Advani, others face Babri trial: heads BJP wins, tails it doesn't really lose
One must step back and take a critical look at the Supreme Court (SC) order reviving conspiracy charges against top leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Babri Masjid demolition case. The point to be noted is not really that this is the consequence of judicial action.
What is noteworthy is that it is the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) that appealed to the court to revive conspiracy charges against the leaders, including LK Advani, MM Joshi, Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti, Vinay Katiyar and others.
This is the same CBI that the SC had famously called a “caged parrot”. Narendra Modi, when he was not the prime minister, called it “Congress Bureau of Investigation”.
It is the same CBI, which functions under the PM-led Ministry of Personnel, Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances & Pension, which pro-actively told the SC that conspiracy charges against the said leaders must be revised.
This, undoubtedly, was a political call. Among the most popular reactions doing the rounds following the order is the presumption that this was done to scuttle Advani's prospects for being declared as the NDA's presidential candidate.
The question to ask at this point is: did Modi need to go to this extent to scuttle Advani's prospects? The former party patriarch commands barely any position of strength in the party and if Modi really didn't want him to contest, would he have to take all the trouble of putting the CBI to work?
Keeping the issue alive for vote consolidation?
The other popular conjecture being made right now is that the CBI's action has been timed keeping the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in mind. The calculation is that since the apex court has ordered day-to-day trials and given a deadline of two years, the trial will conclude around the polls.
If the BJP leaders are held guilty, the party may sacrifice them and claim to be on the side of rule of law. If they are exonerated, then the party will get to slam the campaign against its leaders as a nearly three-decade-old propaganda against the party.
The daily trial will, of course, give BJP and the Sangh Parivar ample opportunity to keep the issue simmering and use it to consolidate its vote-base further. Bharti has already indicated this by welcoming the SC's order, saying she was proud of her participation in the Ram Mandir 'movement'.
She asserted defiantly that there was no 'conspiracy' and that everything was done “khullam khulla” (in the open). This blatant admission of the intention of the 'movement' is a signal to every foot soldier of the parivar to claim pride in it and take the opportunity to gather sympathy for it.
However, timing the verdict of the trial with the 2019 polls would be too much to assume. There is no guarantee that the trial will stick to the SC-dictated deadline and may end sooner or carry on till later. Only 105 witnesses are reportedly yet to testify and if the Lucknow court really decides to implement the SC-order in letter and spirit, the culmination could come much sooner.
Is dilution of the case on the cards?
If the government would want to interfere in the judicial process and ensure a clean chit for the BJP leaders, it does make sense for it to do it sooner. In fact, if it could get this done within a month or two, the timing would be perfect because that will be just in time for the presidential contest (President Pranab Mukherjee's term ends on 25 July). Advani could then be proudly fielded by the NDA.
This outcome assumes that the Lucknow court's verdict will be to the government's liking and that is only possible if the case is diluted in the court. What are the odds?