and the Vice President. Joshi drove down to Advani’s residence and both leaders were closeted for over 40 minutes. They are understood to have deliberated upon the verdict’s political and legal implications.

Uma Bharti with MM Joshi at Ayodhya on December 6, 1992
Uma Bharti with MM Joshi at Ayodhya on December 6, 1992

The top court also clubbed the trial in the matter pending against the leaders and ‘karsevaks’ and ordered day-to-day trial with the proceedings to be completed in two years. Uma Bharti, who had earlier in the day said she would go to Ayodhya tonight, cancelled her visit apparently after being advised by the party leadership.

Most experts agree that Bharatiya Janata Party veteran Lal Krishna Advani is now out of the race to become the country’s next President.  Hypothetically speaking, even if Advani were to be acquitted, it would be two years down the line, the time stipulated by the apex court to complete the trial, and too late as far as the selection of the President is concerned. Pranab Mukherji’s term comes to an end in July 2017.

The court’s verdict may also have far reaching implications for Uma Bharati, minister in the Narendra Modi government and she is overseeing the prime minister’s pet project of cleaning the Ganga. Faced with a criminal trial, she may have to resign as minister.

The Supreme Court’s directive comes as a set back for the veteran BJP leaders who comprise the so-called “Margdarshak Mandali” of the party but who have effectively been relegated to the sidelines since Modi took over as Prime Minister.

Whatever be their fate, the trial, on a day to day basis, will keep the Ayodhya pot boiling and keep the Mandir issue centrestage of public discourse. With the apex Court having given the clear direction that the trial must be completed in two years, the final judgment will come just before the next general elections. One way or another, the “Ram temple”, signifying the BJP’s Hindutva agenda as few other issues have done, is therefore likely to become a major plank in the 2019 polls and influence its outcome.

There are many who believe that Advani was never really a serious contender to become head of the Indian Republic, deserving though his fans might think him to be of the position, being a builder of the BJP, and the senior-most of its leaders, with Atal Behari Vajpayee ailing, because Modi would never risk installing Advani in that position. Advani had opposed the elevation of Modi as the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in the run up to the 2014 elections.

But for some reason, Advani’s name had surfaced as a “possible” contender for the presidential office. Of late, Advani has been seen in photos next to the prime minister and Amit Shah, be it at Bhubaneswar recently or at the meetings of the BJP parliamentary party. The buzz was that Narendra Modi may want to give him presidentship by way of “gurudakshina” to his erstwhile mentor. For all his recent opposition, it was Advani who had stood by Modi when he had come under attack after the 2002 riots in Gujarat and the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had wanted him to observe “raj dharma” and to quit as chief minister.

And now, Advani is out of the race, not because of Modi but because of the Court, after the CBI did an about-turn on its earlier position and pressed for a trial.

Meanwhie, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief Lalu Prasad on Wednesday said the revival of conspiracy charges in the Babri demolition case was a “well-planned political conspiracy” to keep L.K. Advani away from being nominated as the next President.

“CBI is an arm of the government, it says what the government wants it to say. It is a well-planned political conspiracy,” Yadav said. “We were hearing that L.K. Advani may become the next President. Now no will even talk about nominating him,” he said.

“The VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) are such dangerous parties, they do not even care about their own people,” he said.

The Allahabad High Court had earlier dropped the charges of criminal conspiracy. The return of these conspiracy charges will certainly spark many new conspiracy theories.

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