Nearly 28 years after the Babri Mosque was demolished in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, a special CBI court in Lucknow will pronounce the much-awaited verdict in the criminal case on Wednesday. BJP veterans LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi are among the accused in the case.
The Babri Masjid was demolished in December 1992 by ‘kar sevaks’ who claimed that the mosque was built on the site of an ancient Ram temple.
CBI judge SK Yadav on September 16 had directed all the 32 surviving accused to remain present in the court on the day of the judgment.
The accused include former deputy prime minister Advani, former Union ministers Joshi and Uma Bharti, former UP chief minister Kalyan Singh, besides Vinay Katiyar and Sadhvi Rithambara. Champat Rai, general secretary of the trust in charge of constructing the Ram temple, is also among those accused.
With both Bharti and Singh recovering in separate hospitals after coronavirus infection, it was not known if they would be present in the court at the time of pronouncement of order.
Security in and around Ayodhya has been beefed up ahead of the verdict, with the city on high alert. An intensive checking campaign will be conducted at all entry points to the city. Along with personnel of the Provincial Armed Constabulary, civil police will also be deployed in plain uniform to keep a check on any unwanted situation.
Daily hearings in trial court
Singh, during whose tenure as chief minister the disputed structure was demolished, was put on trial in September last year after his tenure as governor of Rajasthan ended.
With the Supreme Court setting August 31 as the deadline and later extending it by a month, the trial court started daily hearings to complete the task. The central agency produced 351 witnesses and 600 documents as evidence. Charges were framed against 48 people, but 17 have died during the course of trial.
The trial under the serious criminal conspiracy charges started against them after having been dropped by the trial court in 2001. The verdict was upheld by the Allahabad High Court in 2010, but the apex court ordered restoration of the conspiracy charge on April 19, 2017. The top court ordered daily hearing in the case and directed the special judge to conclude it in two years.
The charge of conspiracy is in addition to the existing charges for promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion for which the accused are already facing trial. They also face charges of having made assertions “prejudicial to national integration and injuring or defiling a place of worship".
The other charges include indulging in “deliberate and malicious" acts intended to outrage religious feelings, uttering statements leading to public mischief, rioting and unlawful assembly. The CBI argued that the accused conspired and instigated ‘kar sevaks’ to demolish the 16th-century mosque.
But the accused pleaded innocence, maintaining there is no evidence to prove their guilt and claimed they were implicated by the then Congress government at the Centre as a political vendetta.
In a significant judgment last year, the Supreme Court allotted the disputed site in Ayodhya for construction of a Ram temple, while calling the demolition of the mosque a violation of the rule of law. An alternative five-acre site was marked in the city for building a mosque.
Before the 2017 verdict of the apex court, two sets of cases were being heard in Lucknow and Raebareli. The trial of the first case involving unnamed ‘kar sevaks’ was going on in a Lucknow court, while the second set of cases relating to the eight VVIPs, including Advani, Joshi, Vishnu Hari Dalmiya, Ashok Singhal, Katiyar, Uma Bharti, Giriraj Kishore and Ritambhara, were on in a Raebareli court.
The apex court, while restoring the charge of criminal conspiracy, had directed that the two cases be clubbed and had also ordered that the trial be concluded in two years.
(With inputs from agencies)