CBI’s failure to prosecute the Babri accused in an open and shut case is shocking

CBI court’s acquittal of accused in Babri Masjid demolition case is an indictment of judicial process and also premier investigating agency. It must appeal against order, if only to redeem itself

CBI’s failure to prosecute the Babri accused in an open and shut case is shocking

Uttam Sengupta

Half a million people had assembled at Ayodhya in the first week of December, 1992, acknowledges the CBI court order. Many of them had arrived with spades, shovels, pickaxe and other tools. Leaders of the BJP, VHP and the Bajrang Dal were present in strength. And there was a build up for several previous months during which nothing was left to the imagination. Everyone knew that despite the commitment made to the contrary in Parliament and before the Supreme Court, the real purpose of the huge assembly was to demolish the four-hundred- years old Babri mosque. That is why unprecedented security measures were taken, the temple town was turned into a garrison and international media descended in droves to report on what promised to be both dramatic and historic.

The then chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Kalyan Singh of the BJP, had helpfully declared that the commitment they had given was not to construct anything; no commitment had been given against demolishing anything. The message was clear and the structure was demolished in a matter of hours with no intervention from the security forces. A ‘symbolic Kar Seva’, which had been allowed by the Supreme Court during the day, was not what it turned out to be. It was a dark day for the nation and the Supreme Court of India called it a national shame. It was a criminal act and photographs and videos recorded the smiles and the smirks of leaders present, the hugs and the preening, the distribution of sweets and slogans raised before and after the act were recorded in photographs and on video. ‘Zameen ko samtal karna hai’ had declared Atal Bihari Vajpayee after a trademark meaningful pause. During the demolition slogans were raised to exhort the ‘Kar Sevaks’: Ek dhakka aur do/ Babri Masjid tod doh’. After the demolition, the slogan raised was ‘Ho gaya kaam/ Jai Shri Ram’. But nearly 28 years after that day this week, a CBI court acquitted 32 surviving accused of the charge of conspiring to demolish the structure.

The incongruous order is riddled with inconsistencies. The demolition was spontaneous, it says at one place. At another it blames anti-social elements who had infiltrated the ranks of the Kar Sevaks for the demolition. It relies on vague Local Intelligence Unit (LIU) reports alleging that terrorists and miscreants with explosives were on their way but dismisses videos and photographs because they were ostensibly not audible or the prosecution failed to produce the ‘negatives’. The court refused to accept newspaper reports as evidence on the ground that they were ‘edited’ by sub-editors and could not be relied upon. Witness statements were dismissed by the court as hearsay. Eyewitness accounts were dismissed as unreliable because the court held that a dust storm was blowing when the demolition began and it would not have been possible for people to see clearly. It noted that merely delivering a provocative speech did not amount to conspiracy or inciting violence.

Indeed, it accepted the plea of the accused that RSS, VHP and BJP leaders were counselling restraint to the crowd and controlling them, that anarchists demolished the mosque and not ‘Ram Bhakts’. The 2,300-page long order will undoubtedly reveal many more inconsistencies in the days to come. But while it was not totally unexpected, the shocking order manages to indict the CBI, the media, the state, findings of the Liberhan Commission and even the Supreme Court of India. By ignoring overwhelming evidence that the demolition was pre-planned, organized and had a clear political motive, the court has done a grave injustice to the national motto of ‘Satyameva Jayate’ or Truth prevails.

Why should those who summoned the millions to assemble there, those who arranged for rehearsals, those who gleefully briefed the media about what was to happen not be held accountable for their action? What did they mean by declaring that the Ram temple would be built at the exact, same spot? What did they intend by organizing worship of bricks and setting up workshops long before the demolition? Shouldn’t they have displayed the courage of their conviction and, like Mahatma Gandhi, owned up their responsibility for breaking the law? Instead, they pleaded ‘Not Guilty’ and alleged they had been maliciously framed. By accepting their perverse plea, the CBI court has done them no service. Indeed, it has burdened them with the stigma of poor handling of the crowd and failure to restrain them. Nor has the court explained, it seems, how anarchists could have had their way. Did it want to suggest that on the fateful day at Ayodhya, there were more anarchists than Ram Bhakts ? That outnumbered Ram Bhakts could not save the structure though they wished to do so?

In a country where Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin is hailed as a patriot, this order should not have come as a surprise. But as has become the new normal, it was expected that the court would hold the accused guilty, severely reprimand them but let them off by recording that the evidence against them fell short. Or, as has been suggested, the court could have sentenced them to a token one day’s imprisonment or a fine of one Rupee. But by refusing to accept the evidence, 600 exhibits in all, submitted by the CBI and ignoring the deposition of 351 Prosecution witnesses, the court has put the premier investigating agency in the dock. How could the CBI have botched up what was an open and shut case?

Therefore, if not for Justice, in order to defend its own image and institutional reputation, it is hoped that the Central Bureau of Investigation will appeal against the order.

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