Ayodhya dispute: only law can resolve tangle

Chief Justice of India J S Kehar has reignited the debate on the Ayodhya dispute by supporting negotiation instead of a judicial verdict and offering himself to mediate. Effecting compromises in civil matters is always welcome but the dispute is almost intractable defying all negotiation and conciliation.

Most Muslim organisations have rejected the offer. All earlier efforts at it have failed. The story of litigation pertaining to the disputed structure conclusively demonstrates that suits remain inconclusive seemingly forever. In 1949, some primitive images of Ram Lalla (infant Lord Rama) mysteriously appeared in one section of the unused mosque. It triggered huge controversy leading to communal frenzy. The issue went to the district court for the first time on January 13, 1950 when Gopal Singh Visharad filed a suit in the Faizabad court.

In 1955, the Allahabad High Court lamented that a decision was still awaited even after four decades. The second suit was filed by the Nirmohi Akhada in 1959, the third in 1961 by the Sunni Central Board in 1961, and the fourth one was filed in 1989 on behalf of Ram Lalla by Justice (rtd) Devkinandan Agrawal. All suits were clubbed together and called before the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court in the representative capacity.

The litigation kept hanging fire and the disputed structure called Babri Masjid, supposed to have been erected on Ramjanmabhoomi, was pulled down by obscurantist Hindu activists on December 6, 1992 during a political rally which triggered large scale communal riots and made a huge impact on the politics of the country. Ultimately, after long wait, a three-judge bench of the high court pronounced its verdict on September 30, 2010.

It ruled that the 2.77 acres of the land be divided into three parts, with one-third going to the Ram Lalla represented by the Hindu Mahasabha for the construction of the Rama temple, one-third to the Islamic Sunni Waqf Board, and the remaining one-third to the Hindu religious denomination, Nirmohi Akhara.

While the bench was sharply divided over the issue whether the disputed structure was erected after demolishing a temple, it was unanimous that a temple or a temple structure predated the mosque at the same site. The court heavily relied upon the reports of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) that the predating structure was a massive Hindu religious building. Excavations were made earlier also, but surprisingly, the court could not take advantage of it. The judgement of the high court was later stayed by the Supreme Court.

The issue was referred to the Supreme Court for its advice under Article 143 of the Constitution in 1993. The court took undertakings from the Union and state governments that they would comply with the advice notwithstanding the fact that the advice given under Article 143 is not binding. And in a belated development, it returned the reference unanswered in 1994.

In the majority opinion of three judges, the reference could not be taken as an ‘alternate dispute settlement mechanism’, and thus, it could not substitute the pending suits and legal proceedings. In the opinion of the apex court, the reference had become ‘superfluous and unnecessary’.

It further said that the reference should not be answered because it favoured some religious community over another, and also because the Union government was not interested in settling the issue according to the court’s opinion but wanted to use it as a springboard for negotiations. It added that the principal protagonists of the two sides had not appeared before the court to lead evidence or for cross-examination.
All the reasons adduced by the court remain unchanged. If the court was averse to be used as a springboard for negotiations, how is it so keen to mediate now?
Further, if the principal adversaries did not show up in the court to lead evidence and for cross-examination, how can it be sanguine about ensuring their appearance in the out of court settlement?

Question of hard facts
It is a question of hard facts though it is also true that it spawns emotional outbursts. Though the Allahabad High Court relied heavily on the findings of the ASI, the UPA government, in September 2007, filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court in a PIL on Sethusamudram project that there is no historical and scientific evidence to establish the existence of Lord Rama. The affidavit touched off a storm leading to agitations and protests and the government was forced to withdraw the affidavit from the court instantly.

It will be ideal if an amicable settlement can be reached through negotiations. But the past experiences kindle no such hope. The issue is emotional and also political which has been used in elections since 1948 in the by-election in the Faizabad Assembly constituency which fell vacant as socialist leader Acharya Narendra Dev resigned after the Congress Socialist Party broke away from the Congress.

He took a high moral stand that he had been elected on the Congress ticket and so he would take a fresh mandate. There was no anti-defection law and still the Acharya resigned. In the by-election, the Congress pitted Baba Raghav Das, a mahant, against him and Govind Ballabh Pant, in the campaign, thundered that the people of the holy city would never vote for an atheist like Narendra Dev. And he lost to Raghav Das.

In 1952, K K K Nair was elected from Gonda Lok Sabha constituency as the Hindu Mahasabha candidate. Nair had been the district magistrate of Faizabad and was allegedly responsible for installing the statue of Ram Lalla in the mosque. It is alleged that it happened with the tacit approval of Pant. Not only Nair, even his wife and driver were elected in subsequent elections.

It is high time the apex court take a call and decide the issue as per law once and for all without worrying about the sentiments involved.

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