THE AYODHYA ANSWER
The Supreme Court’s landmark verdict is as much a victory for the Ram Janmabhoomi cause as it is a call for enduring communal harmony in the country
The Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue in the holy town of Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, traces back to pre-Independence and earlier times. However, what have remained vividly in the nation’s collective memory so far are disturbing scenes of the demolition of the mosque in 1992 by members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bharatiya Janata Party and other Hindu nationalist groups. Not to mention the communal riots that followed soon after, rocking many cities of the country.
Continuing since then, it seemed as if the matter – in the name and shape of the Ayodhya land dispute case – was destined to drag on forever. Therefore, when it was announced on the night of November 8 that the Supreme Court was ready to issue a judgment on the matter the very next morning – after 40 days of daily hearing, the second longest in its history – the nation was watching with as much anticipation as apprehension.
In the morning of the D-Day, political and religious leaders across the country appealed for peace amid beefed-up security arrangements in areas potentially vulnerable to communal violence. Ayodhya became something of a fortress with entry points to the town sealed, traffic diverted and shops and businesses shuttered as the town came under a blanket security cover. While media persons and other non-local people were not allowed into the town, dozens of devotees were flocking to the premises of the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi temple.
Meanwhile in New Delhi, minutes before the scheduled delivery of the verdict at 10.30am, a throng of journalists and lawyers were gathered outside the courtroom of the Chief Justice in the premises of the Supreme Court. When the doors opened, so many lawyers poured in that there was literally not even an inch of ground space in the courtroom.
When Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi finally arrived and began unsealing the decision of the five-judge bench of the Supreme Court, he said a couple of things: firstly, he declared that the verdict was unanimous; and secondly, as the judgment was being signed, he requested silence in the court to invoke the need for people across the nation to have a sense of balance in their beliefs.
It was time.
In what was arguably one of its most historic verdicts over the past few decades, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the construction of a Ram Temple on the 2.77 acres of the disputed land.
“On the balance of probabilities, there is clear evidence to indicate that the worship by the Hindus in the outer courtyard continued unimpeded in spite of the setting up of a grill-brick wall in 1857. Their possession of the outer courtyard stands established together with the incidents attaching to their control over it,” the verdict said.
While noting that it was tasked with “an adjudicatory task of unique dimension”, the top court directed the Central Government to “formulate a scheme which shall envisage the setting up of a trust with a Board of Trustees or any other appropriate body” within a period of three months from the date of the verdict.
In its painstakingly comprehensive judgment that ran into 1045 pages, the bench – comprised of Gogoi, Chief Justice-designate Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde, Justice Ashok Bhushan, Justice S. Abdul Nazeer and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud – decided that the Sunni Waqf Board, which was party to the 70-year-old title suit, should be given an alternate piece of land at a “prominent place” in Ayodhya for the construction of a mosque.
“Simultaneously, with the handing over of the disputed property to the Trust or body, a suitable plot of land admeasuring 5 acres shall be handed over to the Sunni Central Waqf Board,” the judgment said, adding: “The land shall be allotted either by the Central Government out of the land acquired under the Ayodhya Act 1993 or the State Government (UP) at a suitable prominent place in Ayodhya.”
The Central government and the state government “shall act in consultation with each other to effectuate the above allotment in the period stipulated (three years)”, the verdict said.
The bench explained in its landmark judgment that the dispute was over immovable property and the court “does decide title on the basis of faith or belief but on the basis of evidence.”
“The Constitution does not make a distinction between the faith and belief of one religion and another. All forms of belief, worship and prayer are equal,” it continued.
Citing historical records and reports of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and various other materials, the court stated: “The evidence indicates that despite the existence of a mosque at the site, Hindu worship at the place believed to be the birth-place of Lord Ram was not restricted.
“The existence of an Islamic structure at a place considered sacrosanct by the Hindus did not stop them from continuing their worship at the disputed site and within the precincts of the structure prior to the incidents of 1856-57. The physical structure of an Islamic mosque did not shake the faith and belief of Hindus that Lord Ram was born at the disputed site.
“On the other hand, the learned counsel fairly stated that the evidence relied on by the Sunni Central Waqf Board to establish the offering of namaz by the Muslim residents commences from around 1856-57.”
The judgment also referred to a railing that had been set up in 1857 by the British around the disputed structure of the mosque in response to disputes over the Hindus’ demand to worship inside the precincts of the mosque.
“This furnished the context for the riots which took place between Hindus and Muslims in 1856-57. The construction of a brick wall by the colonial administration was intended to ensure peace between the two communities with respect to a contested place of worship,” the judgment said.
