An Indian court on Tuesday charged a minister and two senior leaders from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party with criminal conspiracy over the destruction of a mosque in 1992 that triggered deadly religious riots.
The trio were accused of inciting a Hindu mob to destroy the 16th-century Babri mosque in the city of Ayodhya, which ignited a wave of religious violence across India.
Water Minister Uma Bharti, as well as Lal Krishna Advani and M M Joshi, two leaders in Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), were among 12 present at the court in Lucknow as the judge read out the charges against them.
“The Court has invoked an additional charge of criminal conspiracy against them. They will all now face a joint trial,” prosecution lawyer R K Yadav told reporters.
The trio denied any involvement in the demolition of the mosque, but the court ruled there was “enough evidence on record” to bring charges of criminal conspiracy.
They were granted bail.
Before the ruling, Bharti said she did not consider herself a criminal and saw no conspiracy behind the razing of the mosque.
“It was an open movement… there was no conspiracy,” she told reporters.
A lower court had dropped the charges brought by India’s Central Bureau of Investigation, but the Supreme Court last month ruled they should be tried.
The destruction of the mosque at Ayodhya in India’s northern Uttar Pradesh state has fuelled numerous riots across India between Hindus and Muslims that has left thousands dead.
Many Hindus believe the mosque was only built after the destruction of a temple that marks the birthplace of their god Ram, and it remains hugely divisive.
Some BJP leaders, including Bharti, want a temple built on the ruins of the razed mosque — an idea that horrifies Uttar Pradesh’s significant Muslim minority.
The Hindu-right party won Uttar Pradesh in a landslide election in March, and appointed firebrand priest Yogi Adityanath as head of the state.