Volume 23 Issue 01, January 2019


It was in 1992, when some Hindu zealots serendipitously discovered that the pulpit of the mosque built by the Mughal Emperor, Babur at Ayodhya, a.k.a. the Babri Masjid, was the exact spot where King Dasrath’s first queen, Kaushilya, delivered her son, Ram. The discovery ignited a wave of religious fervour and extremist Hindu organisations - religious and political, exploited the situation to push their communal agenda.

The goal was to demolish the mosque and construct a temple in its place, dedicated to Ram. BJP stalwart, Lal Krishna Advani, undertook a rath yatra from Somnath in western India, across the country, to Ayodhya. People enlisted in hordes as kar sevaks (volunteer manual workers). Other leaders roused passions with their incendiary speeches. Ultimately, on December 6, 1992, a riotous mob of zealots demolished the mosque, while the Sangh Parivar leaders watched with unsuppressed glee.

However, commenting on the incident, India’s former president, Pranab Mukherjee observed, “The demolition of Babri Masjid was an act of absolute perfidy...It was the senseless, wanton destruction of a religious structure, purely to serve political ends. It deeply wounded the sentiments of the Muslim community in India and abroad. It destroyed India’s image as a tolerant, pluralistic nation.” (The Turbulent Years: 1980-96”)

Meanwhile, to the utter shock of the perpetrators of the reckless act, the prize had eluded their grasp. Starting construction of their cherished Ram Mandir, any time too soon was out of the question. All they had achieved was a major dent to India’s proud secular image, besides opening the doors to a protracted litigation that has, since, entered its twenty-sixth year and yet, there is no end in sight.

Before any construction could start the primary issue to be settled was about who owned the land on which the mosque had stood. This led to a title suit in the Allahabad High Court, to which, a host of organizations and individuals became party.
In 2010, the Allahabad High Court divided the land, equally, among three parties; Rama Lalla (the infant Lord Rama), the Nirmohi Akhara (the principal challenger) and the Sunni Waqf Board (fighting for Babri Masjid).

Appeals against the Allahabad High Court ruling took the case to the Supreme Court., which made it clear that the government was only a receiver of the land it had acquired in Ayodhya; and that it held the land in trust, only to be handed over to the party that succeeded in the suit.

There was a possibility that a verdict of the Supreme Court would be out by October. But this did not happen. Meanwhile, Chief Justice Deepak Misra went into retirement. His place has been taken by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi.

A three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court, led by the Chief Justice, has since posted the title suit appeals in January before an appropriate Bench to fix a date for hearing the case.

The new bench will have the huge task of going through volumes of documents of evidence and statements of witnesses. The Ayodhya case file has over 9,000 pages of evidence sourced from scriptures like Ramayana, Ramacharitamanasa, Mahabharat, the Holy Quran, and texts from the medieval ages. The statements of the witnesses are contained in over 90,000 pages. The documents are in different languages including Sanskrit, Awadhi, Arabic, Persian and Pali.

Counting on using the verdict to inflame passions and garner votes, the BJP has been insisting for hearing before the upcoming general elections. In fact, the ruling BJP has made the Ayodhya Ram Temple issue an important poll plank. The Ram temple issue also figures in the party's election manifesto.

Meanwhile, the Chief Justice rejected an urgent hearing as the Uttar Pradesh government argued that it was a 100-year-old dispute that should be taken up on priority basis, saying, "We have our own priorities."

By declining to fix until January 2019 a date for hearing the case, though, the Supreme Court has judiciously pushed back the prospect of any judgment in the run-up to the polls. The decision of a Bench headed by the Chief Justice to put off even the exercise of fixing a date for the final hearing is quite pragmatic.

Besides there is a precedent for the Supreme Court’s decision to defer the Ayodhya case hearing. In the past, the Supreme Court deferred the hearing on Article 35A after the Centre and the Jammu and Kashmir government sought adjournment, saying that a ruling might disrupt peace in the Kashmir Valley and pose a challenge in the conduct of local body elections in the state.

The same argument may be used by the petitioners citing past instances when political parties tried to seek votes in the name of a Ram temple at Ayodhya that led to communal violence.

However, those set upon building a temple at the disputed site, are visibly miffed. Some BJP leaders as well as hard line Hindu affiliates are now clamouring for an ordinance or a special order to facilitate building a Ram temple at the site, the RSS being the most vocal. But such a step to bypass the Supreme Court would be highly injudicious and fraught with unpleasant consequences.

Moreover, the Congress and other parties are opposed to the ordinance route. Hyderabad lawmaker Asaduddin Owaisi, the chief of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM), has even dared the government to bring forth an ordinance "if it had the courage."

Such confrontation would be very undesirable and should be avoided. The Supreme Court has only postponed the hearing till after the elections, which has deprived the BJP of the opportunity to exploit the verdict to seek votes. The heavens have not fallen.

A verdict before elections might have boosted the BJP’s position in the polls, but the party would certainly not be contesting the elections on the Ayodhya verdict. Therefore, instead of fretting and fuming, and talking of ordinances, the BJP jingoists should wait for the Supreme Court’s verdict. The case has been going on for 26 years, so another few months should not make any difference.

The writer is a senior political analyst and former editor of SouthAsia. He can be reached at ghulamjil@outlook.com

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