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An Indian court on Wednesday acquitted Hindu nationalist leaders, including former deputy prime minister Lal Krishna Advani, in a case over the demolition of a mosque at a disputed site 28 years ago, citing a lack of evidence.
The demolition sparked nationwide riots that killed more than 3,000 people in a decades-long dispute that has fueled Hindu-Muslim tension, as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s campaign for Hindu renaissance helped bring it to power.
A special Central Bureau of Investigation court in Lucknow in its Wednesday ruling said that the demolition was not pre-planned and that the people who demolished the mosque were “anti-national elements”.
The court pinned the blame on miscreants mingled among the crowd instead, adding that leaders such as Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, another former cabinet minister, had tried to keep the mob from turning violent.
Handing down its verdict after a lengthy legal battle, the court said there was not enough evidence to directly tie any of the accused to the violence, defence lawyer Manish Kumar Tripathi said.
“The court did not accept the evidence, it was not strong enough,” Tripathi told reporters at the courthouse.
The court had ignored all the evidence in Wednesday’s case, said Zafaryab Jilani, a lawyer for the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, adding that it planned to appeal to the high court against the decision.
“We will seek remedy,” he added.
‘Indian judiciary miserably fails to deliver justice again’
Reacting to the verdict, Pakistan strongly condemned the “shameful” acquittal of those responsible for demolishing the historic Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.
“Taking almost three decades to decide on the criminal act which was televised live and happened as a result of well-planned Rath Yatras and on the instigation to mobs by the accused BJP, VHP and other leaders of Sangh Parivar, tells the world that the Hindutva-inspired Indian judiciary miserably failed to deliver justice again,” said a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“The demolition of the mosque had resulted in BJP-led communal violence leading to thousands of killings. If there was a semblance of justice in the so-called largest ‘democracy’, the individuals, who had boasted of the criminal act publicly, could not have been set free.
“The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-BJP regime and the Sangh Parivar are responsible for the continued desecration and demolition of mosques in India in an organised manner as they did during the Gujarat massacre of 2002 and Delhi pogrom in 2020.”
Pakistan urged the Indian government to ensure safety, security and protection of minorities, particularly Muslims and their places of worship and other Islamic sites “on which the Hindu extremists and zealots have laid claims”.
Conversion to temple
Advani, who was then BJP chief, was among 32 people accused of criminal conspiracy and inciting a mob to tear down the 16th century Babri mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya in 1992.
The mosque stood on a site revered by devout Hindus as the birthplace of Ram.
Last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for a Hindu temple to be built at the site, after the Supreme Court paved the way last year, in a decision that also ordered land to be allotted further away for a mosque.
Pakistan, called the top court verdict “a flawed judgement”, had said: “A temple built on the site of a historic mosque will remain a blot on the face of the so-called Indian democracy for the times to come.”