Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) activists and supporters shout slogans as they celebrate in New Delhi on Aug. 5 before the ground-breaking ceremony of the Ram temple in Ayodhaya. (Photo: Money Sharma/AFP)
A centuries-old dispute between Hindus and Muslims in India ended when a special court acquitted all 32 people accused of conspiring to demolish a disputed mosque 28 years ago.
A special court of the federal Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on Sept. 30 cleared all the accused, including some top leaders of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), saying the demolition of the mosque was not a planned activity.
Frenzied mobs of Hindus demolished the Babri mosque on Dec. 6, 1992, as the culmination of a campaign by the BJP and other Hindu groups who claimed Muslim ruler Baber built it in 1528 after demolishing a Hindu temple at the site.
The structure insulted Hindu pride as it stood on the site of a demolished Ram temple in Ayodhya, a tiny town in Uttar Pradesh state considered the birthplace of Hindu lord Ram, Hindu leaders claimed.
Those acquitted include BJP veterans like 92-year-old Lal Krishna Advani and 87-year-old Murali Manohar Joshi and several other leaders of Hindu groups.
Special CBI judge S.K. Yadav, whose term was extended for the verdict, said the accused had tried to protect the structure when "anti-social elements" were attacking it.
"Anti-social elements brought down the structure. The accused leaders tried to stop these people," he said.The investigation said the demolition came as the culmination of a nationwide road campaign, called Rath Yatra, led by Advani. All the 32 surviving of the 48 accused were present at a stage near the site instigating the demolition, which was part of a conspiracy involving these leaders.
But the court said that the evidence, including audio and video clippings, could not prove the crime against the accused.
The demolition triggered countrywide Hindu-Muslim riots in which 3,000 people died, mostly Muslims.
More than 40 cases were filed against Hindu leaders in various courts after the demolition. But in 1993 the CBI consolidated all the cases into a single case filing charges against 48 people. Some have died since then.
Observers say it is unlikely that the CBI, which functions under the federal government led by the BJP, will appeal against the verdict in the Supreme Court of India.
Last November, the Supreme Court allowed Hindu groups to build a Ram temple on the land, ending a dispute about the ownership between Hindus and Muslims.
The cases moved faster after Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014, championing Hindus' cause and promising to build the Ram temple in Ayodhya.
In August this year, Modi attended the foundation stone-laying ceremony for the temple, keeping his election promise and adding to his strongman image.
With no cases pending in courts and construction work for the Ram temple progressing, the latest verdict will be marked in Indian history as the end of a long-standing religious dispute.