The fact of the matter is that since 1992 the trial has hardly proceeded both at Rae Barielly and Lucknow, says Kapil Sibal.
Kapil Sibal, senior advocate and Congress MP, questions the yardstick with which the BJP leaders hold the members of the Congress guilty in various cases while defending themselves after the Supreme Court’s verdict on the Babri Masjid conspiracy charge. He speaks to Ashhar Khan on the issue in a freewheeling interview.
You have seen the judgment of the Supreme Court regarding the conspiracy charges in the Babri Masjid demolition case. What exactly has the court said?
The fact of the matter is that since 1992 the trial has hardly proceeded both at Rae Barielly and Lucknow. It is unfortunate that the judicial process has been so tardy that if this pace continued this trial would not have been over in the next 40 years. If it has taken 25 years for the trial to reach this stage when 800 witnesses are yet to be examined in Lucknow and only 150-odd have been examined from 2001 to 2017 you can imagine how much time it would take. Basically the bench was appalled at two things: the slow pace of the trial and why on a technicality should there be two separate trials when the chargesheet which the CBI had filed indicated that all of them must be tried together. This was a consolidated charge sheet in which the accused L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti, Kalyan Singh and others were all to be tried for criminal conspiracy along with other offences for which they were not being tried for in Rae Barielly.
So what happens next as far as the judicial process is concerned?
Now the Supreme Court has said that this trial must be over in the next two years. The judge should not adjourn the matter and if he does for any extraordinary reason then he has to record his reasons for that. The prosecution, that is, the CBI, has to produce witnesses and ensure that they attend court on a day-to-day basis. There will be no adjournments sought, and the Supreme Court has also said that in the event any party feels that the trial is not being conducted in accordance with the directions of the Supreme Court then it can leave and liberty has been granted for any party to move the Supreme Court.
Some people who have been named are holding important positions in the government. Do you think they should resign on moral grounds?
See, that is something that the Prime Minister should address. He’s the one who keeps on talking about decriminalisation of politics; he’s the one who talks about morality in politics. Unfortunately when it comes to his own ministers he has a temporary lapse of memory about what he has committed himself to do on earlier occasions. So, I just hope that he does not have another lapse of memory and that he upholds what he publicly stated in respect to morality in politics and decriminalisation of politics.
The BJP and senior ministers of the Central government have said that if chargesheet was anything to go by there would not be many chief ministers of the Congress party left. Your thoughts?
We are not saying that the BJP minister or leaders should resign. We are saying that the Prime Minister should take a moral stand. The BJP and its ministers should be reminded that if that is the principle they hold on to how have they held leaders of the Congress party guilty even before a chargesheet is filed. Where is the chargesheet in the National Herald case? Where is the chargesheet in the alleged AgustaWestland diaries? How is it that the BJP holds our leaders guilty and takes this position when it comes to their leaders? I think the BJP and its leaders should for once and for all determine for themselves and others what is the basis on which others should be held guilty and what is the basis on which their leaders should be held guilty. If there is no yardstick, then the BJP should state so. So the BJP leaders are only guilty when they have been convicted, but the Opposition leaders are guilty even before a chargesheet has been filed!
Uma Bharti had said that there was no conspiracy and Ram Mandir is a matter of faith. In fact, she even wanted to visit Ayodhya after the judgment came but was stopped by the BJP leadership. How do you see such statements?
See, a prosecuting agency with evidence that they have collected over the years have come to a conclusion that this was a pre-planned conspiracy. All this is based on statements made and investigations conducted. So it’s not for us to comment. The matter now will have to be proved in a court of law. But every time there has been evidence collected against members of the RSS or its affiliates the witnesses turn hostile when the BJP comes to power. Now if the CBI collected non-existent evidence and falsely implicated people earlier then those CBI officials should be prosecuted. Also, if the CBI is now not moving forward and ensuring that witnesses turn hostile then it should be held accountable. So either prosecute the previous set of CBI officials or the present lot. The government should decide what the truth is. It can’t be that evidence collected over the years is suddenly found to be non-existent or untrue. See the case of Kodnani is a travesty of justice. Why should the CBI be hand-in-glove with the political establishment? It’s a very serious matter as witnesses who had given their statements under Section 164 are turning hostile.
BJP MP Vinay Katiyar has said that it’s the conspiracy of the CBI. Your comments?
Well, then the government should prosecute the CBI. If he says so, then the officials of the CBI are conspirators. When they are prosecuted they will come out with the truth as to who is the real conspirator. I suspect the real conspirator is not the one who collected evidence but the ones who are destroying it.
It’s been 25 years since the Babri Masjid was demolished and 15 years the Congress was in power at the Centre. Don’t you think the Congress also had a part to play in such a slow trial?
Remember, at the time when Justice Bhalla rendered that order sometime in 2001 the Congress was not in power but the BJP. In the state too the BJP was in power, so when an application was made for the consent of the state government to ensure that the trials are consolidated the BJP government denied it.
Thereafter there have been non-Congress governments in the state. You know, one of the great machinations of this great party the BJP is to foist CBI cases against all Opposition leaders to ensure they get their way. You can see that happening even today. I can’t say for sure but some Opposition leaders who were chief ministers ensured that the pace of the trial is slow again I can’t say that for certain. But this had nothing to do with the Congress.