Chroniclers documenting the Ayodhya demolition case will record the tortuous course of FIR number 197 — from the time it was filed on December 6, 1992 to May 20, 2010, when its relevance all but ended following the (Lucknow Bench) Allahabad High Court's dismissal of the CBI revision petition challenging a special court's decision to drop conspiracy charges against Lal Krishna Advani and 20 others.
FIR 197 was filed in an Ayodhya police station immediately after the Babri Masjid was brutally torn down. Given the surcharged atmosphere and the difficulty in identifying individuals, the FIR was expectedly rudimentary. It blamed the demolition on “lakhs of unknown kar sevaks.” A second FIR, 198, was more specific. It charged Mr. Advani and eight of his compatriots from the Sangh Parivar, including Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti, with making incendiary speeches leading to the demolition.
Case for CBI
After the dismissal of the Kalyan Singh government, the Uttar Pradesh government, which had by then come under President's Rule, assigned case 197 (demolition) to the CBI, leaving case 198 to be prosecuted by the State CID in a special court in Rae Bareli. But as the two cases were intrinsically related, the CBI took both under its care, filing a composite charge sheet on October 5, 1993. This is where the conspiracy charge attached itself to Mr. Advani and others.
The charge sheet spoke of a secret meeting, at the residence of Bajrang Dal leader Vinay Katiyar one day before the masjid was pulled down, “wherein a final decision to demolish the disputed structure was taken.” The charge sheet noted the presence at the meeting of Mr. Advani and the eight parivar leaders. The court of Special Judicial Magistrate Mahipal Sirohi and the Additional Sessions court of Jagdish Prasad Srivastava found the conspiracy charge prima facie tenable.
However, because of a technical flaw in the way the two cases were merged — the Uttar Pradesh government failed to consult the High Court on its decision to transfer the jurisdiction of case 198 from Rae Bareli to Lucknow — on February 12, 2001, Justice Jagdish Bhalla of the Allahabad High Court ordered the revival of the two cases. Significantly, he did not strike down the conspiracy charge. He upheld the composite charge sheet and advised the government to cure the technical flaw. With successive governments not heeding the judge's advice, case 198 reverted to the Rae Bareli court.
Two months later, on May 4, 2001, case 197 suffered a body blow. The Sessions Judge at Lucknow, Srikant Shukla, now trying only case 197, freed Mr. Advani and others from the conspiracy charge on the ground that the FIR alleging demolition was filed against “unknown kar sevaks.” He wrote: “Two distinct cases were registered which are different. In the first FIR were kar sevaks who pulled down the structure … and in the other FIR are conspirators/abettors who instigated the kar sevaks ...” ( Frontline, January 2004; A. G Noorani.)
However, there was no conspiracy charge in case 198, which related to incitement to demolition through speeches. This was so because conspiracy, if any, would have had to precede the speeches which were made at the time of the demolition.
Thursday's High Court order is restricted to case 197. Mr. Advani and others are currently undergoing trial in the Rae Bareli special court in case 198. A recent highpoint in the trial was the testimony by IPS officer Anju Gupta, who was his Personal Security Officer at the time of the demolition. Ms. Gupta testified that Mr. Advani made a joshila (fiery) speech which electrified the kar sevaks. She also said that on December 5, 1992, the then Inspector-General of Faizabad Zone, A.K. Sharma, convened a security review meeting where, based on intelligence inputs, he warned of a likely assault on the Babri Masjid the following day.