In his order running into 2,300 pages, the judge, Surendra Kumar Yadav, said the demolition was not pre-planned and was the handiwork of “unruly elements (arajak tattva)” among the kar sevaks. Also, the CBI couldn’t prove that the accused Sangh Parivar functionaries were behind any conspiracy to demolish the 16th-century structure on December 6, 1992.
He said the CBI could not produce any conclusive evidence against any accused. “Even VHP leader late Ashok Singhal was trying to stop kar sevaks from demolishing the disputed structure because the idol of Lord Ram was also inside the structure,” the judge wrote in the verdict delivered on the last day of his tenure.
The court also accepted the defence’s plea that Ram Lalla’s idols were not removed from the mandir-masjid complex and it was left to the priest, Satyendra Das, to take those out at the last moment, showing that the accused had no plans to demolish the structure.
Judge Yadav also agreed with the defence that the structure was demolished by miscreants who defied the directive by BJP and VHP leaders assembled at Ram Katha Kunj to restrict themselves to symbolic kar seva in the vicinity of the now-demolished mosque.
Significantly, the judge took into account intelligence inputs from both local and central agencies about the possible presence of subversives, some backed by Pakistani agencies and others from J&K, in Ayodhya.
The much-awaited verdict was celebrated by Advani, Joshi and others as a validation of their stand that the demolition of the 500 year-old Mughal structure was not part of any pre-meditated plan, but caused disappointment among Muslims. The All India Muslim Personal Law Board called the verdict “wrong” and said they would appeal against it in the high court.
The acquittal comes in the wake of the Supreme Court verdict allotting the disputed Ayodhya site to Hindus for the construction of Ram Mandir, generating unease among sections of Muslims. The second victory for the Hindutva side can add to the unease.
Prominent Sunni cleric and AIMPLB member Maulana Khalid Rasheed Firangi Mahali said everyone knows how the “Babri Masjid was demolished in full public view” and the “law of the land was shredded to pieces”.
BJP, VHP and others were, however, jubilant over what they saw as the second consecutive judicial imprimatur over their stand on Ayodhya amid the absence of any indication that the CBI could move the high court. When asked, CBI counsel Lalit Singh said a copy of the judgment would be sent to the agency headquarters in Delhi which would take a further decision. BJP has maintained that the destruction of the mosque was not premeditated. VHP and others have ascribed the events on the fateful day 28 years ago to the spontaneous outburst of pent-up feelings of Hindus. Just as the accused were acquitted, some of them in the court loudly chanted “Jai Shri Ram” in the presence of the judge.
However, the Shiv Sena has been a defiant exception and even claimed responsibility for the demolition. Not surprisingly, unlike Congress, its coalition partner in Maharashtra, it welcomed the outcome.
The conspiracy charge against Advani had been dropped by the Allahabad high court in 2001, but was restored by the Supreme Court in 2017.
In the much-awaited hearing, the judge occupied his chair in the courtroom at 12.10pm and within five minutes read out the operative part of the judgment, pronouncing acquittal of all the accused. The judge had superannuated on September 30, 2019 but the Supreme Court had extended his service period till delivery of the judgment.
The judge did not accept newspapers as pieces of evidence as the original sources of them were not produced and proved. He also did not rely on the photos of incidents as their negatives were not produced.
“The video cassettes were not sealed and even the videos were not clear and as such the same cannot be relied upon,” observed the judge.
“We have been reiterating from the very beginning that there is no evidence in the case and all accused were falsely implicated by the CBI under influence of the then Congress government,” said defence counsel Vimal Kumar Srivastava.
In his verdict, the judge also observed that there was an intelligence report that some untoward incident might take place on December 6, 1992 but it was not probed. He referred to a note that then Union home secretary Prabhat Kumar had sent on December 5, 1992, which said that elements backed by Pakistani agencies had mingled with kar sevaks. A meeting was also held to discuss this note and there were reports that 100 anti-national elements from Kashmir’s Udhampur had entered Ayodhya, but this part was never probed, the court observed.
The CBI had filed a chargesheet in October 1993 against 49 accused. Out of them, 17 accused, including Ashok Singhal, Bal Thackeray and Vijaya Raje Scindia are no more. The agency produced 351 witnesses and over 600 written documents, apart from video and audio evidence.