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Thursday, October 1, 2020
Indian Press on Acquittals in Babri Demolition Case and Biden-Trump Election: New Age Islam's Selection, 1 October 2020
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
1 October 2020
• Justice in Ruins: On Babri Masjid Demolition Case Verdict
The Hindu Editorial
• Acquittals in Babri Demolition Case Are a Blot on CBI, It Must Be Liberated From Political Influence
By Faizan Mustafa, Aymen Mohammed
• Imran’s Blunders Continue
By G Parthasarathy
• Who’s better for India? If Biden Beats Trump, New Delhi Can Look Forward To Rejuvenated and More Cordial Ties
By Sumit Ganguly
Justice in Ruins: On Babri Masjid Demolition Case Verdict
The Hindu Editorial
October 01, 2020
The Babri Masjid was demolished on December 6, 1992.
The ruins of the Babri Masjid were cleared in record time by the hordes of vandals mobilised for demolishing it. Some detritus was still left, though: a belief among many that justice would be done and the Constitution and the rule of law would be upheld if the criminal court punishes those who plotted the events of December 6, 1992. Even when the Supreme Court handed over the empty site to those who wanted the mosque brought down to build a Ram temple, its recognition of the demolition as an “egregious violation of the rule of law” gave rise to hope that the ends of justice would be served by the punishment of those who mobilised the vandals. A Special CBI Court in Lucknow has now cleared the remaining debris with an unconscionable judgment. Throwing to the winds the Supreme Court’s observations on the demolition, the trial court has in effect given judicial legitimation to the ‘Ram Janmabhoomi movement’ by acquitting all those indicted for conspiracy to bring down the structure. Its conclusions are drastic and defy logic and fact. The court’s finding that the demolition was not planned in advance flies in the face of the entry of more than a hundred thousand volunteers into Ayodhya that day, armed with crowbars, spades, hoes and ropes and every implement needed to bring down a sturdy structure and clear the site. The proponents of the movement, headed by L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti among others, had positioned themselves in vantage points to witness the occasion and celebrate with pride what ought to have caused shame and disgust.
It is indeed true that it is not easy to prove a conspiracy, as it essentially takes place in secret. This is where courts must draw reasonable inferences from the circumstances. But in a conspiracy of this nature, it is easy to see that those involved were “marching under a banner”, an image the Supreme Court had once referred to while explaining the ingredients of a conspiracy. In this case, apart from the political mobilisation and the purported intent to assemble on a particular day, the court had with it sufficient evidence that there was studied inaction on the part of the State, whose Chief Minister was one of the accused, and the unambiguous and open threats to the structure voiced by many of the movement’s protagonists. The dissembling Kalyan Singh, as Chief Minister then, had given what, in hindsight, was an obviously false assurance to the highest court and the National Integration Council that nothing but a symbolic ‘kar seva’ would take place. Specific instructions appeared to have been given to the security forces not to stop the ‘kar sevaks’ or hinder their plans. How else would one explain the events? When the crowd went into a frenzy, goaded on by provocative speeches by the dignitaries, and vandals went up the dome, the accused would have the court believe that they were actually trying to restrain the mob and prevent the demolition! The possibility of tampered audio and video evidence or even disavowals on record would not undo the cumulative effect of the logistical and financial preparation, besides the communal mobilisation. Mr. Advani, who had then claimed it was the saddest day of his life, now says the en masse acquittal is a vindication of the movement. This indicates that the objective of the mobilisation, exemplified by his rath yatra, was always to alter the status quo with violence.