The apex court also dismissed the three-way bifurcation of the land ordered by the Allahabad High Court in 2010 on grounds of it being “legally unsustainable”.
“Dividing the land will not subserve the interest of either of the parties or secure a lasting sense of peace and tranquility,” it concluded.
The judgment thus marked the culmination of a 70-year-old legal battle over a hugely sensitive matter that had been dominating the nation’s political discourse since the 1980s.
Later in the day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed the Supreme Court verdict. In a televised address to the nation, he said: “This controversy may have affected many generations, but after this decision, we have to make a resolution that now a new generation will start building a new India… This decision of the Supreme Court has brought a new dawn for us.”
“The verdict of the Supreme Court … gives the lesson to move united on the path of progress,” he added.
Veteran BJP leader and former Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani – the man who played a pivotal role in bringing the Ram Janmabhoomi movement to the political centre-stage – said that while he felt “vindicated” after the Supreme Court verdict, it was time to “leave all contention and acrimony behind” and embrace communal harmony.
After all, he was the face of hardline Hindutva back in the nineties when he led many yatras countrywide to push forward the Ram temple issue.
“I join all my countrymen in wholeheartedly welcoming the historic judgment … and feel deeply blessed that the Supreme Court has given its unanimous verdict paving the way for the construction of a magnificent temple for Lord Ram at Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya,” the 92-year-old politician said.
While the apex court’s verdict undoubtedly had the approval of the vast majority of the country, including leaders from across the political spectrum, the victory was not celebrated in a manner that could hurt sentiments of the minority. Even in Ayodhya, there was more a sense of relief and happiness in the air rather than boisterous jubilation. The few who indulged in bursting of fire crackers were stopped immediately by the police.
“We are happy that the Ram temple will finally be built and there is no need to make a loud expression of our happiness. We are happy and we do not need to prove it,” said Ram Kumar, a ‘prasad’ seller at the famous Hanuman Garhi temple.
Shalini Kumari, a devotee from Ambedkar Nagar, said that she would now see the Ram temple in her lifetime. “My cousin Ravi was among those died in the 1992 riots after the demolition and the verdict will make his soul rest in peace.”
In Karsevakpuram, the scene was a little more jubilatory than elsewhere as locals exchanged sweets. “It is a moment of triumph for everyone who participated in the temple movement. Our stand has been vindicated,” VHP spokesman Sharad Sharma said.
However, the verdict also received criticism from certain quarters.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) President Asaduddin Owaisi termed the judgment as a victory of “faith over facts”. Speaking to the press, he pointed out those who had demolished the Babri Masjid were entrusted with the land to build the Ram temple. “If Babri Masjid was not demolished on December 6, 1992, what would have been the judgment of the Supreme Court?” he asked.
The Hyderabad MP endorsed the dissatisfaction of All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) with the judgment. “We were fighting for legal right. We don’t need 5 acres land in charity. Muslims are poor, weak and they have been discriminated against but they can build a mosque on their own,” he said.
Expressing apprehension that the Sangh Pariwar might use this judgment in cases of many other mosques on which they have claims, Owaisi cautioned that the country was heading on the path of a “Hindu rashtra”. “Sangh Pariwar and BJP have been saying that the road to Hindu rashtra road starts from Ayodhya. They now want to bring NRC, Citizenship Amendment Bill. In fact, Modi 2.0 is to make India a Hindu rashtra,” he said.
Owaisi contended that a mosque “was there, is there and will always be there” and that there can be no compromise on it. “Will tell our generation that mosque stood there for 500 years but on December 6, 1992 it was demolished under Sangh Pariwar and Congress conspiracy. The Supreme Court was betrayed. What happened on December 6, 1992 was not an issue of Muslims alone. The very foundations of secularism were shaken. Calling it vandalism is understatement,” he said.
Union Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi dismissed Owaisi’s statements, saying they were coming from a “Talibani mindset” that had “no trust in the Constitution or judiciary of the country” .
“Ayodhya verdict is out, we must not see it as a win or loss for someone. This legal verdict must be saved from bewailing as a ‘loss’ or from celebrations of a ‘win’,” Naqvi said in a video message shared on his Twitter handle, adding that peace and harmony were India’s centuries-old legacy, which people must uphold.
Owaisi has not been the only one to agitate.
The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), the second biggest ally of the Congress-led United Democratic Front, also called the Ayodhya verdict as hurtful.
