About three decades after the 16th century Babri mosque was razed, a special court in India today acquitted all the 32 people, including Bharatiya Janata Party leaders Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti, in the case saying "there is no conclusive and enough proof" against the accused.
Giving the ruling, Special Judge Surendra Kumar Yadav pronounced the 2,300-page verdict in his court in Lucknow -- capital city of India's most populous state of Uttar Pradesh -- saying the demolition was "not "pre-planned" and a spontaneous act carried out by hoodlums.
The judge said the prosecution agency Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) could not produce any conclusive evidence against any accused, reports our New Delhi correspondent.
Reading out the judgment, the judge did not accept newspapers as piece of evidence as the originals of them were not produced and proved. He also did not rely on the photos of the incident as their negatives were not produced.
"The video cassettes were not sealed and even the videos were not clear…," observed Judge Yadav.
He said "even Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader late Ashok Singhal was trying to stop kar sewaks (Hindu volunteers) from demolishing the disputed structure because the idol of Lord Ram was also inside the structure."
Asked by reporters whether CBI would appeal the trial court verdict in the high court, the agency's lawyer Lalit Singh said the copy of the judgment would be sent to the CBI headquarters in New Delhi and it would take a call after perusal of the ruling.
Defence counsel Vimal Kumar Srivastav said, "We have been reiterating from the very beginning that there is no evidence in the case and Adani, Joshi, Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti and all other accused were falsely implicated by the CBI under the influence of the then Congress government at the Centre and the today's verdict is the victory of justice."
Advani welcome his acquittal saying it "vindicated his and the BJP's belief in Ram temple movement."
In his verdict, the special judge also observed that there was local intelligence tipoff about untoward incident on the day of the demolition of the mosque but no inquiry was conducted into the information.
In the much-awaited hearing, the judge occupied his chair in the court room at 12:10 pm. and within five minutes he read out the operative part of the judgment pronouncing acquittal of all the accused.
It was the last day of Judge Yadav in judicial service as he had already retired on September 30, 2019 but the Supreme Court had extended his service period till delivery of the judgment in the case by September 30, 2020.
The CBI had produced 351 witnesses and 600 documents as evidence before the court.
Advani, Joshi and Bharti were among the 32 surviving accused in the case who faced the charges of criminal conspiracy and promoting enmity. In all, 48 accused were arraigned but 16 of them died during the trial.
Three BJP lawmakers Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, Lallu Singh and Sakshi Maharaj were also among the accused.
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 court today 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.
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.
Advani, 92, and Joshi, 86, were exempted from attending the court on health grounds. The 61-year-old Uma Bharti has contracted coronavirus and Kalyan Singh, 88, is recuperating from the virus.
In a significant judgment last year, the Supreme Court allotted the disputed site in Ayodhya for construction of a Ram temple while calling the demolition of the mosque a violation of the rule of law.
An alternative five-acre site was marked in the city for building a mosque.
The trial under the serious criminal conspiracy charges commenced against Advani, Joshi and Bharti after having been dropped by the trial court in 2001. The verdict was upheld by the Allahabad High Court in 2010 but the Supreme Court ordered restoration of the conspiracy charge against them on April 19, 2017.
The charge of conspiracy was in addition to the existing charges against them for promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion.
The accused also faced the charges of having made assertions "prejudicial to national integration and injuring or defiling a place of worship".
The other charges against them included indulging in "deliberate and malicious" acts intended to outrage religious feelings, uttering statements leading to public mischief, rioting and unlawful assembly.
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 S K Yadav asked for more time, the court extended the deadline to September 30.
Kalyan Singh was put on trial in the case September last year after his tenure as Governor of Rajasthan came to an end.
BJP's ideological fountainhead Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh welcomed the special CBI court's verdict acquitting all accused in the Babri masjid demolition case and called for harmony in society to face challenges before the country.
RSS WELCOMES COURT DECISION
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh welcomed the special CBI court's decision to acquit all the accused in the demolition of the structure.
"After this decision, all sections of the society should come together in unity and harmony and work successfully to face the challenges before the country, and work towards the progress of this country," RSS general secretary Suresh 'Bhaiyyaji' Joshi tweeted.
CONGRESS SLAMS ACQUITTAL OF ACCUSED
India's main opposition party Congress today slammed the Lucknow special court's decision to acquit all the accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case, saying it held no one accountable even when the Supreme Court had called the demolition illegal.
The ruling, the party said "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.
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".
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen chief Asauddin Owaisi said the special court verdict "satisfies the collective consciousness of Hindutva and its followers and ideology."
"Was it some sort of magic that on December 6 the mosque was demolished?" he remarked.
All India Muslim Personal Law Board Secretary Zafaryab Jilani said the special court verdict acquitting all 32 accused in Babri masjid demolition case will be challenged in the high court.