The verdict in the Ayodhya title suit faces criticism for banking more on faith and belief than on historical evidence.in Lucknow and Ayodhya
RIGHT through the run-up to the announcement of the verdict by the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court in the six-decade-old title suit on the disputed land in Ayodhya on which the Babri Masjid once stood, there was little doubt that the judgment would be a historic one. It was widely expected to have a lasting impact on Indian society, especially in terms of its politics and judiciary. But when the actual pronouncement came on September 30 through three separate judgments from Justices Dharam Veer Sharma, Sudhir Agarwal and Sibghat Ullah Khan, after a six-day delay resulting from an intervention by the Supreme Court such expectations were belied, especially on account of the manifold dimensions of the verdict. While its social and political effects were indeed evident across the country, its most striking impact was on the structure of established judicial practice.
Debates in several forums pointed out that the tools of jurisprudence employed by the judges in formulating the verdict marked a significant departure from the usual structure of judicial practices. Central to this perception is the use of faith and belief as vital factors influencing the judgments, especially on a question relating to a title suit in a property dispute. These two amorphous categories clearly got precedence in the judgments over other material factors such as title deeds. This departure from accepted norms and procedures of judicial practice is expected to have wide-ranging social and political consequences.
In brief, the majority verdict from the three judgments is as follows: That the disputed land in Ayodhya be divided into three equal parts among the parties to the dispute, namely, Ram Lalla (Infant Ram), represented by his Sakha (or close friend) Triloki Nath Pandey; the Nirmohi Akhara, which has staked its claim to the property since 1885 and ran a place of worship on the premises; and the Sunni Central Waqf Board, which claimed to have had possession of the disputed structure and the land around it since the 16th century.
While putting forward this three-way division, the verdict also held that the place under the central dome of the demolished Babri Masjid is the birthplace of Ram as per the faith and belief of Hindus and hence should belong to Hindus as represented by Pandey. A makeshift temple of Ram has existed there since December 6, 1992, the day the Babri Masjid was demolished.
Justice Sharma, who accepted and decreed the suit made on behalf of Ram Lalla, completely held, along with the certification of the place under the central dome of the masjid as the birthplace of Ram, that place of birth is a juristic person and is a deity. It is personified as the spirit of divine worshipped as birthplace of Lord Rama as a child. Spirit of divine ever remains present everywhere at all times for anyone to invoke at any shape or form in accordance with his own aspirations and it can be shapeless and formless also. The other two judges, too, agreed that Ram was a juristic person and possession entitled him to hold the title. Thus, in principle, there was unanimity on Ram holding joint possession and, hence, the title.
Justice Agarwal, who wrote the lengthiest judgment, running into 21 volumes and more than 5,000 pages, quoted from the Rig Veda: During the Dissolution, there was neither existence nor non-existence, and at that time neither Lok (world) was there nor was anything beyond the space. What encompassed all at that time? Where was the abode and of whom? What was the unfathomable and deep water?.... None knows and none can tell as to from where and how the Creation took place, because even the scholars or those having foresight, were born after the Creation. Hence, none knows the source of this Creation.
After firmly affixing legality to faith and belief, the majority verdict also held that the disputed structure was constructed by Babar. Justice Sharma went one step further and said it was built against the tenets of Islam and could not have the character of a mosque.
The verdict also referred to a controversial report of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) stating that a massive Hindu religious structure existed earlier at the spot of the masjid. The verdict, however, accepted that the idols were placed under the middle dome of the disputed structure on the night of December 22-23, 1949.
The immediate political impact of the verdict imparting legality to faith and belief and anointing the place where the central dome of the Babri Masjid stood is all too evident. It has come as a shot in the arm for the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar, of which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the principal opposition party in the country, is a part. Though the constituents of the Sangh Parivar have been, by and large, moderate in their reactions, the Hindutva combine clearly perceives it as landmark event that has considerably dulled, if not negated, the stigma of the demolition of the Babri Masjid it undertook in December 1992.
The Congress, which leads the ruling coalition at the Centre, while welcoming the judgment, asserted that the demolition of the Babri Masjid was a criminal act. Home Minister P. Chidambaram was given the responsibility of doing this even as his Ministry successfully ensured the maintenance of law and order across the country.
The mood of elation within the Sangh Parivar was initially muted but got increasingly strident as the days passed. A reflection of this is available in the statements of Sangh Parivar leaders. In any case the Ram Janmabhoomi movement has been vindicated through the judgment. The need for building a Ram temple has been accepted at the higher levels of the judiciary and through it in the nation as a whole, said Acharya Giriraj Kishore, international vice-president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which was the sword arm of the Sangh Parivar during the Ayodhya agitation.
