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Indian Deputy PM Will Not Face Charges in Destruction of Mosque - 2003-09-19

An Indian court says Deputy Prime Minister Lal Krishna Advani will not face charges relating to the destruction of a Muslim mosque 11 years ago. Seven other Hindu nationalist leaders will be prosecuted in connection with the mosque's destruction, which triggered a round of deadly religious rioting in the country.

Judge VK Singh quashed the charges brought against Mr. Advani by India's federal investigating agency. The ruling came in the small northern town of Rae Bareli.

The charges related to the demolition of an ancient mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya by a Hindu mob in 1992. Mr. Advani was present in Ayodhya along with several other Hindu nationalist leaders when activists tore down the mosque.

Federal prosecutors say he had incited communal passions and instigated tens of thousands of Hindu activists into demolishing the mosque.

More than 2,000 people were killed in nationwide riots after the mosque was destroyed, and the issue continues to raise Hindu-Muslim tensions in India. Hindu hard-liners believe the mosque was built on the site of an ancient Hindu temple.

The dropping of charges against Mr. Advani is seen as a major boost for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. A prominent party leader, Commerce Minister Arun Jaitley, said it vindicates the party's position that Mr. Advani had nothing to do with the destruction of the mosque. "The court would be having in front of it a large number of speeches made by LK Advani that day, a large number of actions taken by him, where he is actually appealing to the people not to demolish the structure," he said.

Mr. Advani is the most powerful leader in the Bharatiya Janata Party, which leads the ruling coalition. In the 1980s, he led a campaign to build a temple on the site of the mosque, which raised the party's popularity and helped catapult it to power.

The seven leaders who still face charges include Human Resources Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi, and former Sports Minister Uma Bharati.

Mr. Joshi offered his resignation following the court's decision. However, the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, Venkaiah Naidu, said the resignation is unnecessary. "The case involves political persecution, not moral turpitude," he said. "There is no allegation of corruption."

Hindu and Muslim groups continue to fight a bitter campaign over ownership of the site. Hindu hard-liners insist they will build a temple, while Muslims want to rebuild the mosque.