Speaking to the media soon after IUML’s national leadership meeting in Malappuram, Kerala, senior party MP P.K.Kunhalikutty said: “It’s a very disappointing verdict due to various reasons. There are lot of contradictions in it and hence more discussions are needed on what needs to be done.”
Up in New Delhi, on the night of the same day that the verdict was announced, a group of youth, claiming to be students of Jamia Millia Islamia and Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), gathered at JNU campus and made provocative speeches against the Supreme Court.
With about 50 youth in attendance at the “protest” against the Supreme Court judgment, speakers at the gathering made highly critical remarks against the judicial system, the authorities and the political parties of the country. The main speaker identified himself as Sharjeen but did not specify his university or course.
However, while the speakers at the “protest” targeted Hindus, they were repeatedly interrupted by another group of students celebrating the Ayodhya verdict right opposite to this gathering, with chants of “Jai Shri Ram”.
On its part, the government has been leaving no stone unturned to ensure that the verdict does not disturb communal harmony across the country.
Just a day after the Ayodhya judgment, National Security Advisor Ajit doval held a meeting at his residence of religious leaders cutting across faiths. Among those present in the meeting were Shia Cleric Maulana Kalbe Jawad, Swami Chidanand Saraswati, Baba Ramdev, Swami Parmatmanand, Naved Hamid of Majlis-E-Mushawarat and Salim Engineer of Jamat-E-Islami Hind.
In an overwhelming consensus at the meeting, the attendees acknowledged that the situation after the Ayodhya verdict may be exploited by “anti-national” forces both within the country and outside, with a subtle reference to Pakistan without naming it.
“Those attending the meeting were aware of the fact that certain anti-national and hostile elements, both within and outside the country, may attempt to exploit the situation to harm our national interest. The religious leaders pledged their unstinted support to the government in all measures it may take to maintain peace and order,” said a statement.
Those present at the meeting also reposed full faith in the rule of law and the Constitution of India and extended their full co-operation to the government in ensuring peace and communal harmony and upholding the rule of law.
The apprehensions about anti-national forces were not unfounded.
Soon after the Supreme Court verdict, the Pakistan Foreign Office had issued a statement expressing its “deep concern”.
The Foreign Office spokesperson said: “This decision has shredded the veneer of so-called secularism of India by making clear that minorities in India are no longer safe; they have to fear for their beliefs and for their places of worship … A process of re-writing history is underway in India in order to recast it in the image of a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ in pursuance of the Hindutva ideology.It is also fast affecting India’s major institutions.”
The Ministry of External Affairs issued a swift and firm rebuttal for Pakistan by saying that the judgment “pertains to the rule of law and equal respect for all faiths, concepts that are not part of their ethos”.
“So, while Pakistan’s lack of comprehension is not surprising, their pathological compulsion to comment on our internal affairs with the obvious intent of spreading hatred is condemnable,” the statement read.
NOT ALL DONE
Besides, the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue itself is not quite over yet.
Many prominent Muslims in Ayodhya have expressed reservations about accepting the five-acre land that the Supreme Court verdict has instructed the government to offer their community.
Maulana Badshah Khan, president of Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind in Ayodhya who was a party in the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi case from the Muslim side, said: “We fought the case for the Babri Masjid land, not for any other land. We don’t want any other land for mosque anywhere, and instead, we offer that land too for Ram Mandir.”
Maulana Jalal Ashraf, a local cleric, pointed out that if the Muslims wanted to build a mosque, they could do so on their own. “We are not dependent on any government. If the court or government wants to assuage our sentiments, then the 5-acre land must be given within the acquired area as land marked as graveyards and a ‘dargah’ was also acquired.” he said.
Iqbal Ansari, who was also the main litigant in the case, added: “If they want to give us land, they must do so according to our convenience and only in that acquired 67-acre land.”
In fact, before the verdict came in, many prominent Muslim community leaders were under the impression that if they lost the case, they would be given land in the acquired area on the basis of provisions in the Ayodhya Act 1993, facilitating acquisition of 67.7 acres in and around the disputed site where the Babri Masjid stood till December 6, 1992. The Central government had done so in order to check communal tension.
However, according to administrative sources, their demand now is highly unlikely to be accepted as there is no land available in the Ayodhya town. Uttar Pradesh government authorities have begun scouting for “a prominent place” as per the apex court’s orders, only time will tell whether a mutually agreeable solution could be arranged between the Muslim community and the government.
Yet from here on, the Modi government and the political leadership of India as a whole need to uncompromisingly uphold the spirit of secularism – not just in words but in action – to ensure enduring communal harmony in this incredibly vast and diverse land.