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Published in the 1-15 Jan 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Babari demolotion issue
CBI in a bind to take stand on Advani
By P M Damodaran

Lucknow: In a significant development, a review petition filed against the Rae Bareli special court’s order acquitting the Deputy Prime Minister, L K Advani and allowing framing of charges against seven other accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case has put the investigating agency, the CBI, in a bind to take a stand in the case.

The petition filed by Haji Mehboob Ahmad and Mohammed Siddiqui alias Hafiz Mohammed Siddiqui has forced the investigating agency to seek three weeks’ time from the High Court to file a rejoinder on its plan on challenging the Rae Bareli court order. The second named petitioner is a defendant in the Ayodhya title suits. The court has now listed the case to be heard on January 28 next year. 

If the CBI had real intentions to challenge the acquittal of Mr. Advani by the Rae Bareli court, it should have challenged the order within three months’ time, that is, before December 19. But there was no word from the CBI to that effect till the review petition filed by the two was heard by the court on December 18. 
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Among other things, the petition pointed out that Justice Bhalla of Allahabad High Court in his verdict on February 12, 2001 had upheld the joint chargesheet and there was no reason why Mr. Advani should not have been tried. Moreover, the review petition said that it was wrong and against law to shift evidence from one court to another. The petition was apparently referring to the shifting of the case from the Lucknow court, which had already taken cognizance of the joint chargesheet, to the Rae Bareli court. It also pointed out that 19 witnesses had on record claimed to have seen Mr. Advani inciting the crowd on the day of the demolition. 

The Rae Bareli court in its order on September 19 had acquitted Mr. Advani of all charges. But it ordered framing of charges against seven others namely Union Human Resources Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti (at present chief minister of Madhya Pradesh), Mr. Vinay Katiyar (U.P. unit president of the BJP), Mr. Ashok Singhal, Sadvi Ritambara, Vishnu Hari Dalmia and Giriraj Kishore. The seven accused later filed review petitions in the high court against the order of the Rae Bareli court. 

If the CBI had real intentions to challenge the acquittal of Mr. Advani by the Rae Bareli court, it should have challenged the order within three months’ time, that is, before December 19. But there was no word from the CBI to that effect till the review petition filed by the two was heard by the court on December 18. 

Now the CBI is in a fix. If it files its rejoinder favouring the review of the order, it will result in the re-opening of the case against the Deputy Prime Minister. Otherwise, if it took a stand against the review petition, it would be seen as an open support to Mr. Advani by the investigating agency, which is already facing an integrity crisis. In fact, it was only natural for the prosecution and the investigating agency to challenge the verdict of a lower court if it went against them. But apparently, in this case the CBI preferred not to do so!

With this court order, the CBI will have to take a stand either way. If the investigating agency at last decides against reopening the case against Mr. Advani and the court verdict goes against the review petition of the two, only the review petitions of the seven accused will be heard.

The CBI inaction on challenging the Rae Bareli court order had come in the wake of its earlier decision not to slap conspiracy charges under Section 120-B of the I.P.C. against the accused in the demolition case, including Mr. Advani. This had weakened the case against the eight accused because the main charge against them was that they had conspired to demolish the Masjid.
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