In a huge blow to BJP leaders, the Supreme Court on Monday indicated it may consider reviving the consp- iracy charge against them in the December 6, 1992, Babri Masjid demolition case .
The sudden development came on an appeal filed in the Supreme Court by the CBI in 2011, during the UPA era, against the dropping of the conspiracy charge against L.K. Advani, Uma Bharti, Murli Manohar Joshi, Vinay Katiyar, Sadhvi Ritambhara, Giriraj Kishore and Vishnu Hari Dalmia.
Noting that “there is something very peculiar going on in this case,” a Bench of Justices Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Rohinton F. Nariman said it would examine in detail why the conspiracy charge was dropped on mere technical grounds and never revived all these years.
“We prima facie do not approve of the way these people have been discharged... And no additional charge sheet filed so far? See, people cannot be discharged like this on technical grounds,” Justice Nariman observed orally.
He said: “We will allow you [CBI] to file a supplementary charge sheet by including the conspiracy charge. We will ask the trial court to conduct a joint trial in a Lucknow court.”
The CBI, represented by Additional Solicitor General Neeraj Kishan Kaul, seemed to agree with the court’s observations and submitted that a joint trial should be conducted.
“This is what we want,” Mr. Kaul submitted.
However, Mr. Advani’s counsel and senior advocate K.K. Venugopal strongly objected to the turn of events, and argued that the conspiracy charge against Mr. Advani and other leaders was already dropped, and its revival would mean the re-examination of the 186 witnesses who had deposed in the case.
Mr. Venugopal pointed out that the CBI had appealed in the Supreme Court after an inordinate delay. But the Bench remained firm, saying it would choose to even condone the delay and hear the case on March 22, 2017.
The Babri Masjid demolition case stemmed from two crime files: Crime No: 197/1992 and Crime No: 198/1992.
Both were filed shortly after the disputed structure of Babri Masjid was demolished on December 6, 1992.
Crime no. 197/1992 was registered in the Ayodhya police station against “lakhs of unknown kar sevaks.” This FIR dealt with the actual demolition of the masjid. It lined up a bunch of serious offences, including robbery or dacoity with attempt to commit murder, causing hurt by an act endangering life or safety of others, deterring public servants from doing duty and promoting enmity between different religious groups. The most severe of these offences could get the offender up to 10 years in jail.
The second one, Crime no. 198/1992, was registered against 12 persons, including Ashok Singhal, Giriraj Kishore, Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Vishnu Hari Dalmiya, Vinay Katiyar, Uma Bharti and Sadhvi Ritambhara, who were on the dais at Ram Katha Kunj when the masjid was being demolished.
They were accused of promoting enmity, making imputations and assertions prejudicial to national integration and statements conducing to public mischief.
The Ayodhya diaries
December, 1992: Two FIRs filed in the Babri Masjid demolition case. Crime no. 197 deals with actual “demolition of the mosque by kar sevaks.” Crime no. 198 named L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and others for ‘communal’ speeches before the demolition
October, 1993: CBI files a composite charge sheet and accuses Advani and other leaders of ‘conspiracy’
May 4, 2001: Special Judge S.K. Shukla drops conspiracy charge against 13 accused, including Advani and Kalyan Singh. Bifurcates Crimes 197 and 198.
May 20, 2010: Allahabad HC dismisses CBI's revision petition.
February, 2011: CBI moves Supreme Court. Argues that “the actual demolition of the Babri Masjid and the continuous assault on media persons form a single connected transaction and can well be a concerted conspiracy”
March 6, 2017: SC indicates it may revive conspiracy charge and order a joint trial of crimes 197 and 198.
March 22, 2017: Next date of hearing in the Supreme Court