The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered that top BJP leaders — among them Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti — face trial in a criminal case of “conspiracy” to demolish the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992. The trial, which has languished for a quarter-century, is to be conducted in Lucknow, and must be completed in two years with day-to-day hearings.
The court made its pronouncement on the basis of the CBI challenging an earlier judicial order which upheld technical reasons for not proceeding with the matter. As such, the ends of justice are being met through the Supreme Court’s present order after a lapse of 25 years.
What stands out in all this is that the present government didn’t stand in the CBI’s way in taking the position it did. And would this have happened without the RSS, the Hindu supremacist outfit that is this government’s chief patron, green-lighting it? These questions are likely to torment the ruling party and its fellow travellers and can potentially cause fissures.
Some of those to be tried are in the evening of their life. Most are no longer prominent in the BJP and kindred Hindutva outfits. To that extent the current crop of the movers and shakers in the saffron party are not affected.
Of this group, only Uma Bharti is a Union Cabinet minister and former UP chief minister Kalyan Singh is a governor. The latter, holding a constitutional position, can be tried only after he is out of office. It is yet to be seen if the PM will ease them out to uphold the spirit of the Supreme Court’s direction.
Those standing trial are not yet deemed guilty. It will be keenly watched how they argue their case in court. Ms Bharti told the media she didn’t take part in any conspiracy but acted “openly” in response to a call of conscience. This is a political stand, and in line with the BJP’s earlier political resolutions fathered by Mr Advani.
Will she be absolved of the criminal conspiracy charge if she says exactly this at the trial unless the prosecution (the CBI, or in effect the Narendra Modi government) has a watertight argument to establish “criminal conspiracy”, which has a specific meaning in law.
Thus, much will depend on how the Modi government plays its hand. It could be guided by the political mood among the public and the BJP-RSS rank and file. But if this issue remains in the news on a day-to-day basis for the next two years, those playing communal politics will have a lot of ammunition in the run-up to the next Lok Sabha polls in 2019, given that a matter of religious sentiment such as the Ayodhya dispute is involved.