NEW DELHI • An Indian judge charged a minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government and senior leaders from his ruling party with criminal conspiracy yesterday in connection with the 1992 destruction of a mosque by a Hindu mob.
The demolition of the mosque in northern Uttar Pradesh state unleashed some of the deadliest religious riots across the country since independence in 1947, killing about 2,000 people.
Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti and stalwarts of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by L. K. Advani and M. M. Joshi appeared in court in the city of Lucknow to hear the charges.
All three deny any role in the razing of the Babri Mosque.
The trial of senior BJP leaders will raise fresh questions about Hindu nationalism within Mr Modi's party at a time when critics are accusing his supporters of trying to marginalise minority groups and redefine India as a Hindu nation.
Lawyer M. R. Shamshad, representing Muslim leaders and victims of the violence, said: "The judge accepted our plea to charge the leaders with criminal conspiracy and the accused are already facing trial for making provocative speeches that incited Hindus to pull down the Babri Mosque."
Bharti, entering the courtroom yesterday amid a crowd of reporters, rejected the charges. "I don't consider myself a criminal," she said. Lawyers representing Joshi and Advani did not respond to requests for comment.
2,000 Estimated number of people who died in the 1992 destruction of the Babri Mosque in northern Uttar Pradesh state by a Hindu mob.
Many Hindus believe that the mosque in the town of Ayodhya was built on top of the birthplace of their God-king Rama, and the BJP is committed to the construction of a temple there.
The dispute is still at the core of tensions between Hindus and India's Muslim minority.
BJP party leaders have faced prosecution for their alleged involvement in the mosque's destruction for more than a decade but, last month, the Supreme Court ruled that the party leaders must be tried and the case wrapped up within two years.
Advani, a former home minister and chief of the BJP, led Hindus on a pilgrimage that ended with the razing of the mosque. He said he tried to stop the clashes.
The chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mr Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand Hindu priest, yesterday met the three accused outside the court in a sign of support.