Twenty-eight years after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, a special Central Bureau of Investigation court on Wednesday acquitted all 32 people accused in the case and ruled out any criminal conspiracy due to lack of conclusive evidence against them. Bharatiya Janata Party leaders Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti were among those accused of criminal conspiracy and other charges.
The court in its verdict said the demolition of the 16th-century mosque on December 6, 1992, was a spontaneous act and not planned, and people who demolished the mosque were the “anti-national elements”. It said that members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, an affiliate of the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and politicians from the Bharatiya Janata Party were only trying to protect the structure.
Senior BJP leaders, including Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath and Advani, who was at the forefront of the party’s temple campaign in the 1990s, hailed the verdict, saying it “vindicated” the party’s long-held commitment towards the construction of a Ram Temple in Ayodhya.
In November, the Supreme Court had ruled that the disputed land in Ayodhya would be handed over to a government-run trust for the construction of a Ram temple. The top court had also said that the demolition of Babri Masjid was illegal and directed the government to acquire an alternative plot of land to build a mosque. The temple’s construction has begun.
The demolition of Babri Masjid had sparked large scale communal violence in 1992 for several months that left thousands of people dead, most of them Muslims. In the years to come, it cleaved relations between Hindus and Muslims, fuelling tensions between the two communities, and helped BJP establish a lasting footprint in India’s political landscape.
Here is how the country’s leading newspapers covered the ruling:
The Indian Express led with the headline, “Babri Masjid: No one guilty”. The English daily carried three main highlights of the special CBI court’s judgement at the top of its front page. “Photos, videos not evidence: no negatives produced, no forensic analysis,” reads the first highlight.
The newspaper also focussed on another statement made by the judge in his order, which has largely gone unreported so far. In his judgement, special CBI Judge SK Yadav suggested that Pakistan might have played a role in demolishing the Babri Masjid. “Might have been Pak hand, intel on terrorists at site ignored,” the newspaper quoted Yadav as saying.
Besides this, The Indian Express carried an analysis of Wednesday’s verdict and how it institutionalised the Ram temple movement. “Despite the Supreme Court calling the demolition an ‘egregious violation of rule of law,’ Wednesday’s verdict gives an institutional sheen to the temple movement,” it says.
The newspaper also explored two judgements of the Supreme Court in the last three years, both related to the Ayodhya dispute but in entirely different matters, and how it “pointed to the charge of conspiracy behind the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.”
The Telegraph stuck to its signature tongue-in-cheek format and focussed on how the verdict was anything but shocking. The daily with a sardonic headline, which said, “If we’re indeed shocked this is what we are,” and juxtaposed a picture of a donkey in the middle of the front page.
“The events that led to December 6,1992, and September 30, 2020, unfolded right in front of our eyes,” a subheading reads.
The newspaper minced no words in criticising the Narendra Modi government. “We knew without doubt who did it, why they did it and what it cost the nation as blood flowed,” it says. “Yet we legitimised them and rewarded them, in election after election – and now we are braying in despair!”
“Advani, 31 others acquitted in Babri case,” says The Hindu’s headline. The newspaper examines the key points of the judgement. A sub-heading on the front page also focuses on Congress’ response to the verdict.
Hindustan Times led with the headline, “Spontaneous act’: All 32 acquitted 28 years later,” and summarised the key highlights of the judgement. The newspaper also focussed on what the next steps in the case would be, stating that the CBI has said it would consult its legal department to decide if it wanted to appeal the ruling.
The daily also covered various reactions to the judgement, with the BJP hailing it as a “victory of justice and truth”, while the Congress claimed the ruling ran counter to the Supreme Court’s November 9 judgment which held that the demolition was a “clear illegality and egregious violation” of rule of law.
Hindi daily Amar Ujala led with the headline, “After 28 years the verdict, everyone acquitted”. The newspaper carried a subheading, which focussed on how none of the charges against the accused, including Advani and other BJP leaders, could not be proved in court.
“Dosh Karo Noi [It was no one’s fault]”, was the front page headline in Anandabazar Patrika. A report below it, titled “In Babri, all 32 are innocent”, opened on a scathing note. After hearing the verdict, many thought luckily they didn’t say “no one demolished the Babri Masjid”, it said.
The newspaper took a sarcastic tone and said this happened because “no one heard Bharatiya Janata Party or Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders such as Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi or Ashok Singhal chant slogans such as “ek dhakka aur do, babri masjid tod do [Push once more, break the mosque]”. Advani, Joshi, Singhal – no one was seen inciting kar sevaks, it said.
Tamil daily Dinamalar led with a headline that screamed “acquittal!” The report then summarised the judgement and said the CBI special court judge has concluded that there was no conspiracy and that the accused leaders had in fact, tried to stop the demolition. The newspaper also carried a small report on page five with a headline, asking if the CBI will go appeal the verdict.
“All including Advani acquitted due to lack of conclusive evidence,” was the headline of Tamil daily Dinathanthi. The report explained the history of the case and the fact that the judge concluded that there was no planning behind the demolition.
Page two had several reports, including reactions from political parties and one piece similar to the one carried by Dinamalar, asking if CBI would appeal in the case.
Gujarati daily Sandesh led with the headline: “Babri demolition case: All 32 accused, including Advani, declared innocent”, with a sub-headline, quoting the CBI judge’s observations that the demolition was carried out by “anti-social elements” and was not a pre-planned controversy.
Another sub-headline quoted judge Surendrakumar Yadav’s statements that accused leaders were trying to prevent anti-social elements from breaking down the masjid because it housed Ram Lalla.
Marathi newspaper Saamna, the mouthpiece of the Shiv Sena party, had a celebratory front page, with a large headline proclaiming, “Jai Shri Ram! Everyone declared innocent in Babri demolition case!!” The newspapers carried sub-headlines such as, “Celebrations across the country...drumbeats, firecrackers everywhere!” and “CBI court’s historic verdict”.