New Delhi: A majority of the 32 accused, barring senior BJP leaders such as L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti, are expected to be present in the CBI court in Lucknow, which is expected to pronounce its verdict Wednesday in the 27-year-old Babri Masjid demolition case.
Advani, Joshi and Bharti are likely to be absent due to their age and the Covid-19 pandemic. Bharti tested positive for the coronavirus Monday and has been admitted to AIIMS in Rishikesh.
Among the other accused, Vinay Katiyar, who was the Faizabad MP in 1992; Champat Rai, the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) vice-president; former Madhya Pradesh minister and BJP leader Jaibhan Singh Pawaiya and party colleague Sakshi Maharaj confirmed that they will attend the proceedings as the court is set to give its verdict on the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on 6 December 1992.
The Supreme Court delivered its judgment last year in the title suit of the Ram Janmabhoomi case, and the construction of Ram Temple has already begun in Ayodhya.
Advani, Joshi & Bharti to be absent
Advani, who is now 92 years old, and Joshi, 86, had recorded their statements via video conference in July. Both have denied playing any role in the demolition.
Judge S.K. Yadav had directed all 32 accused to be physically present in court for the verdict but an Advani aide told ThePrint that the former deputy prime minister won’t be attending.
“There is no programme of Advaniji going to Lucknow,” the aide said. “How will a senior leader travel to court amid this Covid situation? If they send a video link, he might connect.”
Joshi, a former Union minister, is also likely to be absent from the hearing. “Covid guidelines prevent senior citizens from stepping out,” a close associate told ThePrint.
Both leaders did not participate in the Bhoomi Pujan ceremony for the Ram Temple in Ayodhya on 5 August.
Bharti, who tested positive during the Kedarnath Yatra, tweeted Monday that she would like to be present at the CBI court in Lucknow if the AIIMS authorities allow her.
मैं अभी-अभी एम्स ऋषिकेश में भर्ती हो गई हूं। इसके तीन कारण है- (1) @drharshvardhan जी बहुत चिंता कर रहे हैं,
(2) मेरे को रात में बुखार बढ़ गया,
(3) मेरी एम्स में जांच-पड़ताल होने के बाद यदि मुझे सकारात्मक रिपोर्ट मिली तो मैं परसों लखनऊ की सीबीआई कोर्ट में पेश होना चाहती हूं।
— Uma Bharti (@umasribharti) September 28, 2020
Senior BJP leader and then UP chief minister, Kalyan Singh, is also likely to be absent due to “ill-health”, sources said.
Rai, Maharaj, Katiyar & Pawaiyya to attend
Among the other accused, Katiyar told ThePrint that he will be present in court. “I will be present and I am ready to go to jail if the verdict is against us,” he said. “This was a national movement and it was the janmabhoomi of Ram, which the Supreme Court has established.”
He added, “The Congress government of that time implicated senior leaders in the case. If the court hands us any punishment, we will serve them. But we will move the higher courts if the verdict is not in our favour.”
Sakshi Maharaj alleged that his name was unjustly added to the case. “The evidence against me is fabricated,” he said. “If the court sends us to jail, we are ready to go. But I am optimistic that I will be freed.”
Pawaiya, who was the Bajrang Dal chief during the demolition, said the case was a “Congress conspiracy”.
“We will go there to hear the judgment,” he said. “It was a national movement; there is nothing to hide. But the charges that we demolished the mosque are baseless.”
Lalu Singh, the BJP MP of Ayodhya who is also one of the accused, told ThePrint, “Whatever the judgment, we will abide by it. If they pronounce it against us, we will challenge it in the high court and the Supreme Court.”
Vimal Jha, one of the counsel defending the accused in court, told ThePrint that only Bharti has sent him communication that she won’t be able to attend proceedings.
“I have communicated to all accused to be present in court but if any one is not present due to health or other reasons, it has to be communicated to the court,” he said. “I have so far only received communication from Uma Bharti. No other leader has communicated their desire to be absent. But there is still time.”
So far, 16 accused have died during the trial. The CBI, which investigated the case, has produced 351 witnesses and 600 documents as evidence. It has argued that the accused conspired and instigated the kar sevaks to demolish the mosque, a charge that the accused have denied.