The Manmohan Singh Liberhan Commission had laid bare the entire conspiracy in its damning report, but unfortunately, a probe under the Commission of Inquiry Act has no binding value, whereas the evidence adduced at the trial alone matters. It is, of course, the responsibility of the CBI to prove the element of conspiracy, the details of the advance mobilisation, the “meeting of minds” that is required to prove a plot and its broad contours. That the agency failed is no surprise. From the beginning, the police investigation has been marked by bungling. When the main events were covered by two FIRs, the U.P. government initially failed to notify both of them while designating courts for trial. The Allahabad High Court quashed the flawed notification, and the State government’s failure to rectify the irregularity resulted in separate proceedings in Lucknow and Rae Bareilly. The CBI, instead of challenging the State’s rejection of its request for curing a technical defect, filed a supplementary charge sheet after omitting the ‘conspiracy’ charge. The Supreme Court later said this derailed the joint trial and resulted in separate proceedings in two places. In 2017, the Supreme Court revived the conspiracy charge, directed the trial court to resume day-to-day trial and sternly reminded the agency that it was because of its failure and that of the State government that a crime that shook the secular fabric of the Constitution had not seen justice for 25 years. Whether a politically hamstrung agency could have successfully prosecuted such a sensitive case is a moot question. But the results are there for all to see.img
Even allowing for the possibility that the judiciary is in close alignment with the executive, it is unacceptable to see a court going so far as to parrot the specious theory advanced by the demolition squad from the BJP-VHP-RSS family for years that the destruction was a “spontaneous act”. All those who went through that disgraceful phase in India’s political history know that the demolition was only the culmination of a revanchist movement. The period was marked by communal mobilisation, holding of processions to gather ‘bricks’ meant for constructing a temple, and an attempt to storm the site in 1990, which ended in bloodshed. Given this grisly background, and the grave implications that the exoneration of those who demolished a religious structure would have on public trust in the judicial system, it is imperative that the CBI goes on appeal. The cause of communal amity cannot afford successive judicial setbacks to both secular values and the rule of law.
Acquittals in Babri Demolition Case Are A Blot On CBI, It Must Be Liberated From Political Influence
By Faizan Mustafa, Aymen Mohammed
October 1, 2020
One is yet again reminded of the Hindi movie, No One Killed Jessica. Ordering the quick completion of the criminal trial in the demolition of Babri Masjid and curing the technical defect of “consultation” with the high court, invoking its extraordinary powers under Article 142, the Supreme Court had said in 2017 that “let justice be done though heavens fall”. It went on to observe that “in the present case, crimes which shake the secular fabric of the Constitution of India have allegedly been committed almost 25 years ago”. In the historic Babri judgment last year, the Supreme Court had held the demolition as an “egregious wrong”. On Wednesday, none of the 32 surviving accused out of 49 was found guilty of such a serious crime.
The accused were charged with various sections of the Indian Penal Code pertaining to incitement to violence (Sections 153A and 153B), conspiracy to commit a crime (Section 120B), and unlawful assembly (Section 149). The overarching import of these charges was that there was a joint agreement on the part of the accused to demolish the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. For criminal conspiracy, mere agreement is punishable and for unlawful assembly, mere presence is enough to make one liable. There can be no two opinions on whether L K Advani and others were members of an unlawful assembly.
The CBI was required to demonstrate that the accused had acted together in furtherance of a common intention and a common object. For an assembly to be treated as unlawful under the IPC, the court infers whether there was a “common object” that was guiding the actions of the crowd. This inference is drawn using information such as the use of tools or weapons (in this case, the use of demolition tools, shovel, ropes was a well-recorded fact) and the behaviour of the accused prior to, during and after the incident (it was recorded that some of the accused were distributing sweets after the demolition while others were encouraging the kar sevaks). Similarly, statements by Murli Manohar Joshi and Advani in the run-up to the demolition were key pieces of evidence.
The chargesheet had also recorded a meeting on December 5, 1992, at Vinay Katiyar’s house where Advani was also present and the decision to allegedly demolish the mosque was taken. Kalyan Singh is alleged to have told a witness “rok construction par lagi hai, destruction par nahi”. For a conspiracy to be proven, all one requires to prove is that there was an agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime. There is no need to separately prove that the accused committed an overt act in furtherance of it. Conspiracies are always proved by circumstantial evidence.
