The inescapable reality of the CBI court’s verdict in the Ayodhya demolition case is that any verdict would have left some people intensely dissatisfied. The acquittal of all the accused has made those associated with the Ram Janmabhoomi and the wider Hindu nationalist ecosystem elated. At the same time, India’s secularists and Muslim leaders have viewed the judgment as a travesty of justice. Similar conflicting responses had also greeted last year’s Supreme Court verdict that paved the way for the construction of the temple.
At one level, the verdict of the CBI court was inevitable. A charge of conspiracy is hideously difficult to prove unless, of course, the measure is firmly political. Most of the 32 individuals who have been acquitted were visibly elated at the way the kar seva on December 6, 1992, ended —with the Mughal shrine reduced to rubble and a makeshift Ram temple in place. A few may even have added to the emotional headiness of the kar sevaks in the final hour before the third dome came crashing down. However, there is a profound difference between egging on a mob, celebrating an event, taking political advantage of it and carefully plotting it.
As someone who observed the events from the podium, in the company of L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Pramod Mahajan and others, the charge of the demolition being carefully planned by the leadership of the movement seems far-fetched — unless all of them were accomplished actors. The initial reaction to kar sevaks breaking the cordon and climbing to the top of the domes was one of bewilderment, panic and even anger. Ashok Singhal was despatched to bring things under control, but he came back with the news that things had got totally out of control. As it became apparent that there was just no way the disputed structure could be saved, the mood slowly became celebratory. Advani was perhaps the only leader whose reaction was different.
THE CONTROVERSY WON’T DIE: The battle will now shift to the realms of memory, history and politics
This joyousness was not surprising. For the previous four years at least, the leadership of the Ayodhya movement had campaigned vigorously for the Ram mandir to be built at the site where an earlier temple had stood, before the mosque was constructed in 1528 in the teeth of local opposition. They had consistently painted the Babri shrine as a symbol of national humiliation. Therefore, they were understandably happy that this blot on the landscape was finally being erased. To, however, deduce from their elation that they had along planned the demolition is unwarranted. From the then Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao who was having an afternoon siesta while the demolition was happening, to the intelligence agencies and the state government then headed by Kalyan Singh and the top brass of the RSS, there was no anticipation that the kar sevaks would defy the leadership and take matters into their own hands. The Supreme Court was right in saying that the demolition was an “egregious violation of the rule of law” but the charge that it was the culmination of a pre-scripted plot was unproven.
The expression ‘spontaneous’ may well appear contrived to those who believe that the leadership of the Ayodhya movement must be held criminally culpable for the actions of those they had mobilised. At a political level this is understandable, not least because with the benefit of hindsight there is a belief that the demolition presented the country with a fait accompli. However, if the intention of earlier, non-BJP governments, was to punish the leaders of the Ayodhya movement through the judicial process — as opposed to confronting them politically, which was done by the dismissal of four BJP governments in the states — the charges should have been framed more appropriately. Alternatively, the CBI — and, indeed, the larger community of secular investigators — should have submitted conclusive proof of pre-meditation. On both counts there was a failure.
In 1922, as a direct consequence of the Non-Cooperation Movement launched by Mahatma Gandhi, a mob in Chauri Chaura set fire to a police station and 22 policemen were burnt to death. The Mahatma accepted moral responsibility for the tragedy and unilaterally called off the movement, much to the displeasure of his Congress colleagues. Should he have been accused of criminal conspiracy to murder? Instead, he was subsequently charged with publishing seditious material, and pleaded guilty.
All said and done, this verdict brings the long-standing Ayodhya dispute to a final judicial closure. The controversy, however, will remain. The battle will shift to the realms of memory, history and, most important, politics — sites where it should have been conducted all along.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.