'Babri demolition not planned? Surprising', say journalists who deposed in the CBI court

Updated: 01 October, 2020 12:28 IST | Dharmendra Jore | Mumbai

Two veteran scribes from Mumbai who covered the masjid's demolition in 1992 and deposed in the special CBI court recount their experience, one says evidence wasn't enough to prove conspiracy

(Left) Pratap Asbe had reported on the demolition for the Marathi daily Maharashtra Times, while Uday Tanpathak had reported for the Marathi daily Pudhari
(Left) Pratap Asbe had reported on the demolition for the Marathi daily Maharashtra Times, while Uday Tanpathak had reported for the Marathi daily Pudhari

Two veteran city journalists Pratap Asbe and Uday Tanpathak never thought they would be called to depose in the Babri Masjid demolition case. But they did in Lucknow's Special CBI court in 2018 to recount the events of December 6, 1992, when they were reporting for their respective publications.

Speaking to mid-day on Wednesday, Asbe said the judgment was surprising. "They say the demolition wasn't planned and it wasn't a conspiracy? I told the court what I had seen and heard that day," he said.

Tanpathak said it could be a handicap of the system which investigated the event that changed the country's political course. "The judgment was expected because the court didn't have evidence to prove a conspiracy. Back then the technology wasn't as advanced as it is today wherein investigators can do wonders to bring the accused to justice. I think there was more hearsay than evidence produced in this case," said Tanpathak.

Asbe and Tanpathak's testimonies appear one after the other in the 2,300-page judgment. How did they land in the witness box? It was news dispatches they wrote for their newspapers in 1992 that caught the Central Bureau of Investigation's (CBI) attention. Asbe worked with the Marathi daily Maharashtra Times from where he retired a couple of years ago. Tanpathak had started working for a Marathi daily, Pudhari, just a month before he was assigned the Ayodhya tour. He is still with the newspaper.

Statements recorded in '90s

Their statements were recorded by the CBI three years after they reported the demolition. "I think it was 1995 when a CBI team visited my office. The officers recorded my statement for three hours. And years later, in 2018, I was summoned to the CBI court," said Asbe.

Tanpathak not only recorded his statement but also appeared before the Liberhan Commission that probed the demolition for 16 years. "I don't think I would have appeared at the CBI court if it weren't for my friend in Dombivli, who received a letter at my old address. I had shifted to Mumbai a long time ago, but my friend told me about the summons," said Tanpathak.

Court got better premises

Tanpathak also recalls visiting a 4th-floor darkroom-like court which later shifted to a better building. He says there is a story behind the shifting of the courtroom. "We were told that the then chief justice of Allahabad High Court was informed by some influential witnesses that the bad condition of the courtroom may upset top politicians, their lawyers, and journalists who were witnesses and had to sit there for a long time. The courtroom was shifted overnight to a better building with good facilities. We were in Lucknow for our deposition when the shifting happened," said Tanpathak.

Tanpathak wasn't allowed to sit in the courtroom when Asbe recorded his statement and was cross-examined. But Asbe was allowed when Tanpathak appeared before the court.

Asbe said he was grilled for over two days by the defence lawyers. "I was cross-examined aggressively by the lawyers defending Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and others who were not found guilty in the judgment. I told the court who provoked the karsevaks to demolish the Babri Masjid. I said whatever I saw that day," the veteran scribe said.

Mulayam Singh's observation

Asbe recalled meetings with Mulayam Singh Yadav (Samajwadi Party leader and ex-CM of UP) in Mumbai 15 days before the demolition. "I didn't believe Singh when he said to me 'Woh log masjid nochnewale hain' [Those people are going to demolish the masjid]. I met Singh after the demolition to remind him of his observation," said Asbe.

The two witnesses said while they did their duty, the system that called them to court did not even bother to compensate them for travel and boarding expenses. "We were told that all our expenses will be reimbursed. But we have yet get it," said Asbe, now living a retired life.

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First Published: 01 October, 2020 05:26 IST

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