True, one has to have faith in the judicial system of the country, yet at times, courts themselves are on trial when the stakes are high, as was noted by the apex court. True, the principle that the accused must be presumed to be innocent is the golden thread which runs through the fabric of the criminal justice system. True, no rule of criminal law is more important than that which requires the prosecution to prove the accused’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. True, the benefit of even a little doubt accrues to the accused in a criminal trial. Yet, the CBI could not present credible evidence in the case, particularly on the charges of criminal conspiracy. The judgment is controversial as the court has acquitted all the accused and held the demolition as spontaneous, for which no one except unknown anti-social elements must have been responsible. The court did not accept the over 100 videotapes of the incident as the audio was not clear, but then most criminal trial convictions are made on the basis of oral and documentary evidence. As many as 351 witnesses had testified and more than 800 documents were produced. Yet, the CBI failed to convince the judge.
The Babri litigation has been unique and unprecedented both in civil suits as well as criminal trials. The civil suit was strange in the sense that the high court acted as the court of first instance and the Supreme Court acted as court of first and last appeal, differing status quo orders, addition of parties, demands of differential burden of proof, ASI excavation etc. Just like the civil dispute, the criminal case is also mired in procedural lapses, patent illegalities and political interference by different governments. In no other criminal case, were two FIRs filed, probably within 10 minutes, about the same incident with different offences — the second FIR did not mention the crime of conspiracy and the trial bifurcated to two courts, one at Rai Bareilly and another at Lucknow after the joint trial had originally started at Lucknow.
Admittedly, criminal law is an island of technicality in a sea of discretion and the accused got the benefit of its technicalities. The police have discretion in arrest and investigation, the government in giving sanctions of prosecution, the prosecution as to whether to prosecute and if so, for what crimes, the judge has discretion, discharge, conviction and sentence.
The acquittal of all the accused is a setback to the CBI’s reputation. The Supreme Court itself has called it a “caged parrot”. It is high time that it is liberated from political influence. India’s criminal justice system cannot improve if prosecution and investigation functions are not bifurcated. The Criminal Law Reforms Committee must make a strong recommendation on this.
Faizan Mustafa is an expert on constitutional law and Aymen Mohammed is a doctoral student at NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad
Chancellor, Jammu Central University & former High Commissioner to Pakistan
Imran Khan’s exaggerated belief in the importance of Pakistan’s role in the Islamic world and its relations with world powers like the US and Russia have led his debt-ridden country into trouble. He is widely described as his country’s ‘selected’ and not ‘elected’ PM. It is no secret that it was the Pakistan army’s manoeuvrings that led to his assuming office. His revulsion for India and Indians has always run deep. His regard for radical Islamic groups remains unchanged, earning him the name of ‘Taliban Khan’. He was tutored in politics by a former ISI chief, Lt Gen Hamid Gul, who fostered several Afghan Mujahideen groups, apart from financing, arming and training terrorist groups in J&K and Punjab.
Imran, more than any other Pakistan leader, except perhaps Gen Zia-ul-Haq, is a radical Islamist. He recently described Osama bin Laden as a ‘martyr’. The American Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, deals primarily with the army chief, Gen Qamar Jawed Bajwa. Imran Khan is merely a bystander. As a hardcore Islamist, he believed that he could turn the Islamic world led by Saudi Arabia, against India. He forgot that it was his rival Nawaz Sharif, who enjoyed the highest respect of the Saudi royalty. Left to himself, General Musharraf would have hanged Sharif at the earliest opportunity. He, however, exiled him to Saudi Arabia. He was all too aware that offending the Saudis would open the door to economic bankruptcy for Pakistan.
Disregarding such personal equations, Imran went on the warpath against Saudi Arabia for not backing him adequately against India on J&K. His motor mouth foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, warned that Pakistan would bypass Saudi Arabia and convene a meeting of 57 members of the OIC countries if Saudi Arabia sought to prevent India from being condemned. Imran also offended the Saudis by backing a proposed partnership of Malaysia, Turkey and other Islamic countries — a move which would have undermined Saudi Arabia’s role in the Islamic world. The Saudi reaction was immediate. Pakistan’s de facto ruler, General Bajwa, was cold-shouldered and denied a meeting with Crown Prince Salman when he visited Saudi Arabia. Pakistan was told to repay its dues to Saudi Arabia immediately. China had to yet again bail out Pakistan to repay its debts.
