The 1992 demolition was preceded by a series of rath yatras by the BJP's LK Advani.
- "The accused tried to stop the demolition," said special judge
- Merely giving a provocative speech was not enough to prove guilt, he said
- LK Advani, MM Joshi watched via video link when the verdict was announced
The demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, was not planned and involved "anti-social elements" who got agitated and climbed the domes, a court in Uttar Pradesh said Wednesday, acquitting all 32 accused including BJP leaders LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti of conspiracy charges in a landmark verdict. "The accused tried to stop the demolition," said special judge Surendra Kumar Yadav, adding that merely giving a provocative speech was not enough to prove guilt.
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LK Advani, 92, MM Joshi, 87, and Uma Bharti, 61, were not present in court and watched via video link when the verdict was announced. They had all been accused of criminal conspiracy, promoting enmity and inciting activists with incendiary speeches from a dais next to the site. Mr Advani said he celebrated the "moment of joy" by chanting "Jai Shri Ram".
"Anti-social elements brought down the structure. The accused leaders tried to stop these people," said the special judge, whose term had been extended for this verdict. The judge also said the audio and video evidence produced by the CBI did not establish conspiracy charges. "The audio of the speeches was also not clear," he said.
"There is no evidence that the accused got together in common cause with anti-social Kar Sewaks to bring down the disputed structure. The leaders seated on stage and those near the Ram Chabutara - VHP leader Ashok Singhal and BJP's Vijaya Raje Scindia -- did not suspect that a section of the Kar Sewaks will get agitated and climb the disputed structure," the judge said.
The mosque demolition was preceded by a series of Rath Yatras by LK Advani, whose campaign for a Ram temple at the site catapulted the BJP to the national spotlight. Mr Advani, Mr Joshi, Uma Bharti and Kalyan Singh, who are among the 32 surviving accused, were allegedly present near the mosque. Investigating agencies said they delivered speeches that instigated the crowds who had gathered for a temple.
Kalyan Singh was the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh at the time. Former Union minister Uma Bharti, who is admitted in hospital for COVID-19, had declared she would not seek bail if she was convicted and she would accept any punishment with pride. Mr Advani recorded his statement before the special CBI court through video conference on July 24 and was asked 100 questions.
The 16th century mosque was razed by thousands of "Kar Sevaks" who believed it was built on the ruins of an ancient temple that marked the birthplace of Lord Ram in Ayodhya. The incident led to riots that left 3,000 dead and changed India's political landscape forever.
Over the last 28 years, the case has seen many turns. Two cases were filed in 1992, which eventually grew to 49. The second case, FIR no 198, had named Mr Advani, Mr Joshi and Uma Bharti for promoting religious enmity and provoking rioting. Later, the Supreme Court asked that criminal conspiracy charges be restored against them.
In a historic ruling in November, the Supreme Court handed over the site claimed by both Hindus and Muslims for the building of a Ram temple. The groundbreaking ceremony took place earlier this year, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi performing the main rituals.
The Supreme Court also called it "unlawful destruction" and said Muslims had been wrongly deprived of a mosque that was constructed well over 400 years ago. "It is necessary to provide restitution to the Muslim community for the unlawful destruction of their place of worship," the top court said, ordering an alternative site in Ayodhya for a mosque.
In an interview to NDTV in 2000, Mr Advani had called the Babri mosque razing a "terrible mistake" and said: "Till today, frankly, I do not know whether it was mob fury, a mob going out of control or a small determined group which did not agree with the leadership of the movement who thought that this should be done, I'm not clear in my mind." Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had said a section of Kar Sevaks went out of control. "What happened in Ayodhya was very unfortunate. It should not have happened. We tried, to prevent it, but we did not succeed. We are sorry for that," he told NDTV.