Hindu activists atop the 16th-century Babri Masjid in Ayodhya during its demolition in 1992. Photo: AFP

The destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, by a Hindu mob on December 6, 1992, was an act that polarized post-independent India and still generates heated argument today. And court cases.

On April 19, or 25 years after the event, the Supreme Court ordered a Lucknow court to revive criminal conspiracy charges against some Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders for their alleged role in the attack on the mosque.

The leaders include L.K. Advani, who was seen as a potential presidential contender, and a candidate for vice president Murli Manohar Johi. Another name on the list is minister for water resources Uma Bharti. If convicted, they face jail terms ranging from two to five years.

The court’s order comes as the BJP heads the federal and Uttar Pradesh governments and the appeal to revive the case was made by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which normally acts for the federal government.

This has raised speculation that the CBI is being used by powerful forces in the BJP to remove Advani and Joshi from the presidential race. Meantime, water minister Uma has refused to step down.

The Ayodhya site is an open wound between India’s Hindu and Muslim groups. Hindus believe the god-king Rama was born in Ayodhya and a temple for him existed at the site until Mughal ruler Babar’s invading army destroyed it in the 16th century and built the mosque in its place.

Uma was present at the site for a political rally 25 years ago. It then turned violent and the mob that numbered as many as 150,000 people attacked the mosque. The BJP has said the destruction of the mosque was a spontaneous act by a rampaging mob, while Muslim groups view it as premeditated.

Ram Vilas Vedanti, a former BJP lawmaker and one of the accused in the conspiracy case, told media on Thursday it was he who incited the mob to pull down the mosque. He said Advani and Joshi were trying to calm the crowds.

Whoever was responsible, the revival of the case means it will influence the political makeup of the BJP in the 2019 general elections.

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