Pakistan, thereafter, landed itself in deeper trouble with influential Arab countries, like the Gulf monarchies, Egypt and Jordan. Imran echoed their rivals, Turkey and Iran, with his virulent condemnation of Israel, immediately after the UAE and Bahrain recognised and established diplomatic relations with Israel. This amounted to condemnation of actions taken by the UAE and Bahrain, evidently with Saudi support. India, on the other hand, has avoided getting drawn into rivalries between Arab and Islamic countries, while maintaining good relations with Israel. Trade and investment cooperation between India and the Gulf states, notably Saudi Arabia, is set to grow substantially, with major investments proposed by these countries in the energy sector. Moreover, the Gulf states depend on the Bahrain-based US Fifth Fleet to guarantee their maritime security. There are now close links between the US fleet and India’s Western Fleet.
While Imran’s bungling in foreign policy was inevitable, he is now also facing internal criticism and pressures that have weakened him and his government. Pakistan’s economic woes, particularly its growing foreign debt and its low rates of savings and growth, continue. Imran, however, remains vicious and vindictive, trying to get political opponents harassed and jailed by the state machinery. Sharif has lashed out at Imran and the army, from his home in London. The army is itself under pressure, because of highly damaging charges of corruption against one of its most prominent officers, Lt Gen Asim Saleem Bajwa, who heads the multi-billion-dollar CPEC. Bajwa has also been appointed media adviser to the PM, who has vigorously defended him.
Sharif was unsparing in his criticism of Imran. He also held the army directly responsible for the country’s woes. He said after having been a ‘state within a state’, the army was now a ‘state above a state’. This, he added, is ‘the root cause of all our problems’. Sharif added that while political leaders are constantly victimised in the name of ‘accountability’, army dictators got away, despite subverting the constitution and committing any number of crimes. Pakistan’s army has never been lashed out at in such a manner. Never before has the army resorted to such a crude and unconstitutional exercise of power, as in recent years.
Imran’s subservience to the army was recently exposed when reports emerged about the financial assets of Asim Bajwa. A devastating report on Bajwa’s family (wife, two younger brothers and two sons), based on documents, including from the Pakistan Securities and Exchange Commission, was published recently. It notes that Bajwa family owns a business empire comprising 99 companies in four countries, named the ‘BAJCO Group’, valued at $52.7 million. Imran promptly declared the charges as baseless.
Asim Bajwa’s quest for wealth evidently commenced after he joined Musharraf’s staff in 2002. Musharraf himself owns properties in London and Dubai. His successor, Ashfaq Kayani, mysteriously took off, soon after his retirement, to spend a few years in Australia. Kayani’s successor, Raheel Sharif, lives cosily in Saudi Arabia. All these worthies, while still in service, got themselves allotted plush ‘residential plots’ in elite localities in Karachi, Lahore and elsewhere, at little or no cost! Pakistan’s Generals know very well how to drive fast on the road to living luxuriously.
Imran has, meanwhile, excelled himself with his crude and repeated condemnation of India in the UN General Assembly. PM Modi ignored his raving and ranting as being unworthy of a high-level response from India.
Who’s better for India? If Biden Beats Trump, New Delhi Can Look Forward To Rejuvenated and More Cordial Ties
By Sumit Ganguly
October 1, 2020
Some within India’s chattering classes seem convinced that a Biden presidency bodes ill for India. Their misgivings, it appears, stem from some adverse comments that both former vice-president Joseph Biden and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, have made about the state of human rights in Jammu & Kashmir. They also stem from his criticism of NRC and CAA.
