Ayodhya: Uphold judicial solution
Political parties and interest groups should refrain from making any comments about the matter for their political ends when the issue is sub-judice
The latest verdict
The Supreme Court, by 2-1 majority verdict, on September 27, 2018, refused to revisit its 1994 ruling that the government can acquire land that a mosque is built on -- a decision that means that the politically-charged Ayodhya temple-mosque dispute case can be taken up without any delay. The Ayodhya case will be heard from October 29, the Supreme Court said. Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Ashok Bhusan were in favour of the decision with Justice Abdul Bazeer resenting to it.
The Supreme Court, in its majority judgment, said that its ruling in 1994 that mosques are not fundamentally essential for Muslims to pray, was made in a very narrow context. It held that the ruling cannot be held as a general law and is certainly not applicable to the land title dispute.
However, Justice Abdul Bazeer gave a dissenting judgment, wherein he held that the questionable observation already seems to have permeated the Allahabad High Court ruling in 2010, which is being examined in the apex court. He said that what is essential to religion as laid down in Ismail Faruqui case was arrived at without comprehensive examination of religious texts and hence the issue needs to be re-examined in detail.
Reactions from various sides
VHP working president Alok Kumar expectedly expressed satisfaction at the verdict and is looking for hearing on the main Ram Janmabhoomi appeals. Senior advocate Rajeev Dhawan, representing a litigant from the Muslim side, caustically noted that the majority judgment would please the majority, minority judgment would please the minority, and the very problem all started off with hasn't been resolved. In the top court, he had argued for the reopening of the 1994 verdict and had pleaded for the entire case to be referred to a larger bench.
BJP's Rajya Sabha MP Subramanian Swamy has said that he will move the Supreme Court to request for expedited hearings in the case. He said he will move his plea on the grounds that his fundamental right to practice and propagate his religion supersedes the Sunni Waqf Board's ordinary right to property.
Ismail Faroqui case, 1994
In 1994, the Supreme Court had ruled that namaz or prayers can be offered anywhere and a mosque is not essential. This cleared the way for the government taking over the land where the 16th-century Babri mosque was razed in December 1992 by Hindu hardliners who believed it was built on Lord Ram's birthplace.
The ruling at the time was only related to the acquisition of land, the Supreme Court said, refusing to refer the 1994 decision to a larger bench for review. "All religions, all mosques, and temples, churches are equal. We have already noticed all religious places are liable to be acquired as per 1994 verdict," said the court.
Muslim parties said the 1994 decision was unfair to them and played a role in the disputed land in Ayodhya being divided in 2010 into three parts by the Allahabad High Court: it split the land between Hindu and Muslim parties, though the main part was given to Hindus. The high court's decision has been challenged in the Supreme Court by Hindus and Muslims.
Shia versus Sunni stand-points
The Shia Waqf Board, which claims that the Babri Masjid belonged to Shias and not Sunnis, had submitted in the Supreme Court that the matter need not be referred to a constitution bench and said that it is ready to relinquish its claims for national interest. The board's lawyer said that "for the unity, integrity, peace and harmony in this great country, Shia Waqf board is in favour of donating the Muslim share of Ayodhya disputed land for building the Ram Temple."
The Uttar Pradesh Shia Waqf Board had earlier urged the Supreme Court to act as a mediator in the Ayodhya case. It had suggested that a Ram Temple be built at the disputed site and a mosque in a nearby Muslim-dominated area as a way out of the bitter court battle over the land.
The Uttar Pradesh Shia Waqf Board had cited historical references to Mir Baqi, the person who built the Babri mosque, as being a Shia Muslim and hence the mutawali (caretaker) of the mosque was also the Shia Waqf Board. Meanwhile, senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan said that the Shia Waqf Board "has no locus" to speak in the case. Sunni Waqf Board, represented by him, is wanting a legal settlement to the title of the land.
Allahabad High Court 2010 verdict
The Supreme Court is hearing at least 14 appeals that have challenged the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment delivered in four civil suits. But what did the High Court say that has created more twists and turns in this sensitive and litigative issue?
On September 30, 2010, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court gave a verdict which said that Hindus and Muslims were joint title-holders of the disputed land. The three-judge bench — comprising Justice SU Khan, Justice Sudhir Agarwal, and Justice DV Sharma — ruled in favour of a division of the land in a majority 2:1 judgment, with one-third going to the Sunni Waqf Board, one-third to the Nirmohi Akhara and one-third to the party for Ram Lalla Trust. The dissenting judge gave all the land to Hindus.
The Apex Court had, however, suspended the ruling in 2011 after the Hindu and Muslim groups had appealed against the verdict.
RSS & BJP
UP Deputy CM Keshav Maurya in July called for central legislation to build a Ram temple at the disputed site if the verdict goes against it.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat said on 20 September that the Ram temple at Ayodhya should be built without delay and all sections of society should accept the "reality" of the issue.
Demolition a crime
SC has also ruled earlier (on April 19, 2017) that BJP stalwarts, including LK Advani, Uma Bharti, should be prosecuted in Babri Masjid demolition case, and had ordered a day-to-day trial to be concluded in two years, which is by April 19, 2019.
Given the fact that the case has tremendous sensitivity and can give rise to communal tensions and large-scale riots, the Court has to tread carefully and so should the political parties and interest groups. All political parties and interest groups should completely refrain from any comments on this for their political ends when the issue is sub-judice.
The Court, on its part, can re-look at the Allahabad High Court verdict, which has given the garbhagriha portion to Ramlalla Trust, one attached portion to Nirmohi Akhara, and one portion to Sunni Wakf Board, and go on the same lines which can then lead to the creation of a grand Ram Temple alongside a grand mosque. This can be the symbol of the synthetic and cosmopolitan culture and traditions. And all three claimants to the land-piece agree to it, with no politics done on this ahead.
Alternatively, the entire area along with additional space can be turned into a public hospital or a university of theology and culture that can serve all communities.
In any context, the rule of the law has to be respected by all concerned, and the Supreme Court verdict needs to be accepted by all disputing parties.
(Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury is currently the Dean of School of Media, Pearl Academy, Delhi and Mumbai; and former Dean of Symbiosis and Amity Universities. The views expressed are strictly personal)