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Mainstream, VOL LV No 18, New Delhi, April 22, 2017

Apex Court Fast-tracks Ayodhya Trial

Monday 24 April 2017, by SC

EDITORIAL

With the Supreme Court today asking BJP patriarch L.K. Advani and his colleagues, notably Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti, to stand trial for criminal conspiracy in the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, that is, more than 26 years and four months ago, newspapers here are full of reports that this spells the end of his political career. [This may be true for Joshi and Bharti as well but Bharti seems unperturbed and at least for the moment has declined to quit her office in the Union Council of Ministers.]

The Apex Court clubbed the trial of these leaders and several others (leaders and karsevaks) also charged with criminal conspiracy on the same issue and ordered to fast-track the trial which would take place on a day-to-day basis so that it is completed in two years.

As Hindustan Times writes today, “President Pranab Mukherjee’s term ends in July and Advani was seen as a contender for the top post.”

But now “it will be difficult for the BJP and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, to push for a candidate who will be tried on the orders of the Supreme Court in a case associated with the country’s worst communal violence that left 3000 peoples dead.” And as the report in HT underlines, “the order will also give Advani’s detractors a chance to deny him a shot at the presidency”.

Advani had played a crucial role in catapulting the BJP to the centre-stage of national politics by his much-publicised rath yatra from Somnath in Gujarat to Ayodhya in UP two years before the 1992 demolition of the mosque. This was mirrored in the BJP’s vote- and seat-shares in Parliament jumping from 11 to 20 per cent and 85 to 120 respectively between the 1989 and 1991 Lok Sabha polls.

In fact, in an article in Hindustan Times today it has been pointed out that regardless of the final verdict in the Babri Masjid demolition case, the “BJP is likely to only gain”. Elaborating on this line of thought it is stated: “If the charges against senior BJP leaders are proved true, many might be tempted to see in it a validation of the party’s Hindutva credentials. But if they are absolved by the Court, the saffron party would project it as vindication of its innocence and berate the Opposition party for seeking to malign its secular credentials.”

Nevertheless, it is further being underscored that in the immediate context the ruling party at the Centre would have to take some tough calls, mostly administrative in nature. “The Prime Minister has to decide whether he wants to retain a Minister, Hindutva mascot Uma Bharti, who will be facing a court trial. Another question confronting him and the ruling party is about the propriety of keeping Kalyan Singh in the Jaipur Raj Bhawan. The Supreme Court has said since he enjoys constitutional immunity in his capacity as Governor, he can be tried after he ceases to be in office. Modi has put a high premium on morality in public life and he might be in a dilemma over his next course of action in Singh’s case.”

Interestingly in Patna, former Bihar CM, Laloo Prasad, a staunch opponent of the BJP, made a significant observation on hearing the news from the Supreme Court. In his view, “this development smacks of a conspiracy scripted within the BJP“. By this he implied that the prosecuting agency, the CBI, being under the ‘control’ of the PM, this might have had something to do with the development of the day.

It may be recalled that Laloo, as the head of the Bihar Government, had stopped Advani’s rath yatra in his State in October 1990 and earned the wrath of the Hindutva brigade.

While welcoming the Apex Court’s decision, Laloo opined: “When the CBI says in the court that the conspiracy case against Advani and other BJP leaders should be pursued, what else remains to be said?”

He further told reporters at his residence: “...in the RSS and BJP anything is possible. They don’t spare anyone. It was Advani who had helped Narendra Modi (to remain as the Gujarat CM) in the wake of the 2002 Gujarat riots, but today he knows best what has happened.” These words are indeed pregnant with meaning.

April 19 S.C.