Muslims, opposition parties and rights groups in India have reason to cheer.
A special court in Lucknow has finally framed criminal conspiracy charges against three veterans of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over their alleged role in the demolition of the Babri mosque 25 years ago.
Campaigners have long demanded justice for the roughly 2,000 people killed in Hindu-Muslim riots unleashed by the incident. However no justice has been forthcoming as successive governments – whether Congress or BJP-led – have been reluctant to confront sensitivities by pursuing the case and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has dragged its feet in bringing the accused to trial.
Scathing about the country’s failure to expedite a resolution to the matter, in April the Supreme Court ordered a fresh trial, 16 years after the Allahabad High Court dropped criminal conspiracy charges against the accused.
Accordingly, on Tuesday charges were framed against the BJP’s stalwart leaders Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, federal minister Uma Bharati and nine others.
For Muslims, justice delayed is better than justice denied. For anti-BJP groups, a “guilty” verdict will be vindication of their view that the saffron party is non-secular.
However, there is a catch: the trial may actually help the BJP in the run-up to the 2019 elections as the day-to-day court hearing will keep the issue of rebuilding the Ayodhya Ram temple burning. It may even deliver the party a landslide.
Since coming to power three years ago, the BJP has pretty much kept silent on the temple issue in order to avoid being seen as too pro-Hindu. It has managed to gain significant support from Muslim voters, as was proved in elections in Uttar Pradesh this year.
The revival of the criminal conspiracy case against Advani and others may be a blessing in disguise for the party as the legal battle has pushed the Ram temple issue center stage without putting the BJP in line for criticism.
If the court finally rules in favor of the accused, the BJP can claim it proves the innocence of their leaders. If the ruling goes against them, it can claim credit for having stood by its veterans.
That the BJP backs its leaders to the hilt was evident on Tuesday from the way Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister (CM) Yogi Adityanath and other state leaders paid their respects to them before the court proceedings. Adityanath had a 40-minute talk with them.
If the court finally rules in favor of the accused, the BJP can claim it proves the innocence of their leaders. If the ruling goes against them, it can claim credit for having stood by its veterans
Media focus shifted from the Lucknow court to the Ayodhya temple on Wednesday as Adityanath visited the makeshift shrine to offer his prayers to Lord Ram. He is the first CM to visit the temple site in 15 years. Previous CMs, including Mulayam Singh of the Samajwadi Party and Mayawati of the Bahujan Samajwadi Party avoided such visits as they did not want to antagonize Muslims who formed a big chunk of their vote bank.
On Wednesday, Adityanath also offered prayers at the Sarayu River, which is mentioned in the epic poem Ramayana and the oldest Hindu scriptures, the Vedas.
Anti-BJP groups, meawhile, questioned the timing and intention of his temple visit. Many saw it as playing to the sentiments of millions of Hindus who believe the 16th century Babri mosque was built by Mughal emperor Babar’s men from the debris of the Ram temple which stood there and was destroyed in 1528.
Rebuilding the Ram temple is the aspiration of millions of Hindus and the BJP is committed to it. That will be possible only if the warring parties reach an amicable settlement of the issue, as has been recommended by the Supreme Court.
Most people of Ayodhya are willing to offer their help in rebuilding the temple and the mosque. Will politicians listen to them?