Opposition parties and Muslim groups yesterday criticised a court’s decision to acquit top Bharatiya Janata Party leaders of conspiracy related to the demolition of the Babri Masjid decades ago that sparked communal riots which left more than 2,000 dead.
The Congress party said judgment was contrary to the Supreme Court’s earlier stance and that the BJP had planned to “destroy the country’s communal amity”.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which represents Muslim social and political groups, said it would challenge the acquittal in a higher court, calling it “far from justice”.
Tens of thousands of supporters of the BJP and other Hindu groups, armed with pick-axes and spades, tore down the 16th-century mosque in Ayodhya in 1992, to pave the way for a temple.
The mob was allegedly led by top BJP leaders, including former deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani, former party president Murli Manohar Joshi, and Uma Bharti.
They were later accused of conspiring to destroy the mosque, with more than 30 BJP leaders facing charges of criminal conspiracy, promoting enmity and inciting the mob.
But a special court sitting in Lucknow said yesterday the prosecution had failed to prove their guilt.
“Anti-social elements brought down the structure. The accused leaders tried to stop these people,” the judge said as he announced the verdict.
“The audio of the speeches were also not clear. All accused are acquitted.”
Seventeen accused died during the case and trial, which spanned nearly three decades.
Advani, now 92, led tens of thousands of supporters on a months-long street agitation across the country before the mob targeted the mosque.
The razing of the religious structure sparked India’s worst sectarian riots and a protracted court case over the site.
Last year the Supreme Court awarded the land to a trust, clearing the way for the construction of a temple – a key victory for Prime Minister Narendra and BJP supporters.
The Supreme Court had termed the demolition “unlawful”, years after it upheld that the accused should be tried for conspiracy.
Advani, who watched the judgment via video link, previously termed the demolition the “saddest day of his life”.
But yesterday, the nonagenarian “wholeheartedly welcomed” the ruling.
As soon as the court announced the acquittal, jubilation broke out outside the court, in Ayodhya and Lucknow where supporters of the leaders were present to celebrate the occasion.
But Congress leader Ahmed Patel said “the verdict is shocking, it goes contrary to principles of natural justice and even the SC’s observation.”
The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen said it was a sad day for the Indian judiciary.
“Today is a sad day in the history of Indian judiciary. Now, the court says there was no conspiracy. Please enlighten me, how many days or months of preparations are required to disqualify an action from being spontaneous,” asked AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi.
President of the Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, Maulana Syed Arshad Madani, said the mosque was demolished in broad daylight, the world had also seen under whose patronage the mosque was brought down and who was in power in Uttar Pradesh at that time.
“Despite this, the decision of the court is astonishing,” he said.
The opposition parties including the Congress have asked the government to challenge the verdict.
The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) too demanded that the Central Bureau of Investigation should appeal against the verdict.
Senior IUML MP P K Kunhalikutty said: “One wonders if justice has been delivered in this case.”
“Even the Supreme Court of the country had earlier said what happened then was an unlawful act.”
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