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A special court in Lucknow on Wednesday cited lack of evidence to acquit all 32 accused of criminal conspiracy in the Babri Masjid demolition case, 28 years after thousands tore down the mosque to signal the start of a new chapter in Indian politics.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court said the charge-sheet did not have conclusive proof against the accused or strong evidence to suggest there was a criminal conspiracy to incite rioting and demolition.

The special court judge S.K. Yadav, whose term was extended for this verdict, held that the demolition was not pre-planned and happened at the spur of the moment.

The 16th-century mosque at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh was demolished by right-wing activists on 6 December 1992, on the basis of claims that it stood on land that was the birthplace of Lord Ram.

The 32 accused included a galaxy of former top leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party, the party that benefited the most from the watershed event.

Among them were former deputy PM L.K. Advani, former Union ministers Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti, former UP chief minister Kalyan Singh, as well as Bajrang Dal founder Vinay Katiyar and Durga Vahini founder Sadhvi Rithambara.

Reading out from sections of the 2,300-page judgment, the judge held that the mosque was demolished by “anti-social elements" and that there was no incitement on the part of the accused. Citing “inadequate" audio clippings, the judge said the prosecution has been unable to prove with enough evidence which accused person delivered what speech on that day. He added that as per the Indian Penal Code provisions, it is mandatory to prove that the accused persons gave the specific speech to prove allegations of a breakdown of communal harmony.

The court also observed that video cassettes presented as evidence were not sealed, and they too were not clear and hence could not be relied upon.

Yadav highlighted parts of the charge-sheet that said there were lakhs of karsevaks (volunteers) present, and all of them were raising slogans.

Yadav observed that the evidence presented before him proved that accused Advani, Joshi, Bharti, Rithambara, Katiyar and Acharya Dharmendra Dev were on the stage when the incident occurred. In fact, these leaders did not suspect that the karsevaks would get agitated, unruly and would climb up the mosque and demolish it, the order stated.

A civil case had run parallel to the Babri Masjid demolition criminal case to ascertain the ownership of the disputed land in Ayodhya, which ended last year with the Supreme Court allowing Hindus to build a Ram temple on the disputed 2.7-acre land where the mosque stood. The SC while sanctioning Muslims 5 acres to build a mosque in the temple town held that the demolition of Babri Masjid was illegal.

japnam.b@livemint.com

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