Secular assault on the judiciary: Balbir K Punj
Secular assault on the judiciary: Balbir K Punj
Walkouts over the alleged 'misuse' of the CBI by the NDA Government demonstrates, for the umpteenth time now, how seriously the Opposition suffers from an obsessive-compulsive disorder called 'secularism'. This 'secular' obsession costs Parliament numerous productive work-hours; this, in turn, hits the public exchequer hard. It is strange that in a Parliament in which the partition of the country sank without a ripple, the demolition of a defunct and abandoned mosque (rather, a functioning temple since 1949) remains a live discourse for a decade. This is more than the classic case of Julius Caesar dead being more powerful than when alive.
Of late, 'secularists' in the Opposition have raised a furore by accusing the Government of shielding Mr LK Advani, Mr Murli Manohar Joshi and others by forcing the CBI to drop conspiratorial charges (120-B) against them in the special court of Rae Bareli in the Babri demolition case. On one hand, the academic establishment deserves a 'Left-handed' (pun intended) compliment for being clinically soft to those who have actually carried out temple demolitions for seven centuries. On the other, the 'secular' politicos should be complimented for placating the jihadi sentiments of those who identify themselves with Timurlane.
Human rights monopolists (who earlier wanted keep the Gujarat elections in limbo) rally behind to an 'insecure and terrorised' Zaheera Sheikh in a bid to reopen the Best Bakery case. But the Jogeshwari case of Hindus being roasted alive during Mumbai riots of 1992-1993 are summarily forgotten. Nor is there any suggestion to reopen Dabgarwad mass burning case of Ahmedabad, in which eight Hindus were burnt alive and all the Muslim accused were acquitted. Or the two cases of Signal Falia and Safi school of Godhra, in which the Muslims accused were acquitted.
It was certainly a case of legal misappropriation when the CBI presented a combined chargesheet against 49 persons before the Special Magistrate of Lucknow on October 11, 1993, in which all charges were to be shared by everyone, including Mr Advani and Mr Joshi. This consolidation was wrong per se since, under it, all charges became common to everyone whereas, originally, Case No. 198/92 pertained to seven persons (on none of whom Article 120-B was applied) and not 49.
The Congress, however, would discover that the shoe was on other foot. When Indira Gandhi returned to power in 1980, she promptly withdrew all government cases pending against her, her son Sanjay and Youth Congress activists in different courts initiated by the Morarji Desai Government. Yet it is the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Government that is being accused of fiddling with law that should take its own course.
Here is a brief recap of FIR No 198/92 filed in the case in the Ram Janma-bhoomi police station in Ayodhya. On December 6, 1992, a large crowd of kar sevaks partially demolished the disputed Babri structure on the Ram Janmabhoomi site. In subsequent days, the structure was fully dismantled, under heavy police protection, by the PWD acting on the orders of the Central Government. A case was lodged on December 6, 1992, under sections 153-A &B, 505 IPC against Messrs Ashok Singhal, Giriraj Kishore, LK Advani, VH Dalmiya and Vinay Katiyar as well as Ms Uma Bharati and Sadhvi Ritambhara in the local Ram Janmabhoomi police station in Ayodhya. These people, according to GP Tiwari, the chowki-in-charge, were shouting provocative slogans like "Ek Dhakka aur do, Babri Ka dhancha gira do" etc.
Based on the FIR number, it is known as Case 198/92. The CB CID, Uttar Pradesh, carried out the initial investigations and, accordingly, filed a chargesheet under section 153-A &B, 505, 147, 149 IPC, before a special court in Lalitpur on September 27, 1993. Cognisance of the offence was taken by the Lalitpur Special Court, but its sitting was shifted to Rai Bareli via a notification.
Since the UP Government wanted an investigation by the CBI, the Central agency was pressed into service. It carried out an extensive probe under Section 173 (8) CrPC, during which statements of various witnesses were recorded and concerned documents collected. Based on its investigation, the CBI filed a combined chargesheet of 49 cases (including but not exclusively Crime No 198/92) against as many persons including Mr Advani and seven others accused in Case No 198/92, before the Special Magistrate in Lucknow under Sections 120-B, 153-A&B, 505, 295, 295-A, 147, 149, 332, 338, 395, 201, 114 IPC. The Court of Lucknow took cognisance of the offence on October 11, 1993.
The Special Court of Lucknow passed an order on September 9, 1997, ordering the framing of charges against the 49 accused. The order was challenged by 33 accused (not Mr Advani) by filing revision petitions in the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court. The High Court, in its judgement dated December 12, 2001, held that the notification issued by the UP Government (October 8, 1993) entrusting Case No 198/92 to the Special Court of Lucknow without consulting the High Court was defective and that, therefore, all the proceedings in the Lucknow courts in this particular case under section 153-A&B, 505 IPC, were illegal and invalid.
The Government, the court however observed, was free to rectify the notification. But the then UP Governor Moti Lal Vohra, a senior Congressman and apex executive authority in the State under President's Rule, discounted any need for rectification. The subsequent Chief Ministers-be they from the BJP or the BSP-only endorsed Vohra's decision.
In the meantime, the habitual litigant from Old Delhi, Mohammed Aslam aka Bhure, and three other parties filed four separate SLPs in the Supreme Court, challenging the High Court judgement. The apex court in its order of November 11, 2002, held that the UP Government in consultation with the High Court had constituted a Special Court at Rae Barelli for trying cases related to Case No 198/92. It said there was no justification for the petitioners' grievances and dismissed their petitions.
Under legal procedures, all documents pertaining to Case No 198/92 lying with Special Court of Lucknow were then transferred to the Special Court of Rae Bareli. The CBI filed a supplementary chargesheet under section 173 (8), along with the statements of the witnesses, documents and material objects in deference to order of the Supreme Court. As cognisance of offences under Sections 153-A&B, 505, 147 and 149 had already been taken by the same court then at Lucknow on March 1, 1993, the CBI made a prayer to summon the accused so that the trial could begin.
Case No 198/92 was registered under Sections 153-A&B, 505 IPC. The CB-CID, UP, filed the chargesheet under Sections 153-A&B, 505, 147, 149 IPC. At no point of time was 120 B invoked in the case. The court of Lalitpur had taken cognisance of the offences only under these Sections. Hence, there is no justification to invoke section 120-B in the case at this stage.
A section of the media and the Opposition have alleged that the Vajpayee Government has pressured the CBI to drop 120-B-relating to conspiracy- from the chargesheet. Their allegation is unfounded, since the CBI has not dropped any charge originally applied to the case. The case is now sub judice before the Special Court at Rae Bareli. It is neither for the Opposition nor the media to sit in judgement. That is the task of the particular court. If the honourable court so desires, it could instruct the CBI to drop certain Sections, give its verdict on the charges mentioned, or advise the CBI to frame new charge(s) in the case. Let not the Opposition and the 'secular' media usurp the authority of the judiciary.