| LK Advani talks to reporters outside his residence in New Delhi on Friday. (Reuters)
Rae Bareli, Sept. 19: A Rae Bareli court today absolved Lal Krishna Advani of all charges in the Babri Masjid demolition case but ordered framing of charges against seven others accused with him, leaving the deputy Prime Minister uncomfortable in victory.
“I cannot understand how they made a distinction between me and my friends,” Advani said, expressing an amazement felt by many.
Senior BJP leader and human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi was among the seven against whom special judge Vinod Kumar Singh said charges should be framed. In keeping with his promise yesterday that he would quit if charged, Joshi sent his resignation, but Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, travelling in Turkey, said he had acted in haste. It was a hint that the BJP would press Joshi to withdraw his resignation.
Uma Bharti, the BJP’s candidate for chief minister in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, Vinay Katiyar, head of the party in Uttar Pradesh, and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders Giriraj Kishore, Ashok Singhal, Vishnu Hari Dalmiya and Sadhvi Rithambara were the others to be charged. They have to be present in court on October 10.
Reading out the operative part of his order, copies of which will be available only tomorrow, the judge said there was no material evidence to support the allegations against Advani in the case.
Singh cited discrepancies in the depositions of the prosecution witnesses to give the benefit of doubt to Advani. Sources said that in his order the judge referred to two viewpoints which had emerged after going through the statements of the witnesses presented by the CBI.
One said Advani incited the mob that had gathered in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, to raze the mosque. The other held that he had appealed to the kar sevaks not to demolish it.
All the eight accused in this case were booked by the CBI under sections 147, 149, 153A, 153B and 505 of the Indian Penal Code.
In its chargesheet filed in the court on May 31, the CBI had alleged that the eight were seated on the dais at Ram Katha Kunj at about 10 am to address the gathering. “The above leaders by their provocative speeches were provocating/inciting the kar sevaks with slogans like ‘ek dhakka aur do, Babri masjid tor do’, ” the chargesheet said.
The judge appears to have gone by a Supreme Court verdict that said an accused should be discharged if two views emerge on his role in a crime, as it creates doubts about his involvement.
“It (the order) certainly gives me relief. It would have been a feeling of elation if all my colleagues had also been exonerated,” Advani said.
Advani said he had asked Joshi to heed the party’s view that there was no need to resign.
But Joshi said: “I have sent my resignation to the Prime Minister. I had said yesterday that I will resign if charges are framed against me.”
“I congratulated Advaniji,” Joshi, who had appeared yesterday to have laid a trap for the deputy Prime Minister by promising to resign if charged, added.
Highlighting once again the queer nature of the case where a government agency is pursuing a case against one of the country’s highest executive authorities, the CBI has been put in a dilemma on whether to appeal against the order absolving Advani.
CBI counsel R.K. Saini refused comment, saying he would speak only after reading the order. It appears, though, that the CBI has no option but to appeal because of a Supreme Court direction. The court had said that under criminal law, an appeal is mandatory when any of the accused is discharged in one case but others are not.
The CBI can move an appeal in three weeks and usually does so in not more than two months.
Advani’s lawyer Mahipal Singh Ahluwalia said: “We had prayed that all the accused should be discharged, but I don’t know on what basis the court has taken this decision.”
A lawyer said Advani’s presence on the dais invites section 149 (unlawful assembly leading to committing a crime). The fact about Advani’s presence there has not been denied by his counsel.
Discharge at Rae Bareli does not put at rest the Babri ghost for Advani. Two petitions are pending in the Supreme Court and will be heard together on Monday.
One of these is against the dropping of criminal conspiracy charges, an action that raised a storm of protest in Parliament.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board said it would seek a review in a higher court if the CBI did not. “Advani had actively taken part in the demolition by provoking, inciting and conspiring with others who pulled down the structure and should not go unpunished,” it said.
The courtroom at Rae Bareli, around 200 km from Lucknow, was crowded since morning but the verdict was read out at 3.25 pm amid cries of “Jai Shri Ram” as Advani was absolved and even before the order had been fully read.