The Supreme Court’s recent ruling pertaining to a time-bound trial against top Bharatiya Janata Party leaders charged with conspiracy that led to the demolition of the Babri mosque in December, 1992, has created a dilemma for the entire Sangh Parivar. Although the order does not bar the key functionaries such as L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti from either contesting elections or from holding any position including that of the President of the Republic during the pendency of the trial, yet it has magnified questions regarding both morality and propriety. Other questions that have been hoisted relate to the use of Article 142 to arrive at a decision seen as arbitrary by several legal luminaries. In addition, charges have been pressed against 13 persons whose names did not figure in the charge sheet for over 25 years, a point that seems to defy legal logic. Rajasthan Governor Kalyan Singh, who was the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister when the structure was dismantled, will be tried after he ceases to hold the constitutional position, which grants him immunity.
The BJP, which won the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls riding on a Hindutva wave, with many of its leaders eloquently expressing themselves in favour of the construction of the Ram Temple, has been put in an extremely uncomfortable position. On one hand, if it decides to deny Advani or Joshi, the country’s presidentship on the grounds that they were facing trial, it would be a legally untenable step and on the other, it would dilute its proclaimed desire to build the temple in Ayodhya. Therefore, it is not surprising that the official BJP position is that all its leaders charged with conspiracy were innocent till proven otherwise after the culmination of the trial.
The Supreme Court order has provided ammunition to the opposition parties, which have lauded the judgement while concurrently taking a stance that the BJP has frayed the secular fabric of the nation. The Congress, which has demanded Uma Bharti’s resignation from the Union Cabinet, is, however, cautiously treading on the matter, since it has comprehended that its worst loss in a Parliamentary poll in 2014 was on account of the public perception that it had tilted towards the minorities. In order to redeem itself in the eyes of the electorate, it will have to re-think its strategy on the issue.
The restoration of the conspiracy charge would also prolong the trial, which, in normal course, was coming to an end in the next six months, but now would continue for the oncoming two years. It would, perhaps, furnish an opportunity to some of the defendants to name Congress leaders who were privy to information connected to the razing of the controversial structure. Many veteran Congress leaders such as Makhan Lal Fotedar have stated publicly that the then Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao had been personally intimated regarding the Sangh’s plan to tear down the mosque. However, the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and the Cabinet Secretary paid no heed, thus taking no preventive measures. There were official records in the files of the Intelligence Bureau to establish that the Central government did not act decisively, despite being privy to classified reports. Fotedar in his book, The Chinar Leaves, narrates how the then President, the late Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma had broken down on hearing the news of the destruction. The former UP Chief minister, Naryan Dutt Tewari had earlier tipped senior partymen that anticipating his dismissal, Kalyan Singh, the Chief Minister had started getting his personal residence renovated in Lucknow several weeks before he was ousted. Former Union Minister Arjun Singh too had taken up the issue with Narasimha Rao, who seemed reluctant to act and allowed time to lapse, resulting in the bringing down of the structure.
In short, the issue has several dimensions—legal, political, criminal, historical and sociological. The complexity of the matter would prevent anyone to look at the fallout objectively, without reference to all the aspects. From the BJP perspective, since the trial would continue for two years, it would assist in keeping the Ayodhya issue alive till the 2019 parliamentary polls. The UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and others have already reaffirmed their resolve in the creation of the Ram Mandir at the Babri Mosque site and this could help in reaping political dividends.
There are also conspiracy theories that are afloat regarding why the CBI did not present an amended affidavit, keeping in view the changed situation, but chose to persist with its initial stand, which lacked adequate legal merit. The postulation which is gaining momentum is that certain leaders in the Sangh wanted to deprive Advani and Joshi the right to be nominated as the BJP’s presidential candidates. On the face of it, this presumption may look credible, but is thoroughly devoid of legal argument. Therefore, if the Sangh and the BJP and its allies decide to approve the name of either Advani or Joshi for the Presidentship, the Supreme Court order will not be a political or legal impediment. Thus, it is totally premature to conclude that Joshi and Advani are out of the presidential race till the selected nominee is officially named. Between us.