NEW DELHI: Senior Hindutva leaders including former ministers L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi were mere spectators in Ayodhya, watching the mosque’s destruction, and as such neither joined nor encouraged the frenzy, a federal police court in Lucknow, investigating the conspiracy to demolish the Babri Masjid 28 years ago, concluded on Wednesday.

The reaction to the verdict was low-key from the main leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), but its critics were livid.

Speaking to Outlook, Justice Liberhan said that the verdict was an “utter farce”. The retired judge, who headed the commission of inquiry and took 17 years to submit his report on the matter to the union government, said that there was “ample evidence available to prove complicity and culpability of these leaders” and to “demonstrate conclusively the pre-planned conspiracy behind the destruction of the disputed structure (the Babri Masjid)”.

He said that the court’s verdict is “completely contrary to the conclusions of the commission”.

Court says there is no clinching evidence of a conspiracy to demolish the mosque; the retired judge, who headed the commission of inquiry on the matter, terms the judgement ‘utter farce’

The home secretary at the time of demolition, Madhav Godbole, too said that he was “aghast” at the CBI court’s judgement.

Speaking to Huffington Post, he said, “Quite frankly, I am aghast with this verdict because, firstly, a huge mosque of this size coming down within a period of five hours without any planning or without any preparation on the part of anybody is impossible to believe.”

“Secondly the fact that after 28 years this decision has come is a commentary on our judicial system, criminal law system,” he added.

Commenting on whether the Centre and the state would appeal against the verdict or not, he said given both the dispensations are currently led by the BJP, the chances of appeal is highly unlikely. “Obviously, one would have normally expected that an appeal will be filed against this judgement in the high court or in the Supreme Court but looking at the power dispensation which is there both in the state and the Centre, it is unlikely that any appeal will be filed,” he said.

Had the verdict indicted any of the 32 accused who were all freed of the charge of conspiracy, the case would have dragged on with appeals and perhaps ended, if needed, with a presidential pardon. There was no way Prime Minister Narendra Modi would have allowed the 92-year-old Advani, widely considered his mentor in the Hindutva fraternity, to go to jail.

The court said there was no clinching evidence of a conspiracy to raze the Babri Masjid.

Mr Advani’s role, according to The Wire and others, was key. Anju Gupta, a police officer who was with Mr Advani on December 6, testified before a CBI special court that Advani made a provocative speech before the mosque was brought down by the kar sevaks (Hindu volunteers) who had gathered.

“On December 6, 1992 Advani made a spirited speech from the Ram Katha Kunj Manch, barely 150-200 metres from the disputed site, which charged the people. He repeatedly said that the temple would be constructed at the same site,” Gupta told the court.

She also said that when the kar sevaks began demolishing the Babri Masjid none of the BJP leaders who were present, including Advani, made any efforts to stop them. Once the mosque was demolished, the BJP leaders distributed sweets, according to Gupta’s testimony.

In 2017 speaking to The Wire news portal, some of the kar sevaks who were part of the mob that demolished the mosque said that BJP leaders including Advani, Joshi and Uma Bharti, told them to demolish it.

In 1989, the BJP announced that the construction of a Ram temple on the land where they believed Lord Ram was born — and where the Babri Masjid had stood for over 400 years — was its key political agenda.

In the autumn of 1990, Advani launched a rath yatra (chariot march) from Somnath to Ayodhya, the purpose of which was to stir up support for the demand for the construction of a Ram temple at the spot where the mosque stood. He wrote in his 2008 book My Country My Life: “The choice of Somnath as the starting point of the yatra had a powerful symbolic value, made evident by repeated references to it as the target of Muslim tyranny against the Hindus… The intention was to contextualise Ayodhya in the historical lineage of Muslim aggression and then to seek legitimacy for Mandir movement by drawing a parallel. The parallel the Sangh Parivar drew was with the reconstruction of the Somnath temple.”

Advani’s rath yatra made it abundantly clear that he was not carrying a message of peace. Pictures of him carrying a trishul, an axe, a sword and a bow and arrow also emerged.

Workers of the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad pasted posters along the route of the yatra of the proposed temple and the ‘treachery’ of Muslims, The Wire said.

Published in Dawn, October 1st , 2020