Despite such political dimensions, the verdict evoked appreciation from several quarters for presenting what was seen as the best possible formula to solve the long-standing dispute. Former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee described the verdict as one marked by judicial statesmanship. The votaries of the best possible formula in the given circumstances also made a case for immediate intervention of the Central government to initiate negotiations among the three parties to arrive at an out-of-court settlement.
Talking to Frontline, Indra Bhushan Singh, advocate of the Lucknow High Court and long-term observer of the politics over Ayodhya, seconded the idea of the Central government intervening for a negotiated settlement. What the High Court has done is to suggest building of a wall of harmony in Ayodhya, with inscriptions of Lord Ram on the one side and of Allah on the other. It is possible in present-day India to do it if the powers that be take the right initiatives, he said.
The BJP, too, in keeping with the moderate role it has chosen to play within the Sangh Parivar, responded on similar lines. The party welcomed the verdict and stated: Insofar as the judgment upholds the right of Hindus to construct a temple at the Garbh-Grih (sanctum sanctorum), it is a significant step forward towards the construction of a grand temple at the birthplace of Lord Rama.
The opinion of the ASI and other expert agencies engaged by it was that there were remains of a Hindu religious structure where the disputed structure stood. The BJP believes that this verdict opens a new chapter for national integration and a new era for inter-community relations. Party leaders such as Ravi Shankar Prasad added that this new chapter could be made possible through the intervention of the Central government.
However, the reactions from parties involved in the dispute as well as some of their associate organisations did not raise much hope about such intervention. All the three parties in the dispute decided to appeal in the Supreme Court against the verdict. The Sunni Central Waqf Board and its associate, the Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC), which have had the biggest reversal on account of the verdict's acceptance of the birthplace of Lord Ram, have already initiated moves to go in appeal.
The Nirmohi Akhara is planning the same. Talking to Frontline from Ayodhya, Raja Ramachandra Acharya pointed out that the court verdict did not accord enough land for the construction of a proper temple for Ram. They have suggested three-way divisions of a mere 1,500 square yards of land. How can we build a bhavya mandir (majestic temple) in that much land? he asked. The VHP, too, made a similar statement. Its international general secretary Pravin Togadia reiterated the Hindutva organisation's long-standing position that there could be no mosque in the area that extended up to the chaudhakosi parikrama. This means no mosque can be built in an approximately 10-kilometre radius of the disputed site.
Nritya Gopal Das, president of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas Samiti, told Frontline that while his organisation welcomed the verdict, it would go to the Supreme Court to get the one-third part of the land given to the Sunni Central Waqf Board.
Ground-level reactions from the twin cities of Ayodhya and Faizabad are overwhelmingly sceptical about the three-way division of the site. Many residents belonging to Hindu, Muslim and Sikh communities were unanimous that the division and the subsequent building of a temple and a mosque in close proximity to each other was a sure-fire recipe for conflict.
The effort of the judges to go beyond law and bring about something close to a negotiated settlement has little chance of working. In fact, it will complicate matters, said Khaliq Ahmed Khan, a resident of Faizabad. In Ayodhya, Ram Prakash Gupta, a shopkeeper, aired the same view: They could have decided one way or the other. This tightrope walk is bound to create permanent tension once the construction actually begins.
It is evident that implementing the judgment or even using it as an instrument for negotiations is easier said than done. The use of faith and belief as legal categories is bound to be debated in great detail in the coming days and to face intensive critical assessment. The criticism of the same in the days immediately following the judgment was by and large confined to jurists and legal observers.
Among political parties, the Mulayam Singh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (S.P.) questioned the logic of the High Court and said legal verdicts should be adopted on the basis of the Constitution and not on the basis of faith and belief. He went on to say that the judgment was tantamount to cheating Muslims of their rights. The S.P. president could well have his eyes set on reclaiming the Muslim vote bank that he seems to be losing to the Congress, but the fact remains that he has made a point that has wide credence among large sections of the judiciary.
The social and political ramifications of the verdict are bound to result in trying times for the Congress at the Centre. For it is only a matter of time before the more aggressive sections of the Sangh Parivar relaunch their agitation for the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya. The verdict has given these organisations a new weapon and a new energy. On the other hand, there is also the possibility of some sections of Muslims getting more and more involved in militant activities in response to a verdict that many feel denied the community its just rights.
The saving grace has been the sober and peaceful reaction from large sections of the community. But informed sources in intelligence agencies in Uttar Pradesh said that they were already worried that sleeping terrorist modules of jehadist groups in the State would use the climate created by the judgment to make a few strikes.
Clearly, the verdict has not done much to mitigate the Ayodhya imbroglio. On the contrary, the bizarre use of faith and belief as legal categories and the consequences thereof may actually add to the muddle.