Dispute revisited

The supreme court’s stay on the Allahabad high court’s ruling in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case last year is more than a routine stay of a lower court decision. By terming the high court judgment strange and surprising, the apex court has substantively invalidated the earlier ruling. The high court had divided the disputed site among three parties to the title suit, the Sunni Wakf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and the representative of Ram Lalla. The high court decision was then seen as a compromise and was welcomed. But many of the arguments put forward by the judges and the assumptions behind them were questionable and the supreme court has made these questions clearer.

The apex court has, in effect, said the high court went beyond its jurisdiction in partitioning the disputed site. No party to the case had sought a division of property and so there was no reason for the court to issue a decree for that. The division seemed to follow a ratio which could not be explained or adequately justified. The property was divided equally among the three parties, when there was no legal basis for it. The court’s conclusion that Lord Ram was born on the spot under the central dome of the demolished mosque was also not tenable. The importance that it gave to faith and religious belief in deciding the legal dispute could not have set good precedent.

While no party was completely happy with the judgment it was seen to endorse some positions of the Hindu groups without giving sound legal reasons or citing clear historical evidence in support of the conclusions.

If anybody had the notion that the Ramjanmabhoomi dispute is near a legal solution it has been disproved now. The apex court’s decision has taken it back almost to square one. The status quo as ordered by the supreme court in 1994 and 2002 will be restored and the arguments may have to start all over again.

That makes a negotiated settlement a practical and desirable way out of the dispute. But Ayodhya is not a live issue now and it is doubtful if it can be revived any time soon. So the incentive for negotiations will also be low. It is likely that it will continue its tortuous legal course in the foreseeable future. But the merit of the supreme court stay is that it has foreclosed an option of dubious merit.

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