Ayodhya verdict aims to bring closure to decades long dispute

Last Updated: Tue, Nov 12, 2019 15:20 hrs
Ram mandir

In one of the country’s most disputed cases spanning years, the Supreme Court finally rendered its judgment on the highly contentious and controversial Ayodhya land dispute. In a historic and unanimous decision by a five-judge bench headed by the Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, they gave the go ahead for the construction of a Ram temple at the site.

Additionally, the court directed the centre to provide a five-acre plot to the Sunni Waqf Board for the construction of a mosque, stating in part, “Justice would not prevail if the court were to overlook the entitlement of Muslims who’ve been deprived of the structure of the mosque…”. The Babri Masjid mosque at Ayodhya was demolished in December 1992 after a mob led by karsevaks of the BJP and VHP broke through security. Sarim Naved, a practising lawyer, in a column for The Wire, writes on the verdict being a victory of secularism –

This is a dispute which has literally cost thousands of lives, not to mention the massive economic loss that accompanied the many riots and conflagrations. The legal victory is based upon secular principles. The Ayodhya judgment did result in a victory for the majority and coincidentally for the mob that demolished the Babri Masjid, but a reading of the judgment clearly shows disapproval and disavowal of the mob”.

All India Majis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asadudddin Owaisi criticised verdict stating he wasn’t satisfied with the allotment of land for the construction of a mosque. He said in part, “We have full faith in the Constitution, we were fighting for our right, we don’t need 5-acre land as donation”. Other Muslim organisations aren’t happy with the verdict either; citing that the court tried to have it both ways with the judgment.

In an interview with The Wire, Justice A.K. Ganguly, who retired in 2012, questioned the judgment stating that the court gave the demolition a ‘premium’, despite themselves calling it a criminal act. “It encourages a very unfortunate trend… a totally non-secular trend” he said and that if it were up to him, he would have directed the restoration of the mosque. The Tribune editorial stated that the Supreme Court lost an opportunity to put an end to similar disputes –

The Supreme Court should not have arrived at this verdict before deciding on the criminal culpability of those who destroyed the Masjid and cleared the ground for the temple. It needs to be underscored that the Indian apex court lost a great opportunity to instil in the minds of the litigants and the nation at large the idea of reconciliation, closure and peaceful co-existence”.

In August 2010, the Allahabad High Court passed a judgment on the Ayodhya land dispute by a three-judge panel. In a 2-1 verdict, the court stated that the land was to be split into three parts – one-third for the Sunni Waqf Board, one-third for the Nirmohi Akhara (a religious denomination for the Ram temple) and one-third to the party for 'Ram Lalla’.

The summary of the verdict was essentially that no one party could stake claim over the land and that it could only be done by equal allotment. However, the Supreme Court in its judgment stated that this was legally sustainable. The SC judgment on this stated in part, “Even as a matter of maintaining public peace and tranquillity, the solution which commended itself to the High Court is not feasible”. Maneesh Chhibber, in a column for The Print, writes on why the apex court differed by quoting its judgment –

The Supreme Court did hold in its ruling that the demolished Babri Masjid was not abandoned – that the mere cessation of namaz by Muslims cannot lead to the inference that the mosque was abandoned – and so have lost possession. Maintaining public peace and tranquillity, it can be said, is why the Supreme Court has done what it did today with its Ayodhya verdict”. 

The court verdict relied on what it judged to be evidence that there was a Hindu site upon which the Babri Masjid mosque was built. The other way it could have gone is for the court to have divided the land equally among the two parties and litigants; but this, according to the court, alluding to the Allahabad high court decision would not guarantee peace and harmony. Ajit Kumar Jha, in a column for India Today, writes on some of the criticism of the verdict relying on faith instead of law –

The Supreme Court verdict has not invoked the brute calculations of majority and minority--the game that politicians of all hues excel at--but by taking recourse to a higher principle, that of equality before the law. One community ended up with the 'site' and the other with a five-acre plot not by virtue of being the majority and minority nor because of faith, but because the apex court unambiguously believes in the evidence of 'actual worship down the centuries'”.

One of the main tenants of the BJP’s pre-poll agenda was ensuring that the Ayodhya case is resolved and a temple be built on that site. In addition to this, a law against triple talaq and the abolition of Article 370 have also been taken care of. Most of the party’s Hindutva promises have been met. While the Ayodhya decision was from the judiciary, organisations such as the VHP and the Sangh have seen this as a clear victory.

The VHP in the wake of the verdict has decided to seek contributions for the construction of the temple. The crux of the argument from the VHP is that this was a movement, one to get what they felt was to get a temple built and be associated with the faith and sentiments of Hindus. Muslim organisations and parties will look at how to move ahead with either review petitions or other legal options; though there is some internal dispute among groups given acceptance of the verdict. The Free Press Journal editorial offers a look at the way forward –

The important thing now is to bury old prejudices and move on in a positive direction with a spirit of bonhomie and goodwill. Some aberrations are bound to be there in a country so vast and diverse as India but a healthy spirit of tolerance would go a long way in setting a worthy agenda for nation-building while setting aside any religious differences”.

More columns by Varun Sukumar