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View: CBI must not appeal Babri verdict

October 07, 2020 19:30 IST

Challenging the verdict is ra deterrent to future peace and harmony and a socially irresponsible act, argues Vivek Gumaste.

IMAGE: Bharatiya Janata Party activists celebrate after the verdict on the Babri Masjid demolition case by a special CBI court, outside the BJP office in Mumbai, September 30, 2020. Photograph: PTI Photo
 

After a protracted 28 year-long trial and after several full stops and U-turns (the proceedings against Lal Kishenchand Advani and other accused were dropped in 2001 and later reinstated), Judge Surendra Kumar Yadav of the Central Bureau of Investigation's special court deemed on September 30 that there was no credible evidence to implicate a conspiracy in the Babri Masjid demolition case; accordingly, all the 32 accused including veteran BJP leaders like Advani, Dr Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti were acquitted of any wrongdoing.

Will this verdict bring final closure to one of the most contentious controversies of modern India or will it re-ignite another endless court battle, perpetuate social discord and drag us back willy-nilly into the same quagmire of distrust and disharmony that we have been subjected to over the last three decades?

To allay such a pessimistic consequence, it is vital that we objectively analyse the merits of the current verdict to instill a sense of confidence in all Indians.

The tendency to calm rather than incite, the urge to resolve rather than exploit, must be the driving motive in this exercise.

However, negativists in our midst are out in full force, crying foul and casting aspersions on the veracity of the pronouncement. Editorials and op-eds have excoriated the judgment; but they fail to convince.

In fact, the arguments in these opinion articles come across as frivolous tattle; the line of reasoning is embarrassingly pedestrian and intellectually mediocre to be taken seriously.

For one, the claim that the current verdict is at odds with the findings of the Liberhan Commission and therefore unacceptable is not a valid riposte.

One editorial The Demolition, in The Indian Express states: 'More than 10 years ago, the Justice Liberhan Commission had concluded that the evidence underlined that the mobilisation of the kar sevaks was "neither spontaneous and voluntary", was orchestrated and planned'.

Divergence from the Liberhan report does not automatically make the present verdict suspect. The Liberhan Commission was instituted by then prime minister P V Narsaimha Rao in 1992, had a tenure of 16 years and finally submitted its report to then prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh in 2009.

The report itself is far from impeccable and in places sounds like a partisan document intent on political vendetta: It even implicates Atal Bihari Vajpayee, even though he was not present at the site.

Additionally, there is a difference between a commission and a court of law. A commission has no legal binding and answers to a burden of proof that is less stringent than that of a court.

Pieces of evidence found admissible by the Liberhan commission failed to pass the test in court, leading Judge Surendra Kumar Yadav to conclude that there was no credible evidence to support a case for conspiracy.

Countering the verdict, another editorial in Hindustan Times argues: The demolition of the mosque was preceded by months of political mobilisation across the country that whipped up sentiment.'

'Multiple eyewitnesses and journalists have reported how mobs swelled around the disputed structure for days before the demolition, with the authorities doing little to disperse the crowd.'

'Reports also underlined how the police stood by while groups of young men with pickaxes, shovels and ropes, scaled the domes of the fragile structure, with the intent of bringing it down.'

True, the Babri Masjid was demolished and that young men with pick axes were found at the site and it is also true that Advani led a pan-Indian BJP movement that preceded the demolition of the mosque.

But none of these pieces of information categorically confirm a conspiracy by the persons named. These are assumption still subject to verification in a court of law.

Incontrovertible proof is required to link the movement to the demolition -- which was not forthcoming; hence the verdict.

The presence of two separate FIRs also raises serious doubts. The first FIR lists unnamed kar sevaks as the culprits while the second filed later names the veteran BJP leaders mentioned above, suggesting that it was an afterthought and presumably had a political motive.

Faizan Mustafa, an expert on Constitutional law, and Aymen Mohammad, a doctoral student at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, in an op-ed in The Indian Express indulge in a lot of legalese to criticise the verdict but are unable to come up with a cogent argument or a plausible conclusion.

They claim:'The accused were charged with various sections of the Indian Penal Code pertaining to incitement to violence (Sections 153A and 153B), conspiracy to commit a crime (Section 120B), and unlawful assembly (Section 149). The overarching import of these charges was that there was a joint agreement on the part of the accused to demolish the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.'

'For criminal conspiracy, mere agreement is punishable and for unlawful assembly, mere presence is enough to make one liable. There can be no two opinions on whether L K Advani and others were members of an unlawful assembly.'

If this was such a straightforward case, how is it that the learned judge did not find an iota of proof against the accused?

Finally, the authors end up castigating the CBI for a weak performance and accuse the central body of being politically swayed.

To blame the CBI for the verdict is to look for excuses where none exist. The CBI presented countless videotapes. 351 witnesses and over 600 documents -- an impressive array of evidence.

It cannot be faulted. It only proves the point that when there is no conspiracy it is hard to find proof of one despite presenting mountains of so-called evidence.

In conclusion, this was a sound judgment that fulfilled the caveats of the judicial process. The terms of reference to the court was clear: To find evidence of a conspiracy in the destruction of the Babri Masjid. Its response was unequivocal: There was none.

We need to respect the verdict despite being tempted by our ideological convictions to do otherwise. The quintessential condition for the success of a democracy is that we accept a court verdict even if it is inimical to us with grace and good sense.

Much water has flowed under the bridge since the destruction of the Babri Masjid. The Supreme Court has accepted the presence of an ancient Hindu temple at that site and awarded Hindus the right to build a grand Ram temple there; concomitantly giving Muslims an alternative place to construct a mosque.

Ayodhya has moved on and so has India. There is no need to look back.

Challenging the verdict is redundant, retrogressive and unnecessarily disruptive; it is a deterrent to future peace and harmony and a socially irresponsible act.

The CBI must not appeal the verdict.

Academic Vivek Gumaste, who is based in the United States, is the author of My India: Musings of a Patriot. You can e-mail the author at gumastev@yahoo.com.

VIVEK GUMASTE