THE DEMOLITION OF the Babri Masjid on December 6th, 1992, is considered a turning point in Indian history. It was more than just the physical razing of a structure, but a signal of the crumbling of the country’s Nehruvian order. One byproduct of that event was the trial of political leaders of the time which included, among others, LK Advani and Uma Bharti. A quarter century has elapsed since then and the criminal proceedings against these politicians are yet to conclude. On March 8th, the Supreme Court took the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to task for laxity in trial proceedings that led to charges being dropped on technical grounds in one particular case.
There are two cases being tried in two different courts in Uttar Pradesh that relate to the events of 1992. In Lucknow, a court is trying charges of the mosque’s demolition, while another court in Rae Bareli is hearing charges of mob instigation. Charges of conspiracy were dropped by the Lucknow court. The CBI displayed tardiness not only in filing an appeal to the apex court, but also a supplementary chargesheet that could have fixed the legal loopholes. The Supreme Court has asked why the two cases should not be tried in a single court.
This is another instance of how legal cases drag on interminably. Often, entire lifetimes are exhausted before the law takes its course to a final conclusion. Appeals, requests for stays and counter-appeals being filed tend to stretch the process out even longer at times. The latter has happened in the Babri Masjid case. Technical problems— such as unfiled chargesheets, prosecution infirmities and procedural wrangles—have come to top everything else.
What Advani and others face is not only a simple trial but a case that has political overtones, even if politics plays little or no role at the legal level. Unlike cases of violent crime where a delay in delivering justice is a denial of justice, in this case the delay also hurts those defending the charges set out against them. Then there are other questions: if a joint trial does begin now, will it require the 100-plus witnesses who have deposed before to testify all over again? This will prolong misery for everyone involved. It is high time the proceedings are wrapped up quickly. A new trial may be appeal to some with a particular political disposition, but it will serve no purpose.