A special CBI court in India yesterday acquitted all the 32 accused, including Bharatiya Janata Party veterans Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti, in the 28-year-old case relating to the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, saying "there is no conclusive proof" against them.
Special Judge SK Yadav pronounced the verdict in his court in Lucknow, capital city of India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh.
The judge said there was no conclusive evidence against the accused and the demolition of the 16th century mosque was "not pre-planned."
Advani, Joshi and Bharti were among the 32 surviving accused in the case who faced the charges of criminal conspiracy and promoting enmity.
India's main opposition party Congress slammed the special court's decision to acquit all the accused in the case, saying it held no one accountable even when the Supreme Court had called the demolition illegal.
The Babri mosque stood in Ayodhya and its razing on December 6, 1992 climaxed pan-India rath yatras by Advani in what came to be known as the Ram temple movement that changed India's politics and catapulted BJP to the centre stage.
Besides Advani, Joshi and Bharti, the accused in the case included senior BJP leader Kalyan Singh who was the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh when the mosque was demolished. But none of the four high-profile accused were present in the court yesterday when the ruling was delivered.
Advani, Joshi and Uma Bharti were allegedly on a dais near the mosque at the time of the demolition. The investigating agencies alleged they had instigated the crowd with their speeches.
Reading out the judgment, the judge did not accept the newspapers as piece of evidence as the originals of them were not produced. He also did not rely of the photos of incident as their negatives were not produced.
"The video cassettes were not sealed and even the videos were not clear and as such the same cannot be relied upon", observed judge Yadav.
The Kalyan Singh government in Uttar Pradesh was dismissed by the federal Indian government led by Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao as riots broke out across India in which around 3,000 people died.
A total of 48 people were accused in the case but 16 of them died during the trial.
Advani, 92, and Joshi, 86, are exempted from attending the court on health grounds. Uma Bharti has contracted coronavirus and Kalyan Singh is recuperating from the virus.
In a landmark verdict in November last year, India's Supreme Court ordered the construction of a temple at the site. The foundation-laying ceremony took place earlier this year in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi was present.
Advani had recorded his statement in the case before the special CBI court through video conference on July 24 while Joshi did so a day before. Both have denied all charges against them.
In April 2017, the Supreme Court had asked the special court in Lucknow to complete the trial within two years with daily hearings. Later, it was given several extensions and when special judge SK Yadav asked for more time, the court extended the deadline to September 30.
SUPREME COURT VERDICT
The Congress said the decision of the special court to acquit all the accused "runs counter" to the Supreme Court judgment of last November and the spirit of the Constitution, and asked the Centre and the Uttar Pradesh government to file an appeal in a higher court.
The Lucknow court had said the temple demolition was not pre-planned and there was "not enough evidence against the accused".
Congress pointed out that in its November judgment allowing the construction of a temple at the Ram Janambhoomi site in Ayodhya, the Supreme Court had said the demolition of Babri Masjid was a clear illegality and "egregious violation of the rule of law".
"But the special court (in Lucknow) exonerated all the accused. It is clear that the decision of the special court runs counter to the decision of the Supreme Court of India," said a Congress statement.
The party also accused the BJP and its ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh of having a "deep rooted conspiracy" to destroy the country's "communal amity and brotherhood" for "usurping power at any cost".
"The acquittals amount to a travesty of justice. It took 28 long years for this verdict but not justice to be delivered. All the top leaders of the BJP-VHP-RSS who were present at the scene guiding the criminal act have been found to be innocent of the charge of conspiracy to demolish the mosque," the CPM politburo said in a statement.
Trinamool Congress was guarded in its response on the acquittal of all the accused, and said that "those who are not happy with the judgement will get relief in higher courts".
BJP veteran Murli Manohar Joshi, who was one of the accused acquitted in the case, said special court verdict "has proven that our programmes weren't part of any conspiracy. I feel this controversy should come to end with the verdict."