New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Wednesday revived the 25-year-old trial in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute by allowing fresh charges of criminal conspiracy against Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and 10 others.
The decision could potentially revive the divisive debate over the building of a Ram Mandir at Ayodhya and cast a shadow on the public life of these leaders.
A bench comprising justices P.C. Ghose and Rohinton Nariman also directed the transfer of cases from a court in Rae Bareilly to a special court in Lucknow which is already hearing related cases on the 6 December 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.
“We grant liberty to all parties to approach us in case our orders are not fully followed in letter and spirit," the Supreme Court said. The ruling puts the 13 leaders who were on the dais on the same pedestal as the 47 karsevaks or volunteers on trial for allegedly demolishing the mosque.
Bharti who is a minister in the union government has already clarified that she will not resign because of the fresh charges.
“There was no conspiracy. Everything was in the open. It would have been a conspiracy if there was something else in mind and I was showing something else outside. My mind, commitment and action were together and there was no conspiracy. With aatm vishvas (confidence) and aatm samaan (self respect), I was part of the movement for Ram Mandir," said Bharti, union minister for water resources, river development and Ganga rejuvenation.
The apex court also directed that the trial must be concluded in two years without adjournments and that the special judge will not be transferred till the trial is over. Out of the 13 accused in the case, BJP leader Kalyan Singh will not face fresh charges because he enjoys constitutional immunity as the governor of Rajasthan.
“Court will frame charges and move against him as soon as he ceases to be governor," the court said.
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had sought the court’s nod to add fresh charges against 16 accused. On 6 March, the apex court had decided to examine the appeal against dropping of conspiracy charge against the accused including Advani, Joshi and Bharti. So far, a sessions court in Lucknow has examined 195 witnesses, with 800 more yet to testify before it.
“This issue is going on since 1993, nothing has changed. These leaders have been deputy prime minister and ministers in the government. If chargesheet was a rule, then many Congress chief ministers facing charges will also have to go," said finance minister Arun Jaitley while talking to reporters.
The Congress, however, welcomed the decision of the court and said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should ensure that his ministers maintained a “high standard of morality".
“The Supreme Court has spoken. Let law of the land take its own course without fear or favour. Let justice be done and guilty punished. Law of the land is equal for everyone irrespective of stature, caste, creed, religion or region," said Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala.
Political analyst feel that people have moved beyond the issue of Ram Mandir and they are more concerned about development. “The direction of the Supreme Court will put the elder leadership of BJP on the back foot. It is over two decades now and these leaders are old. People have moved beyond such issues and they want development and better opportunities," said A.K. Verma, Kanpur-based political analyst and political science professor at Christ Church College.