A special court in India has acquitted several senior leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of charges against them in connection with their alleged role in the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992.
The defendants, including former Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani and the two leaders of the party, M.M. Joshi and Uma Bharti, had consistently denied all the charges against them, including inciting masses of Hindus to demolish the mosque in the town of Ayodhya, which dates back to the sixteenth century.
The demolition of the mosque led to the outbreak of violence, which claimed nearly 2,000 lives.
The incident was also considered a pivotal point in the rise of the extreme right-wing Hindu star in Indian political life.
Wednesday’s court decision acquitted 32 of the 49 defendants – 17 of whom died in the time it took to hear the case.
The court’s decision stated that there was no evidence indicating a prior plan to demolish the mosque.
A Hindu crowd had demolished the Babri Mosque, claiming that it was constructed over the ruins of a temple for their god “Ram”, as Hindus believe that “Ram” was born in Ayodhya.
The court’s decision is both a historic and controversial decision. It also included former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who died in 2018.
The issuance of the decision comes nearly a year after the issuance of another decision related to the mosque and its location. Last year, the Indian Supreme Court decided to grant the land on which the mosque was constructed to the Hindus, which put an end to a decades-old judicial conflict. The court granted the Muslims another plot of land in Ayodhya in order to build a mosque on it.
Last August, the current Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, laid the foundation stone for a Hindu temple at the site where the mosque was located, thereby fulfilling a promise that the BJP had made to itself, which was considered an important symbolic moment for its extremist Hindu mass base. .
How Have been received Judicial ruling?
The All India Muslim Personal Laws Authority said it will appeal against the ruling to the Supreme Court. “The court heard testimonies from policemen, government officials and prominent journalists. But what about the testimonies that they gave?
Many political observers believe that the decision is likely to fuel the feelings of discontent and marginalization already widespread among Indias Muslim minority, which numbers about 200 million.
A number of opposition political leaders and some commentators condemned the decision.
Leader of the opposition Congress Party, Randeep Surjewala, said the ruling was “a blatant violation of the law” and that it “came against the spirit of the Indian constitution.” As for the leader of the Indian Communist Party (Marxist) Sitaram Yishuri, he said that the decision “is a mocking distortion of justice.”
Member of Parliament Asadeddin Owaisi told the BBC that he was “agonized” to hear about the ruling, describing it as a “black day for the Indian judiciary.”
“Was the mosque demolished by witchcraft? Sometimes violence seems to lead to political benefits,” he asked.
Advani, who is now 92 years old, said that he “totally welcomes” the ruling, while Joshi, 86, said that the decision is a “historic decision” that proved the absence of any “prior plan”.
Advani, Joshi and the 61-year-old leader, Bharti, did not attend the verdict, but they followed it through video.
But Iqbal Ansari, one of the people who filed the lawsuit over the ownership of the land of the Babri Mosque, said, “It is good that it is over. Let us live in peace, and I hope that no new problems will arise like this.
What happened on the sixth of December/ December 1992?
It began with a march organized by right-wing Hindu groups, including the then opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, in Ayodhya. The right-wing Hindus had long pledged to build a temple for them on the land on which the Babri Mosque was built.
The marchers had pledged that their gathering on that day would have symbolic value, and that they intended to hold a religious ceremony and would not harm the mosque.
The BBC’s India correspondent at the time, Mark Tally, who witnessed what happened, said a crowd of 150,000 came to the venue and listened to speeches by leaders from the BJP and other right-wing leaders.
Advani and Joshi – who held senior positions in the government led by the BJP – attended the ceremony.
During the ceremony, thousands of young men equipped with picks, hammers and iron rods attacked the checkpoint set up by the police to protect the mosque, climbed over its central dome and began demolishing it. It was only a short time before the mosque was reduced to rubble.
Photographer Praveen Jain said the crowd attacked journalists covering the event and smashed their cameras in order to erase any evidence of the mosque being demolished.
Within hours, bloody clashes erupted between Hindus and Muslims in multiple regions of India. The city of Mumbai witnessed the bloodiest of these clashes, as about 900 people were killed.
What are the charges?
The three BJP leaders were charged with “giving inflammatory speeches that ultimately led to the demolition of the mosque, creating hostility between Hindus and Muslims, and inciting the public to carry out acts of violence and threaten civil peace.”
It is noteworthy that the Indian Central Bureau of Investigation, which investigated the case, has been asserting that the mosque’s demolition was planned in advance.
An investigative commission headed by MS Lieberhan, a former Supreme Court judge, reached the same conclusion 17 years later, according to Indian press reports.
Muslim leaders also said that Advani – who was leading the opposition at the time – was the one who planned to demolish the mosque.
Why is the decision so important?
Social and religious divisions in India have deepened since the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Narendra Modi, came to power in 2014. Calls to build a Hindu temple on the site of the Babri Mosque rose dramatically until the Supreme Court awarded the disputed land to Hindus last year.
The restrictions on selling and slaughtering cows – an animal that Hindus revered – killed a number of people, most of them Muslims, who were transporting cows from one place to another.
India was rocked last year by protests against a controversial citizenship law that would grant Indian citizenship exclusively to non-Muslim citizens from three neighboring countries. The government led by the BJP says it is determined to protect minorities in those three countries from the persecution it says they face.
But many Indian Muslims fear that this law will strip them of their citizenship, after the government announced plans to “cleanse the country of infiltrators” from neighboring countries unless they have documents proving that their ancestors were living in India.
Modi insists, however, that the law “will not have any negative impact on Indian citizens, including Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists and Jains.”