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Case against the Babri trio to continue
By PM Damodaran, Lucknow

Far from giving a reprieve to eight accused, including the the Union Home Minister, Mr. L.K. Advani and his ministerial colleagues Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi and Ms. Uma Bharati,in the Babri Masjid demolition case, the recent ruling of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court has only compounded the problems of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the state government in Uttar Pradesh. Now the onus will be on the U.P. government to issue a fresh notification with the permission of the Chief Justice of the High Court for the trial of the accused persons. The state Chief Minister, Mr. Rajnath Singh, faces a real dilemma on how to proceed in the case.

The moot question is whether the state government will have the courage to issue fresh notification for the trial of the high profile Sangh Parivar leaders, among whom Mr. Advani is considered as number two in the BJP hierarchy. Expectedly, the opposition parties and the Muslim leaders and organizations apprehend that the state government will drag on its feet in the case. They feel that the government will act on the notification only if it is compelled to do so.

On his part, the Chief Minister had said in his statement that his government would act in conformity with the Constitution only. On the other hand, several BJP leaders have clearly indicated that the state government will not issue a fresh notification as it is not to be blamed for the present state of affairs. Yet though the U.P. government is to issue the notification, a decision in this case will have to come from the central leadership of the BJP, and to be precise, from the Prime Minister, Mr. A.B. Vajpayee. It is also true that it will be difficult for the state government to reject the demand for the issuance of fresh notification as the judge had virtually suggested it in his verdict.

If the BJP sticks to its earlier stand, its government is unlikely to re-seek the prosecution of Mr. Advani and others. The party had been maintaining that the prosecutions launched against Mr. Advani and others were 'politically motivated'. It had been alleging that the names of eight leaders were added as accused as an after-thought in a deliberate bid to get them convicted. Mr. Vajpayee had also been rejecting the demand of the opposition parties in Parliament for the removal of the accused ministers on the ground that no charges had been framed against them.

In this context, the role of the allies of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will be important. Judging by their earlier actions, they are, however, unlikely to do anything which will affect the stability of the Vajpayee government except making a few statements here and there by their leaders. They did not make much noise when the Prime Minister made a controversial statement that the Ram Temple was a national sentiment and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) announced its decision to usurp the disputed land in Ayodhya by March next year to begin the temple construction. But in U.P., some of the partners of the ruling BJP may create an embarrassing situation for the Rajnath Singh Government by raising the notification issue.

The opposition parties and the Muslim leaders will, however, insist on nothing less than a second notification to rectify the technical error in the first one. Quoting widely from the court ruling, they say that the concerned judge has also favoured the issuance of a fresh notification by the state government. However, there are differences of opinion in the opposition ranks.

The Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) blame the Congress for the technical error. They even went to the extent of alleging that the Congress had colluded with the BJP leaders in issuing a wrong notification to save the Sangh leaders. (The notification was issued in October 1993 when the Congress was at the helm of affairs at the Centre and Mr. Motilal Vora was the Governor of U.P.). But the Congress leaders refute the charges by maintaining that if the first notification was erroneous, the subsequent coalition government of the Samajwadi Party and the BSP, which came to power shortly later, should have rectified the mistake.

Mr. Advani and others have not been let off by the court because the charges against them were found baseless. The court had not given any verdict freeing them of the charges. Far from it, the High Court had upheld the trial of 40 others, who were similarly charged. (The court had deleted the name of the BJP leader, Vijayaraje Scindia from the list of 41 persons following her death). The court had only said that they could not be tried due to procedural error and technical reasons.

Moreover, some legal experts are of the view that Mr. Advani and others will have to face the charges in the court even if the state government refused to issue fresh notification to cure the legal infirmity as the CBI had filed a joint and consolidated chargesheet against all the 49 accused persons, including these eight Sangh Parivar leaders, in October 1993. Importantly, the High Court had held the consolidated chargesheet valid in a recent judgement. Senior advocates are of the opinion that in view of this, it may be difficult for the judiciary to implement the present High Court judgement.

Besides, even if the recent High Court ruling stands and they get away from being chargesheeted, Mr. Advani and some others will have to cross another hurdle. The Union Home Minister had so far managed to avoid appearing before the Liberhan Commission, which is investigating the demolition case under the Commission of Inquiries Act. Mr. Advani will have to testify before it sooner or later. In case the state government refused to issue fresh notification enabling the court to begin the trial of the eight accused persons and the Liberhan Commission delivers an adverse report on them, the BJP and its government will be put in an embarrassing situation. The handling of the issue will be an acid test for the Vajpayee government. 

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