Nov. 29: Close to the 10th anniversary of the Babri mosque demolition, the trial of deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, an accused, can begin.
Advani becomes the first home minister to face a criminal case, but the BJP — poll-bound in Gujarat where the Ayodhya association could help sharpen the communal divide — does not appear perturbed.
The Uttar Pradesh government sprang a surprise in the Supreme Court today by flashing a notification that paves the way for the trial of Advani and seven others — together known as the group of eight — to start at a special court at Rae Bareli.
After chief minister Mayavati’s refusal on September 17 to issue a fresh notification to try the eight at a special court in Lucknow, it had appeared that the criminal case against Advani and the others was as good as buried.
But, unbeknown to all, her government had got Allahabad High Court to issue a notification appointing a judicial magistrate for the Rae Bareli court, completing a full circle in 10 years.
The case against the eight had begun at a Lalitpur court which was later shifted to Rae Bareli. The CID, which was then handling the case, had even filed a chargesheet. But the state government, mostly under BJP or BJP-coalition rule in the period, transferred the trial to a Lucknow special court and the case, too, was handed to the CBI.
Allahabad High Court had quashed the transfer because it had not been made in consultation with the high court, but had kept the door open for the government to issue a fresh notification fulfilling this criterion. This is a step no government took and the case was as good as dead with Mayavati declaring its apparent burial on September 17 and opening herself to Opposition charges of having cut a deal with the BJP, with which she was in an alliance anyway.
Today, she was gloating. Mayavati said the Congress, Samajwadi Party and others now stood exposed before Muslims for their criticism of her government’s decision not to issue the Lucknow court notification.
A petition filed by Mohammad Aslam alias Bhure in the Supreme Court seeking a directive to the state government to issue the notification had, however, been pending.
At the hearing of the case today, as Bhure’s counsel pressed for the notification, the state’s counsel, K.K. Venugopal, rose to submit: “Your Lordships, there already exists a notification. This is it. The special court is being constituted at Rae Bareli.”
The notification of September 28, 2002, read: “Sri Vinod Kumar Singh, Civil Judge, Junior Division, Purwa (Unnao) is appointed under section 11(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (Cr.P.C.) as judicial magistrate, first class, Rae Bareli.”
The Supreme Court then held that the “accused” would face trial in the special court in Rae Bareli.
Apart from Advani, the others accused in the case are Central ministers Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti, BJP Uttar Pradesh president Vinay Katiyar, VHP leaders Vishnu Hari Dalmia, Ashok Singhal and Giriraj Kishore and Sadhvi Ritambhara.
Katiyar welcomed the development, describing it as a “setback” to those who had termed the BJP-BSP alliance opportunistic. “It is a setback to all those who labelled us communal and alleged the coalition was aimed at saving BJP leaders,” PTI quoted him as saying.
Former law minister and BJP general secretary Arun Jaitley saw no threat to the ministerial positions of Advani, Joshi and Bharti, arguing that they were facing the charges when they assumed office.
The Congress said it was for the accused ministers to demonstrate whether they should continue to remain in government or resign, as demanded by “ethics”.
Party spokesman Anand Sharma said the Supreme Court order “underscored” that the rule of law cannot be subverted by those who have “discarded political principles and morality”.
What appears intriguing is why the Mayavati government had kept the September 28 notification on the Rae Bareli court a secret. It was not even a part of the affidavit it filed yesterday while justifying the decision not to issue notification on the Lucknow court.
In hindsight, there was, however, a hint of what was coming as the affidavit said the Rae Bareli court was competent to hear the case. ( )