The trial in the Babri Masjid demolition case involving BJP leaders and others being conducted in a Special CBI court in Lucknow is at the stage of presentation of evidence by the prosecution.
The Special CBI court in May 2017 charged BJP leaders L.K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Union Minister Uma Bharti and others related to the Sangh Parivar with criminal conspiracy in the Babri Masjid demolition case.
Examination of witnesses has experienced delays due to the delayed framing of charges against senior BJP leader Kalyan Singh, who was exempted from facing trial in the case due to the constitutional immunity he enjoyed as the Governor of Rajasthan till recently.
Mr. Singh was the Chief Minister when mobs demolished the Mughal-era mosque in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992. After his five-year tenure as Governor ended in September, 2019 Mr. Singh was summoned and charged by the Special CBI court on the 27th of that month, days after he was re-inducted into the BJP.
The charges against him relate to criminal conspiracy, promoting enmity between different groups; imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration; statements conducing to public mischief; injuring or defiling place of worship and deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings.
Vimal Srivastava, a defence counsel, said since Mr. Singhs does not now have immunity, witnesses related to his case have started to appear in court but so far only three witnesses have been examined. Mr. Srivastava estimates another 35-40 witnesses are yet to be examined.
Overall, Mr. Srivastava said 336 witnesses have been examined in the Babri Demolition case. Most fact witnesses relating to the rest of the accused in the case, which involves many BJP veterans, have been examined, he said. The investigation officer witnesses are now being examined, he added.
An informed source in the trial proceedings said while 57 witnesses had appeared in the Rae Bareli court, 291 witnesses had appeared in the special court in Lucknow so far. Many witnesses are still left, the source said.
The prosecution was finding it difficult to examine witnesses as they were proving hard to track down at their addresses due to the time-frame of the case, adding to the delay.
Some of them have died, or are too old and are not in a position to speak or remember things clearly, said the source, requesting anonymity.
In May 2017, the special court framed charges against Mr. Advani, Mr. Joshi and Ms. Bharti along with three others former MP Vinay Katiyar and VHP leaders Vishnu Hari Dalmia and Sadhvi Ritambhara under Section 120 B (criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code.
The Supreme Court in April, 2017 used its extraordinary constitutional powers under Article 142 to restore the criminal conspiracy charges framed against them.
The apex court overruled the Allahabad High Court judgment dropping the charges. The Allahabad HC had in 2010 upheld a special CBI courts decision to drop conspiracy charges against Mr Advani and others in 2001.
The apex court transferred the Rae Bareli case in the demolition and clubbed it with the Lucknow case pending before a CBI Special Court, for a comprehensive trial.
Previous charges against Mr. Advani and others since 2017 run along with the additional charge of criminal conspiracy. The previous clauses are: rioting (147), every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object (149), promoting enmity between different groups (153a), imputations, assertions prejudicial to national-integration (153b) and statements conducing to public mischief (505).
The special court also framed charges against half-a-dozen other accused persons in the Babri Masjid demolition, most of them connected with the Sangh Parivar. These are former BJP MP Ram Vilas Vedanti, Mahant Nrityagopal Das of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, Shiv Sena leader Satish Pradhan, VHP leader Champat Rai, Mahant Dharmdas and B.L. Sharma. They were also charged with criminal conspiracy and other clauses of the IPC with the additional charges of Section 295 (damaging or defiling place of worship) and 295a (deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings).
While the case in Rae Bareli charges Mr. Advani, Mr. Joshi, Ms. Bharti and other BJP and Sangh Parivar leaders of giving provocative speeches, the case in Lucknow is against lakhs of unknown kar sevaks and deals with the actual act of demolition of the mosque and violence.
Mr. Srivastava contended that the verdict in the Ayodhya title suit would not have any bearing on the demolition case. When asked about the observation of the Bench regarding the illegality of the demolition of the mosque, Mr. Srivastava said the trial was about determining the culpability of the accused.
Even we may say the demolition is illegal, but the point is on who was involved in the demolition, which is being tried, he said.
The apex court had last year directed the special court to wrap up the trial and deliver a verdict by April 2020.