With the Supreme Court today restoring criminal conspiracy charges against Lal Krishna Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi in the Babri Majid Ayodhya case, it would appear that the two veteran leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party are likely to be edged out of the presidential race.
In a landmark decision, the apex court restored criminal conspiracy charges not only against Advani, Joshi but also Uma Bharti in the 1992 Ayodhya Babri Masjid demolition case. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had moved the court during the UPA regime challenging the order of the High Court that dropped charges of conspiracy. The Narendra Modi-led BJP government had not withdrawn the plea.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitely ducked when asked whether Advani and Joshi could still run for the post of the President. "It is a hypothetical question," he said.
Hours after the verdict, Modi chaired a meeting of the BJP core group comprising senior leader Rajnath Singh, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Nitin Gadkari, Ananth Kumar and BJP President Amit Shah. None of the leaders will be asked to step down, the core group decided.
Originally, Advani and his party colleagues like Joshi were charged with making inflammatory speeches and motivating volunteers to pull down the mosque in 1992. That trial was being held in Rae Bareli. Now, the BJP leaders are facing the far more serious charge of criminal conspiracy and they will be tried in a Lucknow CBI special court.
The Lucknow CBI special court was hearing a separate case against 20 people who are accused of the demolition. The two cases have combined. The idea behind the combining of the cases is a faster verdict.
There has been no official word from Advani or Joshi. Bharti, however, didn't deny her involvement and has even threatened to go Ayodhya to start the stir all over again.
SC Order Works For The BJP
What does the Supreme Court order mean for the BJP? At one level, the Supreme Court's order means there was a prima-facie a "criminal conspiracy" to demolish the 16th century mosque.
On another level, the CBI moving against senior BJP leaders reinforces government's clean image. This works in favour of the Prime Minister. It is no secret that Advani is no longer in best of terms with his one-time disciple and protégée Modi. During the 2002 Gujarat riots, Advani had stuck his neck out for Modi who was under flak then. Also, the Supreme Court order doesn't spell gloom and doom for the BJP. Over the next two years as the trial continues, it will keep the Hindutva pot boiling. Although the demolition had alienated a section of people, the Hindutva agenda of the BJP has paid rich dividends.
Blast From The Past
In the 1990s, as the minority government of Narasimha Rao came to be challenged from within, the Jain-Hawala allegations were made public. Rao, ever the wily politician, bowled over his enemies within the party and opposition.
Senior Congress leaders like Balram Jhakar, Arjun Singh, Madhav Rao Scindia, who were proving to be a threat to Rao, were charged for accepting bribes as were opposition leaders like Advani, Devi Lal and Sharad Yadav. Then too, the CBI was at the forefront. It investigated the allegations of payments contained in the Jain Hawala diaries. No senior politician was ever convicted. Rao used the Hawala case as a political battering ram to silence his critics. The similarities are too obvious to be ignored.
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