Old controversy renewed
Accusations are flying once again in India over the 1992 destruction of the Babri Mosque. This time fingers are pointing to the corridors of power, reports Shaikh Azizur Rahman from New Delhi
Five Hindu activists involved in the demolition of the Babri mosque have accused India's Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani of ordering the destruction of the 16th century place of worship in 1992 that sparked nationwide Hindu-Muslim riots resulting in the death of more than 3,000 people.
The accused activists made the allegations to reporters outside the special Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) court in the northern city of Lucknow.
CBI is the country's premier investigation agency -- equivalent to the FBI in the US. "LK Advani, MM Joshi and Uma Bharati were all present at the time of the demolition and we did whatever we were asked to do."
"It was pre-planned that the structure was to be brought down and the temple built," Vinod Vatsa, one of the five accused said to New Delhi TV on 7 June.
"I was a witness to a closed-door meeting held by Mr Advani and some other top leaders one day before the mosque was demolished... The same night the leaders supplied more than 100 shovels and pickaxes to our demolition squads," said Ram Narayan Das.
Das happened to be one of the priests at the makeshift Ram temple which had been set up by the Hindu activists inside the mosque in the north Indian town of Ayodhya some years before the mosque was torn down.
Das, who is one of the five accused, said that the plan to demolish the mosque came from the top party leadership, including Advani, and that he and other activists simply obeyed orders. "It is very unfair on the part of such senior leaders as Mr Advani to have a separate case going in a separate court, exerting their influence, while we are facing the brunt of the legal proceedings. All of us including those national leaders should be treated the same as far as the trial is concerned," said Das.
Denying the accusations against Advani, and other leaders of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), lawyer Satyapal Jain said, "There is no evidence against Mr Advani and the allegation against him seems to be organised."
Opposition parties in the parliament called for Advani's immediate resignation. "The statement of these activists did not come up suddenly. Mr Advani's and others' names have been brought up ever since the Babri mosque was demolished. It is known that they are conspirators in the Babri case," Congress Party Spokesman Anand Sharma told reporters.
In view of the statement of this first direct evidence from Hindu activists themselves, another Congress leader Tariq Anwar described the inclusion of Advani and Joshi in the Union cabinet as amounting to a mockery of the rule of law and an insult to India's constitution.
In a statement, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPIM) Central Committee said, "If these are not enough reasons for both Advani and Joshi to resign, it would only confirm the fact that the BJP is utilising its control over the state apparatus to manipulate the case and protect the guilty."
Another senior CPIM leader said, "CBI, a wing of the Home Ministry, cannot carry out investigations against its own boss in a free and fair manner. So, Mr Advani should be forced to resign immediately," said CPIM leader Sitaram Yechuri.
The BJP has, however, dismissed the five activists' allegations as baseless and warned opposition parties against making an issue of it. "The activists made the statements in front of the media cameras as a part of conspiracy to destabilise a ruling party. Why were the accused Hindu activists making a statement before the media instead of submitting the evidence in the court?" asked Venkaiah Naidu, president of the BJP.
Hindus consider the site of the mosque the birth place of the god Ram, and claim the Moghul emperor Babar destroyed a temple to build the mosque in the 16th century. A coalition of militant Hindu organisations plans to build a Ram temple at the site in Ayodhya in northern India.
Meanwhile the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), part of the state's Department of Culture, has found no evidence to suggest the existence of Hindu structures underneath the now-demolished Babri mosque. The Allahabad High Court had directed the ASI to dig up the bottom of the demolished mosque to confirm whether the remains of any ancient Hindu temple existed there.
In December 1992, when his BJP party was in opposition in parliament, Advani was among the leaders who led the Hindu militants' march to the Babri mosque. When the mob pulled down the domes of the mosque, he denied having had any role in the demolition and blamed it on mass hysteria.
In several appearances before the Liberhan Commission that is investigating the case, Advani maintained he had tried to stop the demolition of the mosque, but failed to rein in the "emotionally charged" activists.