| Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Sonia Gandhi outside Parliament on Monday. Telegraph pictures
July 21: Living up to its Sunday promise, a fired-up Opposition today placed Atal Bihari Vajpayee in its gun sights for his alleged attempts to shield deputy L.K. Advani and other BJP and VHP leaders in the Babri demolition case.
The Lok Sabha — the Opposition’s battlefield on the opening day of Parliament’s monsoon session — however, witnessed only sound and fury, without any actual trial of the “accused”. The din prompted the chair to call it a day without transacting any business.
Yesterday, Opposition leaders had decided at a meeting in Sonia Gandhi’s residence that they would take on the Centre for its “outrageous attempts to scuttle fair trial” in the Babri case. On Saturday, news had broken that the CBI had “dropped” criminal conspiracy charges against Advani, M.M. Joshi, Ashok Singhal, Giriraj Kishore, Uma Bharti and other leaders.
Prime Minister Vajpayee was present in the House when the Opposition demanded why the CBI had “dropped” the charges. But he chose not to respond, deputing law minister Arun Jaitley to clarify instead. The Opposition, however, insisted the CBI was directly under Vajpayee, so he should speak up.
As the battle raged in the House --- with Jaitley insisting the Centre never interfered with the CBI and the Opposition demand was on “sham and non-existent grounds” --- an under-fire CBI rushed to come clean.
In Lucknow, it claimed there was no question of “dropping” the criminal conspiracy charges as they had not figured in the case in the first place.
“Section 120B of IPC did not figure either in the FIR registered against Advani and others or the chargesheet filed by the state CID in the Rae Bareli court in case no. 198. There is, therefore, no question of dropping it,” CBI counsel S.S. Gandhi said.
The CBI had charged Advani and others with criminal conspiracy in a joint chargesheet submitted before the Lucknow special court in June 1997. But they did not figure in the supplementary chargesheet submitted in the Rae Bareli court on May 31 this year.
Justifying the omission, Gandhi said: “It was not legally feasible to include Section 120B in the supplementary chargesheet since the Rae Bareli court had already taken cognisance of the chargesheet filed by the state CID in 1993.” Legal experts said the CBI explanation did not wash. “The fact that an offence is omitted from the FIR is no justification for its exclusion from the chargesheet,” former Uttar Pradesh advocate-general U.C. Shrivastava said.
I.B. Singh, counsel for the remaining accused in the demolition cases pending in the Lucknow special court, agreed. “That the CBI charged Advani and others with the offence of criminal conspiracy… in June 1997 proves that it had enough evidence to justify slapping Section 120B,” he said. “Does it (the CBI) claim that the evidence has now disappeared'”
In Parliament, Speaker Manohar Joshi initially looked set to find an orderly way to go about matters but was forced to adjourn proceedings when things got out of hand. There were two sets of Opposition notices before him: four notices on question hour suspension and over 30 adjournment notices.
Opening the argument for suspension of question hour, Congress chief whip Priya Ranjan Das Munshi demanded to know why the charges had been dropped before the special court in Rae Bareli though a prima facie case had been established earlier. Samajwadi Party MP Ramji Lal Suman, RJD leader Raghuvansh Prasad Singh and Muslim League leader G.M. Banatwala backed him up.
The Opposition tried to stop Jaitley from speaking by rushing to the well of the House and raising anti-government slogans. As the chaos continued, Joshi announced he would not admit any more question hour suspension notices, including one by Lok Janshakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan.
Joshi then requested Opposition members to raise their adjournment motion notices but his pleas went unheard. He then adjourned proceedings till 2 pm. When the House reassembled, there was little movement, forcing deputy Speaker P.M. Sayeed to call it a day.