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Ayodhya case takes new turn
By P.M. Damodaran

Lucknow: The Ayodhya case has taken a new turn. The Supreme Court has issued notices to the Uttar Pradesh government and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on petitions seeking the revival of the prosecution of union ministers, Mr. L.K. Advani, Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi and Ms. Uma Bharati and five other Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bharatiya Janata Party leaders in the case of the demolition of the disputed structure in Ayodhya in December 1992. The Lucknow Bench of Allahabad High Court on February 12 had quashed the trial of the accused in the case maintaining that the notification for trial issued by the state government was defective and improper.

The fact is that a case was filed against the eight accused, including the three union ministers, soon after the demolition of the disputed Babri Mosque structure on December 6, 1992. The CBI added a few more names to the list of accused a few months later. The High Court on February 12 this year set aside the trial of the eight accused persons on the technical ground that the CBI had not received the prior permission of the court before adding the names to the list.

The High Court had not given any clean chit to the accused persons in the case. On the contrary, the High Court's observation that the remedy was curable itself had proved that the accused persons had not been let off. Moreover, a designated court in September 1997 had maintained that prima facie there was sufficient evidence to frame charges against the accused persons.

The apex court has issued notices to the UP government and the CBI asking them to file their replies within four weeks on a petition filed by a columnist Mr. Kuldip Nayyar and a Delhi-based organisation, Society for Social Justice seeking revival of prosecution proceedings against the accused. The petitioners had challenged the February 12 order of the single judge of the High Court on the ground that the accused persons should not be allowed to go scot-free on a 'trifle technical ground'.

They had contended that the minor technicalities in notification could not be allowed to be trampled upon the rule of law and the course of justice and maintained that it was a fit case for the apex court to interfere as the offence committed by the accused was serious. Pointing out that the High Court itself had observed the mistake was curable, the petitioners have now sought the apex court's direction to the state government to issue a fresh notification so that a proper trial of the accused could be held.

The state Chief Minister, Mr. Rajnath Singh had always been maintaining that his government was not bound to issue a fresh notification unless it was specifically directed by the court to do so. The state government is also taking the stand that it could not go ahead with the issuing of a fresh notification till the CBI, the investigating agency, had requested it to do so. True to the stand taken by the Chief Minister, the state government did not issue any fresh notification for the trial of the accused more than nine months after the High Court delivered its verdict. On the part of the CBI, which is under direct charge of the Prime Minister, one did not obviously expect it to seek of the trial of the Home Minister and others. But now when Mr. Singh says that his government will honour the Supreme Court directive, he was telling only the obvious as he cannot disobey the judicial orders.

On the other hand, the Ayodhya issue may figure prominently in the winter session of Parliament which began on November 19. The opposition parties are agitated over the government's failure to take action against the VHP leaders, including Mr. Ashok Singhal, who had trespassed into the prohibited area in Ayodhya on October 17. Though the Prime Minister, Mr. A.B. Vajpayee and the U.P. Chief Minister had described the incident as unfortunate and a security lapse, the government had not initiated any action against the trespassers despite the fact that they themselves had admitted their guilt.

The barging into the prohibited area by the VHP leaders had come in the wake of the organisation's decision to begin the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya by March 12 next year, which virtually coincides with the Assembly elections in four states, including in Uttar Pradesh. After the violation by the VHP leader, only a FIR was filed against them under section 186 of the Cr. P.C., which is only a non-cognizable offence. No severe action like the arrest of the accused persons should be taken under this section. With the Assembly elections only less than three months away, the political parties are unlikely to desist from raising the issue in Parliament to take political mileage.

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