Wise course on Ayodhya

The Supreme Court has given a concrete shape to the idea of mediation it had proposed some days ago to resolve the Ayodhya dispute, outlined a roadmap and prescribed a deadline for it. The court’s intention is welcome and the procedure it has adopted is unexceptionable, though the details could have been given greater attention. The five-judge Constitution bench has rightly felt that a negotiated solution would be permanent and would help to “heal relations’’. Even as early as 1994, the court had recognised the judicial limitations in dealing with the Ayodhya dispute in all its complexity. Even addressing the title issue legally is not easy. Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had put it well when he said that no court could give a clear verdict on it and even if it did, no government could implement it. That may be why the court decided to give another chance for mediation even if it had only a 1% chance of success. 

The court has set up a three-member mediation panel headed by former Supreme Court judge FM Kalifulla and comprising spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Madras high court lawyer Sriram Panchu, who is experienced in arbitration and mediation. There is a view that the panel could have been led by a person who has a higher profile, or someone who is neither a Hindu nor a Muslim. The choice of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is controversial, too, as he has said in the past that Muslims should give up their claim to the land. The panel has been given one month’s time to present an interim report and two months for its final report. It is doubtful if it can complete its work in two months and, in any case, it will not be advisable to make the report public before the Lok Sabha elections are over. 

Only the Nirmohi Akhara and the Muslim side, including the Sunni Wakf Board, have accepted the mediation proposal. The panel may have to persuade others to join the process, though they have insisted that building a Ram temple at the site of the demolished masjid is a matter of faith. Mediation is not adversarial but consensual, and so it has a moral advantage over legal adjudication. But it must be noted that the court has kept the judicial process alive as the time given for mediation will be used to prepare and finalise the legal documentation required for the final hearing. If the mediation is a success, it can well be given legal support and sanction under the provisions of the Civil Procedure Code. It also helps to keep the hope alive. 

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