The Supreme Court on Wednesday, stirred a hornet's nest in reviving the conspiracy charge in the Babri Masjid demolition case against BJP and VHP leaders including LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, triggering calls for the resignation of Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti.
And in doing so, the apex court has also set a mammoth task for the trial court, which it served a deadline of two years to finish the long-standing case. According to a report by The Times of India, just to meet the Supreme Court deadline, the trial court will have to complete the hearing in around 564 working days as trial courts work only for 282 days roughly in an year.
Moreover, the apex court had also combined two separate cases, one running in Lucknow court against RSS workers, and another in Rae Bareli court against senior BJP leaders. The report states that of the 908 witnesses in both the cases together, only 252 have been examined in the last 25 years. This makes for 656 witnesses from various parts of the country, who are yet to be examined and cross-questioned.
That apart, the decision also saw the resurgence of a political slug-fest between the Congress and the BJP both of whom have been sparring over the issue. While the grand old party demanded resignation of Singh and Bharti, party chief Amit Shah have conveyed to the leaders that the party is ready to throw its weight behind them.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley too had earlier indicated that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the government would not act against any of the leaders. "This case is going on since 1993. Today, no new situation has arisen."
After the court verdict, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held a meeting at his official residence with senior cabinet colleagues including Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Jaitley, Information and Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu and Road and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari on Wednesday where they are understood to have discussed the issue.
A senior party leader said that the several issues figured in the meeting including the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
Advani and Joshi were among the top contenders for the post of president after Pranab Mukherjee retires in July. Bharti is a Union minister and Singh is the Rajasthan Governor.
Hours after the verdict, Joshi and Advani held a brief meeting. Later, the BJP core group led by Shah also met to discuss the further strategy of the party. Shah is learnt to have assured Advani and other leaders the party stands with them.
Sources said that Shah also convinced Bharti to cancel her proposed Ayodhya visit, which she had announced earlier on Wednesday.
The senior BJP leaders along with Vinay Katiyar, Sadhvi Rithambara, Acharya Giriraj Kishore, Ashok Singhal and Vishnu Hari Dalmia were facing trial for making inflammatory speeches before the 16th-century mosque was razed in Uttar Pradesh's Ayodhya town on 6 December, 1992.
Giriraj Kishore and Singhal, who were key members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), have since died. Katiyar is a Rajya Sabha member of the BJP.
Restoring the conspiracy charge, Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Justice Rohinton Fali Nariman transferred the trial from Rae Bareli to Lucknow.
Justice Nariman said since Singh had constitutional immunity from prosecution, the trial court would proceed against him when he ceases to be Governor.
The verdict followed a Central Bureau of Investigation plea challenging the May 2010 Allahabad High Court order quashing the conspiracy charge against Advani and others.
The Congress demanded a speedy trial while the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) sought action against Bharti and Singh.
"The law of the land has prevailed. We hope there will be a speedy trial and all the guilty will be punished and face the consequences," Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha told IANS.
"It is a known fact that the Babri demolition as a spontaneous reaction has been proven wrong and it was indeed a political conspiracy," Jha said.
The CPI said Bharti and Singh should step down on moral grounds. The IUML said Singh should not cling to technicalities by speaking of immunity, adding Bharti too should quit.
RJD chief Lalu Prasad said Advani's dream of becoming the President of India had now been dashed.
Blaming Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the twist in the case, he said: "Advani is now out of race for the President's post." He added that Advani was a "scapegoat" (bali ka bakra) in the demolition case.
Bharti refused to resign, saying the charges of conspiracy had not yet been proved. She said there was no conspiracy behind the mosque razing.
Katiyar took a similar line. "Why would I resign? There is nothing in it that I should resign."
On 6 December, 1992, all these leaders were present in Ayodhya when hundreds of mostly VHP activists storied the three-domed Babri mosque and brought it down, triggering communal violence in the country.
The Supreme Court also said the trial court in Lucknow would frame additional charges against Advani and others and proceed against them.
It said there would be no de-novo trial and the trial court judge would not be transferred until the trial got over. The trial should end in two years, the top court said, without adjournments.
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Updated Date: Apr 20, 2017 17:16:32 IST