It took less than one hour for Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi to give the unanimous verdict of the five-member Supreme Court bench, which heard the decades-old Ramjanambhoomi-Babri Masjid case. The whole disputed land of 2.77 acres will go to the Hindus while the Muslims will be granted five acres of land in a prominent but separate area in Ayodhya.
The Central Government will have to appoint a board of Trustees with representatives from some of the disputants, excluding, of course, Muslim bodies, within three months on how the disputed area is to be administered or used for construction or other purposes. In short, construction of a “magnificent” temple where the Babri Masjid stood till 1992 can begin as early as the Central Government wants. At least, there is no mistaking about it.
The Muslims will have to be satisfied with five acres of land where they can build a mosque. Of course, they are entitled to believe that the demolition of the Masjid in 1992 was an act of violence and against the law of the land.
Another matter of satisfaction for them is that the surreptitious bringing of an idol into the mosque in 1949 was found illegal. At one time it was argued that the idol manifested itself in the mosque. The district magistrate of the area in which Ayodhya fell made a political capital out of it even becoming a member of Parliament.
The court did not find any evidence that the Babri Masjid was built by demolishing a temple. Of course, the court relied on the findings of the Archaeological Survey of India that the Masjid was built on some debris. This absolves the Muslims of the charge that they demolished a shrine to build another one.
On their part, the Muslims could not prove that they were in continuous possession of the disputed land. The court referred to the evidences produced before it that even during the British period, the Hindus were allowed to pray in the corridor outside. In fact, a small railing separated the two religionists offering their own, separate prayers.
The court relied on the fact that people have always believed that Ayodhya was the birthplace of Lord Ram. Of course, it did not say that people have always believed that the exact spot where the Lord was born was in the disputed area. While saying this, the court reiterated the point that the Muslims should not be deprived of their right to a plot of land where they could build a mosque.
By the way, the Narasimha Rao government which willy-nilly allowed the demotion to happen in 1992 had promised to rebuild the mosque and hand it over to the community. One does not know whether the government would not only identify and allot five acres of land but also help the Muslims build a mosque there.
Is the present verdict an improvement on the verdict the Allahabad High Court had given earlier? An answer to this question depends on how you look at it. The High Court had ordered giving two-thirds of the disputed land to the Hindus and the rest to the Muslims. Now the whole land has been given to the Hindus.
If you remember the dispute, the mediators and even the Hindu organisations have, right from the beginning, been offering alternative land to the Muslims. From that point of view, the verdict can under no circumstances be described as path-breaking. Then, what is the difference?
The verdict of the Supreme Court is supreme because there is no other court above it. That is why what it pronounces has a finality to it. Thankfully, there was a change in the attitude of the Hindu organisations which spearheaded the Ayodhya agitation.
Earlier, their position was that if the judgement was not in their favour, they would choose the legislative route which meant that they would expect the government to pass a law to give the Hindus the right to manage the disputed land and build a “magnificent” temple. A model that was followed in the case of Article 370 of the Constitution!
This time they were willing to accept the court verdict unconditionally. Whatever be the case, they took a stand which could not be faulted. Muslims had no objection to a judicial verdict.
More important, all political parties and religious and semi-religious organisations have been appealing to the people to keep calm and not take any provocative steps like victory processions or shouting of provocative slogans. All this resulted in the conditioning of the people to appreciate the verdict whatever it might be.
Thus, when the Chief Justice began reading out the premises leading to the operative portions of the verdict, there was relative peace all over the country. In fact, people seemed to be more than willing to accept the verdict. It is significant that unlike the Allahabad High Court verdict which had a dissenting note, all the five judges who heard the case gave a unanimous verdict. This also added to the glory of the verdict.
For the Chief Justice retiring this month from the highest judicial post in the country, it must be a matter of satisfaction that he was able to resolve what appeared to be an intractable dispute. There may not be such a case in the annals of the world. Certainly not in India!
Many people think that the dispute began when the BJP, which suffered an electoral setback in 1984 winning only two seats in the Lok Sabha, saw in Ayodhya a window of opportunity to revive its political fortune.
That is when LK Advani, who replaced AB Vajpayee as BJP chief, adopted Ayodhya as a political slogan. It paid him and the party rich political dividends. The rest is history.
As regards the dispute, it preceded even the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, now called the First War of Independence. There were occasions when even the British tried in vain to settle the dispute amicably. Permitting the Hindus to worship outside of the mosque was one such solution.
What is significant, as underlined by the Supreme Court verdict, is that neither the Hindus nor the Muslims had the necessary documents to substantiate their respective claims. They relied on such doctrines as continued possession of land as proof of ownership.
The court seems to have turned down such arguments for it wanted definitive proof. It had 40,000 pages of documents, some of them in Persian, which was the court language during the Mughal period, to go through before reaching the conclusion.
Why it took nearly nine years to pronounce a verdict after hearing the arguments for and against continuously for 40 days was the need to translate these documents into languages the judges could understand. In short, it was a very laborious process.
Anyway, the taste of the pudding is in the eating. The apex court was able to resolve the centuries-old dispute amicably. It is not necessary that a judicial verdict should find acceptance by all the concerned parties.
In the present case, the court has shown great foresight in appealing to the finer sensibilities of the general public. Come to think of it, Ayodhya was one issue which had been troubling the nation for long. Thousands of people have lost their lives all over the country in incidents related to this dispute. The riots of 1992 in Mumbai and elsewhere had a disastrous effect even on the economy.
India became a laughing stock in the comity of nations. While countries like China were achieving double-digit growth rates, we were caught up in a fight over who owned a 2.7 acre plot in an ancient city. As I write this, there is peace in the country. The security measures the government has taken have kept the mischief makers under control. They should not get any leeway.
In a judicial verdict, there is no victor or vanquished. The court goes by the evidence placed before it. It does not have either the sixth sense or extraterrestrial powers to know what happened 500 years ago.
(Published on 11th November 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 46)