All 32 people accused in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 were acquitted by a special CBI court in Lucknow on Wednesday, according to the Times of India.
The accused includ senior Bharatiya Janata Party leaders LK Advani, Uma Bharti, Murli Manohar Joshi and Kalyan Singh.
The court ruled that “the demolition was not premeditated and it happened at the spur of the moment with no involvement by any of the accused”.
Special Judge Surendra Kumar Yadav is still reading a judgment said to be 2,000 pages long.
The accused LK Advani, Murali Manohar Joshi, Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti, Satish Pradhan and Mahant Nritya Gopal Das attended the hearing through video link while the other accused in the case were physically present in court.
Charges of conspiracy, promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, making assertions “prejudicial to national integration and injuring or defiling a place of worship”, indulging in “deliberate and malicious” acts intended to outrage religious feelings, uttering statements leading to public mischief, rioting and unlawful assembly were levied against the accused.
The CBI had argued that the destruction of the mosque was a conspiracy. The court, however, said that it can not be proved that the mosque was demolished as a part of a plan due to lack of evidence.
The tussle centres on an area of land measuring just 2.77 acres (1.1 hectares) in Ayodhya, a small city in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
India’s majority Hindus believe that Lord Ram, one of their most important deities, was born there.
They also believe the Muslim conqueror Babar, the first Mughal emperor, razed the temple in the 1500s to make way for a mosque, the Babri Masjid.
Under British colonial rule, a fence was erected to separate places of worship so Muslims could worship in an inner court and Hindus the outer.
The first legal dispute emerged in 1885 with a plea seeking permission to build a canopy outside the mosque premises for Hindu devotees.
But in 1949, two years after Independence, idols of Lord Ram appeared inside the mosque, which allegedly were placed there in a staged “miracle”. Muslims objected and both parties went to court, kicking off a tortuous legal battle over the right to worship at the site.
In 1984, Hindus formed a committee to “liberate” Ram’s birthplace and build a temple, led by LK Advani, a senior figure in the BJP, now headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
On December 6, 1992 a Hindu mob estimated to number 200,000 — aiming to symbolically lay the first stone of a new temple — reduced the mosque to ruins.
This triggered some of the worst religious riots since India’s bloody partition in 1947, leaving around 2,000 people dead, mainly Muslims. In 2002, 59 Hindu activists died in a fire on a train returning from Ayodhya, sparking riots in Gujarat state — when Modi was state premier — that saw upwards of 1,000 people perish, most of them Muslims.
An important ruling came in 2010 when a High Court ruled that Muslims and Hindus should split the site — albeit unevenly, with Hindus granted the lion’s share.
But this left no one happy. Both Hindu and Muslim groups appealed and the Supreme Court in 2011 stayed the lower court’s ruling, leaving the issue unresolved.
In March this year, the Supreme Court appointed a three-man panel including a famous guru to resolve the prickly issue through mediation, but this too failed.
With information from AFP