June 01, 2017

India: With framing of criminal charges against minister Uma Bharti in Babri Masjid demolition case, Modi govt show show her the door - editorial in The Hindu (1 June 2017)

Editorial, The Hindu

Politics and propriety: on Uma Bharti's continuance as Minister

June 01, 2017

The framing of charges against Uma Bharti makes her continuance as Minister untenable

With the Supreme Court invoking its extraordinary powers under Article 142 of the Constitution — to pass decrees and orders to ensure complete justice — in the case relating to the demolition of the Babri Masjid, and reviving the criminal conspiracy charges against senior BJP leaders L.K. Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and Vinay Katiyar, the CBI Special Court in Lucknow could not but have framed charges against them. Over the last 24 years, poor investigation and weak prosecution combined with inordinate judicial delays ensured they did not have to stand trial for making provocative speeches that allegedly incited kar sevaks to demolish the masjid. With the Supreme Court ordering this case to be clubbed with the one involving the actual demolition by unnamed kar sevaks, and directing day-to-day trials, there is hope that the years of delay are over. India has a poor record in finding speedy judicial resolution in instances of mob violence and communal riots; in that sense, the Babri Masjid cases are perhaps unexceptional. But given the historical importance of the case, and the impact of the demolition on communal harmony, it is vital to see them through to the end.

Both Mr. Advani and Mr. Joshi are in the twilight of their political careers, wielding little power or influence in the BJP. Ms. Bharti is, however, a Union Minister, and the Narendra Modi government cannot pretend that the development has no bearing on her continuance in the Council of Ministers. The BJP has tended to underplay the significance of the case on the ground that it is ‘political’ in nature. But this simply does not wash as the revival of criminal conspiracy charges against them was done at the instance of the Supreme Court. In opposition, the BJP had been quick to demand the resignation of ministers for much less than being chargesheeted. The argument that the standards of propriety that apply in corruption cases are different from those that apply in a criminal case of this nature is absurd. Even by the lax standards of today’s political morality, it is important to draw the line somewhere — and framing of charges is a good stage given that it is a formal document drawn up by a court of law. Rather than defend Ms. Uma Bharti, the Modi government would do well to consider the example set by none other than Mr. Advani himself, who resigned as a Member of Parliament in 1996 after he was implicated in the Jain hawala case, in which the court later held that there was no material to frame charges against him. For a government that makes much of standing for probity in public life, the application of different standards to one of its own is bound to damage its image. Ms. Bharti’s guilt or innocence is for the courts to establish. Political propriety demands that she be shown the door.