New Delhi: A special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court on Tuesday framed criminal conspiracy charges against senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders for the demolition of the Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya by a mob in 1992.
The leaders include former deputy prime minister L.K. Advani, union minister Uma Bharti, and former union minister Murli Manohar Joshi.
The court is hearing two separate cases relating to the demolition of the disputed structure which stood at a place believed to the birthplace of Hindu god Ram, and where a temple once stood.
Building a Ram temple at Ayodhya is one of the core ideological issues of the BJP as well as its parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.
The three others against whom conspiracy charges were framed included BJP’s Vinay Katiyar, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)’s Vishnu Hari Dalmia, and religious preacher, Sadhvi Rithambara.
Advani along with Uma Bharti were among the leaders who were personally present in court for the hearing.
The direction of the CBI court is significant because Uma Bharti is a sitting minister in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) while both Advani and Joshi are senior leaders of the BJP.
Defending the BJP leaders, union minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said, “Our leaders are innocent. They will come out unscathed."
The Lucknow court, while rejecting the discharge petition brought by the accused, directed that the trial be conducted on a day-to-day basis and wrapped up within two years. This is consistent with the order passed by the Supreme Court in April. The accused, however, will not be required to attend daily hearings.
The court added that there was enough evidence on record against Advani, Joshi, Uma Bharti and others for invoking the charge of criminal conspiracy against them.
The accused in the two cases have been charged with criminal conspiracy under Section 120B (criminal conspiracy) and other provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1960.
The three senior BJP leaders and others were however, granted bail on furnishing of personal bonds of Rs20,000 each.
The leaders were named in an FIR filed after the demolition of Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992.
The Congress party has demanded that union minister Uma Bharti resign from the cabinet since a charge-sheet has been filed against her.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi must come forward and uphold the rule of law and the Constitution. We sincerely hope that trial will now begin, law will finally take its own course and justice will be done. Those who are guilty must be punished in accordance with the law of the land without any fear or favour. Twenty-five years have passed since the demolition of Babri Masjid. Time for law of the land to deliver justice expeditiously and punish the guilty," said Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala.
Anuja, Gyan Varma and PTI contributed to the story.