Way forward from Ayodhya, for India’s sake

Following the Ayodhya verdict, a cartoon in a leading newspaper showed Lady Justice struggling with both hands holding up the scales loaded with a temple in one pan and a masjid in the other. One notices that the lever arm of the temple in the scales is longer than that of the masjid. But after all, in Badshah v. Urmila Badshah Godse & Anr (2013), the Supreme Court spoke thus: “... just as a change in social reality is the law of life, responsiveness to change in social reality is the life of the law.” 

The unanimous Ayodhya verdict was a judicial balancing act in a case referring back five centuries. Perhaps the Ayodhya bench could not have done differently or better in the circumstances of the unfolding socio-political reality.

 Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that this verdict gives the message to all Indians to move forward together, to come together and live together. Clearly addressing the Muslims, he said that in the “new India”, there is no place for fear, bitterness or negativity. Addressing the youth, he said that we have to make a resolution that now a new generation will start building a new India. Wise and encouraging words, no doubt, but it leaves one wondering what he meant by “new India”, and whether the rank and file of the Hindutva forces will understand his words and act to make his words a reality. 

The Ayodhya case is a web of inextricably intertwined issues – religion and religious practice, belief, land, civic and legal rights, history and historicity, archaeology, and the politics of rulers up to the present times. While there are two parties that claimed ownership of the disputed 2.77 acres, there are three “camps” which view the verdict. To the first (Hindu litigant) camp, it is vindication, victory, gain, justice done, historical injustice undone. The second (Muslim litigant) camp may see it as defeat, loss, injustice, the success of majoritarian politics, insecurity and humiliation in the street, school and workplace. 

The third camp, not a party to the title dispute, senses a threat to the Constitution and its values. It observes logical flaws in the verdict, apprehends acceleration of majoritarian nationalism leading to fascism, the establishment of Hindu Rashtra, and communal violence in the public domain. Indeed, according to one writer, “The main beneficiaries of the Supreme Court’s verdict on Saturday are organically linked to the main accused in the crime of demolishing the mosque. And that’s not good for India.” It also rues the illogic of the verdict which gave the entire 2.77 acres of disputed land to the Hindu litigants upon acceptance of the preponderance of the “balance of probabilities” of Hindu possession and worship before 1857, because the Muslim litigants were unable to definitively show exclusive possession before 1857. 

All three camps have a different “idea of India.” Thus, the first camp welcoming the verdict is unsurprising. The Congress party embracing the verdict is a shade less unsurprising. The second and third camps have no choice but to accept the verdict, although they respectfully or otherwise disagree with some or all of it and criticize its inconsistencies or logic. In any case, no verdict in the Ayodhya matter, by whichsoever constitution bench, constituted howsoever, would satisfy all three camps. Even if a different verdict brought “real” justice, it would not guarantee peace. 

Perhaps this writer represents a fourth “camp”, which reckons thus:

1. The verdict is now law. Unless some party to the dispute legally challenges the verdict, it is final.

2. If a legal challenge succeeds even partially, it will bring up fresh disputes in the public domain, whereas if it fails, it will reinforce the intensity of the manner in which the three camps view the verdict as it stands today. In any case, the outcome of a possible legal challenge will be “finally final”. We need to remember what late Justice VR Krishna Iyer wrote: “What the Supreme Court decides is final not because it is infallible; it is infallible because it is constitutionally final and structurally supreme”.

3. Whatever they may claim, the Hindu and the Muslim litigants in the Ayodhya case do not represent the entire Hindu and Muslim communities in India.

4. The Hindu and the Muslim parties to the dispute would do well to cooperate if they genuinely desire peace and tranquillity in society. It may not be far-fetched to suggest, even to plead, that Hindus should assist materially and financially to construct a mosque in the 5-acres, and Muslims do likewise for construction of the Ram mandir on the 2.77-acre site.

5. As for the third camp, it would do well to accept the fallibility of the Ayodhya bench, and the finality of its verdict. It might look to getting its act together by seizing the political initiative concerning the urgent real-life issues of food and water security, hunger, health, education, housing, social and economic injustices, the pathetic situation of farmers, industrial and unorganized sector workers, the neglected MSME sector, failing banks, etc. This may hinder Hindutva forces laying claim to other mosque structures and sites, notwithstanding that the Ayodhya verdict dismissed recognition of “Asthan Shri Ram Janma Bhumi” as a juristic person.

6. It would be correct and necessary to pursue the portion of the Ayodhya verdict that demolition of the mosque in 1992 was an egregious violation of law.

7. There is nothing to be gained and much to be lost in looking back in time at recent or ancient wrongs and injustices. Lord Ram and Allah would be pleased if peace and harmony prevailed in society. As inscribed on the US Supreme Court, “Justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible only as it first resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens”.

8. The way forward for all Indians is to accept the verdict as a “given” and hold the PM to his words.

(The writer retired as a Major General in the Indian Army and writes on development and strategic issues)

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