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Ram Mandir dispute: Why is SC suddenly pushing for an out-of-court settlement?

Sadiq Naqvi | Updated on: 22 March 2017, 8:30 IST
(Arya Sharma)

A few days before Diwali, in the small market overlooked by the Hanuman Garhi temple in Ayodhya, the locals were happy about how a news channel was airing a show on cleanliness in the temple town, instead of discussing the usual Babri Masjid-Ram Temple issue.

“The dispute has consumed this town. No development takes place here as everybody is obsessed with the dispute,” a local shopkeeper told this reporter.

“It is high time this dispute is solved or this town will continue to face the same apathy,” the shopkeeper added pointing towards garbage, that lay strewn in the lane.

Chief Justice of India JS Khehar’s observation on Tuesday, where he suggested an out of court settlement, and even offered to mediate, has opened up the proverbial pandora’s box.

It has also renewed hope for all those who are looking for a settlement of this dispute in Ayodhya and outside. The dispute has been a reason for several communal riots.

Justice Khehar, heading the three judge bench comprising of Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice SK Kaul, while hearing BJP MP Subramanian Swamy’s plea for an urgent hearing in the matter

"These are issues of religion and sentiments. These are issues where all the parties can sit together and arrive at a consensual decision to end the dispute. These issues are best decided jointly. All of you may sit together and hold a cordial meeting." In 2010, the SC had refused to entertain a plea for out of court settlement and asked the High Court to deliver it’s judgment.

However, there are clear divisions and lack of trust between both sides which could block any such new move. And this is not the first time such a solution is being talked about.

That the CJI should suggest an out of court settlement is interesting as a court decision on the title dispute would also an amicable end to the dispute. All the parties concerned have promised to abide by the court verdict.

BJP welcomes court's observation


The timing of the court’s observation and the way it has opened up the debate for such a solution is important. Yogi Adityanath, the head of the Gorakhnath Math in Gorakhpur has just been sworn in as the Chief Minister after the BJP won a massive mandate.

He has been a long term votary of a Ram Temple at the disputed spot. In fact, it was during a religious programme held by Mahant Digvijaynath of the Gorakhnath Peeth in 1949, when the Ramlalla idol, ‘miraculously’ appeared in the disputed complex.

PM Modi, too, was closely involved in the Rath Yatra in 1990 led by LK Advani, that flared tempers, leading to multiple riots and finally the demolition of the mosque on 6 December, 1992.

Expectedly, the BJP leadership, including the state government in UP and even Union Ministers have welcomed the court’s observation. Central Minister Mahesh Sharma says “CJI Khehar’s offer to mediate in the Ayodhya case for an out of court settlement is a welcome move. It was in national interest. We have always stood for Ram Mandir through Constitutional means and court suggestion is welcome.”

Chief Minister Adityanath, too, welcomed the move and offered assistance. “Settlement can be reached if parties decide to seat together and reach consensus. Whatever help is required from the state government’s end, will surely be extended.”

Now with the BJP government in place both in New Delhi and in Lucknow the party is under tremendous pressure from it’s supporters to deliver on this front.

However, it is this ‘consensus’ which has eluded the peaceful settlement of this dispute.


Previous efforts at mediation

“An out of court settlement is not possible,” says Zafaryab Jilani, the convenor of the Babri Masjid Action Committee. Jilani says the media and the BJP are going to town with mere observations made by the SC, even when the court has not passed any order. “Several attempts have been made in the past but failed,” Jilani says.

He details how, in 1986, the Shankracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham met Maulana Ali Miyan, then in 1990 when the then PM Chandrashekhar constituted a committee of the chief ministers. Again in 1992 right before the demolition of the mosque, the then PM Narsimha Rao sought to initiate deliberations through Subodh Kant Sahai. And then in 2003, when according to Jilani, the solution offered involved giving up three mosques in Ayodhya, Varanasi and Mathura.

“How can we give up the mosques? We can’t surrender, it is not allowed under Islamic jurisprudence,” he says adding how private talks are not possible and that the Court should finish hearing the case and come out with a judgment.

The matter has reached the Apex court after the 2010 verdict of the High Court which divided the 120x90 feet disputed area into three parts — Sunni Wakf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and the party representing Ram Lalla.

“Please remember Babri Masjid case is about title, which the Allahabad High Court wrongly decided as a partnership case. Hence the appeal in the Apex court. I hope Supreme Court decides the contempt petition pending since 1992,” AIMIM President Asaduddin Owaisi told the media.

However, other Muslim leaders seem positive. “I have been saying in my personal capacity that this issue should be sorted out amicably,” says Maulana Kalbe Sadiq, vice president of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.

“There should be solution which makes sure that the Hindus and the Muslims don’t feel hurt and there is no bloodshed,” he says.

Even Maulana Khalid Rashid Firangimahli says “There is no Muslim who would want that Ram Temple should not be built. But at the same time there is a need to accommodate the Babri Masjid.” And that it should be done within the laws and the Constitution. Firangimahli advocates that the two communities first build internal consensus. “But all proposals can only be discussed when two sides sit on the table.”

Even in Ayodhya, locals have been trying to push for an out of court settlement. “It seems that the court has taken cognisance of our petition and suggested an amicable settlement,” says Babu, a local tailor and politician who has been involved in pushing for an out of court settlement. The group is headed by a retired judge of the Allahabad High Court, Justice Palok Basu and has been meeting every month for the past several months.

“Recently we submitted a plea with signatures of more than 10,000 people from both communities which had a proposal to solve the dispute,” Babu says. He explains that the proposal involves the construction of a temple at the place where Ramlalla’s idol is placed in the disputed complex, a boundary wall around the area which the court has given to Muslims, and the construction of a mosque inside the periphery of the complex but away from the temple.

The proposal had earlier hit the VHP’s roadblock which wanted the mosque to be built outside the route of the 14 kos parikrama. However, now, Babu claims even senior BJP leader Vinay Katiyar, who has been involved in the Ram Mandir movement, is positive. The proposal also had the blessings of several local religious leaders including Mahant Gyan Das of the Hanuman Garhi temple.

“There should be attempts for an out of court settlement,” Gyan Das says. “We have been trying for a long time,” he told Catch adding how even Hashim Ansari, the oldest litigant in the case was for an amicable solution before he passed away last year. “Now that the court is also of the view that it be settled we must do something seriously,” Gyan Das says.

“When the petitioners in the case, the parties involved are not talking, what is the use of all this?” Jilani asks. “The court gave its observation on Subramanian Swamy’s plea. He is not even a party in the case,” he says.

“The AIMPLB and the Ram Mandir movement leaders would not like an out of court settlement. What would they do politics on if this is sorted out?” Babu asks.

First published: 21 March 2017, 23:12 IST