Obviously, these criticisms may well pique segments of India’s attentive public. That said, it would be a critical error to assume that a handful of statements made on the campaign trail are somehow indicative of the overall orientation of Biden’s likely foreign policy towards India. Instead, it is worth examining his prior record as well as his general foreign policy stance to glean some meaningful clues about his possible India policy. More to the point, it is vital to contrast his foreign policy outlook with incumbent President Donald Trump’s record.
At the outset, it needs to be underscored that Biden would bring a wealth of knowledge of and experience with foreign policy. For decades he had not only served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee but had, on more than one occasion, served as its chair. Consequently, he is no stranger to vital issues in contemporary international politics.
His background and experience stand out in marked contrast to those of Trump. Unlike Biden, who has a sophisticated understanding of world politics, Trump entered the presidency with a set of simplistic views about the world. Once in office he used his vast prerogatives to upend a range of commitments and policies which had, for the most part, enjoyed support across American ideological divides. To that end he withdrew from Nafta, from the Paris climate change accords and even questioned the utility of Nato, a virtual cornerstone of American security policy since the early days of the Cold War.
Nor for that matter, despite his seeming bonhomie with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has he displayed much sensitivity and finesse in dealing with India. His maladroit dealings with India are especially shocking given the attention that Modi had lavished on him at events in Ahmedabad and in Houston, Texas.
He has placed tariffs on a range of Indian goods, through an executive order he has frozen H-1B and H-4 (spousal visas) until the end of the year, and he has harangued India to reduce tariffs on trivial American exports such as Harley-Davidson motorcycles. He seems unaware that a mere 4,000 or so are sold in India annually and that the firm employs no more than 5,000 workers in the US.
Nor, for that matter have his statements on critical, sensitive issues of Indian foreign and security policy displayed any adroitness. In the wake of the Pulwama terrorist attack and its aftermath he offered to mediate the Kashmir dispute. Worse still, he stated, without a shred of evidence, that Modi had asked him to offer his good offices. Not content with this contretemps, in the wake of the Galwan valley PLA incursions and the ensuing standoff, he again offered to help settle the dispute.
His willingness to start a trade war with India and his ham-handed attempts to burnish his credentials as a negotiator aside, Trump has also shrunk the scope of the US-India partnership. Under both Democratic and Republican predecessors, the relationship had been multi-dimensional ranging from cooperation in counterterrorism to jointly combating child trafficking. Under Trump’s watch the focus has been primarily on the security arena with two issues being accorded foremost importance – weapons sales to New Delhi, and prodding it to serve as a counterweight to the PRC. In effect, his view of the relationship is almost wholly transactional. India is of no intrinsic value to the United States.
A Biden foreign policy, in marked contrast to Trump’s parochial approach, would restore a multi-faceted relationship with India. For example, instead of merely informing India about the US withdrawal efforts from Afghanistan, it could well reach out to India to help stabilise the country even as the US seeks to reduce its military footprint in the country.
It is presently unclear what stance it would adopt towards the now-abandoned Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran. However, it appears reasonable to surmise that a Biden presidency would attempt to resuscitate the now-moribund agreement. In this context, it is also unlikely to keep exerting concerted pressure on India to all but sever its long-standing ties with Iran.
Nor is a Biden presidency likely to try and insert itself into areas which are laden with political minefields such as India’s on-going disputes with Pakistan and the PRC. Years of experience in dealing with delicate foreign policy issues as well as a willingness to heed the advice of foreign policy professionals, who are knowledgeable about the intricacies of South Asian politics, are likely to guide his decisions.
On a more practical note, as someone who has long valued the contributions of generations of immigrants to the US, it can well be expected that he will dispense with Trump’s crude and disingenuous attempts to curb immigration through limiting visas. Nor, for that matter, will he sustain the pointless trade spat that Trump has initiated with India.
It is true Biden and Harris have expressed concerns about the state of human rights in Kashmir. Yet to pin their likely foreign policy posture towards India on their views about a single, albeit fraught, issue overlooks much evidence that offers hope for a rejuvenated and more cordial partnership.