The decision is a watershed in the country’s most heated religious dispute. The conflict led to thousands of deaths and fueled the rise of the Hindu nationalist movement, which dominates Indian politics today.
Courts have now ruled on two decisive victories for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his allies with decisions on who will control the disputed site and who is responsible for the demolition of the mosque.
Some Hindus believe that the Babri Mosque stood on the site where Lord Ram, a beloved deity, was born, and that there was a Hindu temple there.
The mosque was destroyed in December 1
Senior BJP leaders watched from the podium as a mob armed with ropes and picks tore down the mosque, with at least one politician calling for them, eyewitnesses said. The destruction sparked a wave of riots across the country that killed nearly 2,000 people.
On Wednesday, the judge said the demolition of the mosque was not intentional and the evidence provided by law enforcement was insufficient to convict. During the extended trial, the charges were once dropped, then recovered, and a commission spent 17 years investigating the demolition.
Among those acquitted on Wednesday was LK Advani, a former deputy prime minister who rode a chariot across the country to gather supporters for the cause of building a temple for Lord Ram on the site of the mosque. The sentence is a “moment of happiness for all of us,” Advani, 92, told New Delhi television. “I am now looking forward to the completion” of the temple of Ram.
At least one witness testified that Hindu nationalist groups held a “rehearsal” for the demolition of the mosque the day before it was destroyed. Radhika Ramasheshan, a journalist covering the temple building movement, witnessed the demolition of the mosque. She said the crowds arrived with tools and equipment. As the structure descended, Ramashashan said she heard Uma Bharti, a senior BJP leader, shouting encouragement.
“It’s still ringing in my mind,” Ramashan said. She said it was impossible to believe the event was a “spontaneous outburst”.
Some experts have questioned the strength of the case presented by the authorities. The burden was on India’s main investigative agency to “provide credible evidence,” said Faizan Mustafa, vice rector of NALSAR Law University in Hyderabad. “If after 28 years no one is found guilty, then there is something seriously wrong in our prosecutor’s office,” he said.
Saba Nakvi, author of a book on BJP’s recent history, said she was stunned by the verdict. The destruction of the Babri Mosque is “the most public crime in modern India,” Nakvi said, but “the judge let everyone go.” The decision sends the message that “there are certain crimes for which people will not be punished,” she said.