Let off the hook

Published : May 26, 2001 00:00 IST

The charges against L.K. Advani and 20 others in the Babri Masjid demolition case have been dropped owing to the brazen refusal of the Uttar Pradesh government to issue a fresh notification handing over the case to the CBI, in accordance with a court order.

IN the Babri Masjid demolition case, proceedings will now continue only against the police officials, the administrative personnel and other lesser mortals, for "dereliction of duty". The politicians and the religious fanatics who masterminded the operation and were accused of conspiring to demolish the Babri structure, causing riots and inciting communal frenzy through speeches have been allowed to go scot-free.

The expected has happened, but sooner than expected. Twenty-one accused, including L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharati, all Ministers in the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre, Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leaders such as Ashok Singhal, V.H. Dalmia and Sadhvi Rithambara, have been let off the hook. Many of them had watched the December 6, 1992 destruction with glee and gloated that "a blot on India's nationalistic identity" had been erased for ever. While Advani, Joshi, Uma Bharati and the VHP leaders were physically present at the spot when the masjid was being pulled down by kar sevaks, Kalyan Singh ensured, sitting in the Chief Minister's office in Lucknow, that no force was used against the vandals. Bal Thackeray patted his boys on the back for their "brave feat of pulling down a dilapidated structure".

Since the participation, active or passive, of these leaders in the demolition of the Babri Masjid was so obvious to the entire world, the brazenness with which the State government allowed the charges against them to be dropped by the Special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) Court on May 4 shocked all those who believed in the rule of law. This was but a logical corollary of a February 12 order of the Allahabad High Court quashing the criminal charges against 21 of the 47 accused on technical grounds - that the State government had issued the notification that the investigation be handed over to the CBI without its (the court's) permission. The "snag", the court held, could be removed by the State government by issuing a fresh notification within three months of the order. The U.P. government ignored the court directive, and on May 4 the Special Court was forced to drop charges against the 21 accused. Now the proceedings could progress only against 26 others.

The Designated Judge of the Special Court, S.K. Shukla, while dropping charges against the 21 accused, noted that since the State government had not yet issued a fresh notification, there were only two options before him: to keep the case pending until the government rectified the defect in the notification, and to drop charges against these people and proceed against the other 26 accused. Shukla remarked that since the intention of the Allahabad High Court, as reflected in its February 12 order, was speedy disposal of the case, he chose the second option. These 26 persons include the then District Magistrate and the Senior Superintendent of Police of Faizabad.

The U.P. government, which has with remarkable obstinacy refused to issue a fresh notification, does not find anything improper in its decision. Chief Minister Rajnath Singh said: "It is not the State government's jurisdiction to decide who to prosecute in this matter since the case has been handed over to the CBI. Investigation and prosecution in this case is purely the CBI's prerogative." Obviously happy at the turn of events, he asked why the State government should on its own issue a fresh notification, particularly when there has been no request from the CBI to that effect. Rajnath Singh said the Opposition in the State was unnecessarily making an issue out of a non-issue because the government had no role whatsoever to play in this matter.

The fact, however, remains that the CBI's request to the State government through the Union Home Ministry to take "appropriate action" in the matter has gone unheeded. According to sources in the CBI, it wrote to the State government in the third week of February for appropriate action (issue of a fresh notification).

The turn of events has caused jubilation in the BJP camp. Speaking to journalists in Delhi, Rajnath Singh said: "The Prime Minister is so happy, he congratulated me." The BJP's allies at the Centre have, however, been shocked into silence. Apparently, these parties, which swear by secularism, are now caught in a bind because they cannot politically afford to make this an issue at this juncture. Power-strapped as they are, they do not have too many options. They can take a stand and confront the BJP if they are prepared to walk out of the NDA, but they do not seem to be prepared for that. So they are pretending to be politically embarrassed; they have even failed to react. "Let us not talk about Ayodhya. I cannot talk about this issue yet," was the crisp reply of Janata Dal (United) president and Union Civil Aviation Minister Sharad Yadav, when asked for his comment. The newly appointed president of the Samata Party, V.V. Krishna Rao, said: "We have not discussed the issue yet."

It is the same story with the BJP's major southern allies, the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). "There is absolutely no reaction, neither from the party nor from the Chief Minister," said a DMK functionary in the party's office in Chennai. Leaders of the TDP, though grumbling in private, have also not spoken out. A senior leader, however, said that the State government should have taken the corrective measure as desired by the High Court. "It has set a bad precedent because every State government would start tampering with the law now," he said.

For the BJP, though, the episode could not have come at a more opportune time. The political compulsions of its allies ensure that they continue to prop up the government regardless of provocations. Considerably weakened, especially in the case of the DMK after its debacle in the Assembly elections, the allies are in no position to confront the BJP yet on any issue. Hence, even on as serious an issue as letting the main accused in the Ayodhya case go free, the allies have failed to take a stand and force the BJP's hands. The BJP, however, has viewed the silence of its allies as their "nod of approval".

"Silence means consent. They have no objection on this issue and are with us," said BJP vice-president Pyarelal Khandelwal. The president of the BJP's State unit, Kalraj Mishra, defended the State government with even greater gusto. "We have been proved right in our stand that the cases against our leaders were fabricated, politically motivated. Since the Congress conspiracy to implicate our leaders in false and fabricated cases has now been exposed, there is no need for the U.P. government to issue a fresh notification," said Mishra. The State government in a statement made in the Assembly on May 9 said the matter was in the hands of the CBI and the court. "The State government," it said, "has no role in the issuance of a fresh notification".

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