Twenty-five years after the demolition of the disputed structure in Ayodhya, there seems to be no end in sight to the Mandir-Masjid dispute. A legacy of the pre-Independence times, successive governments have woefully failed to appreciate fully the intense popular emotions at the heart of the dispute. Fearing the wrath of one or the other community, governments have avoided defusing this ticking time-bomb, hoping to push the matter under the carpet indefinitely. If the governments failed to decide the title dispute over a 2.77-acre piece of land over which stood the disputed 16th century structure, the courts were no better.
The matter had been pending in the UP courts for decades, but it was only due to the urgency induced by the post-demolition harvest of riots and violence in large parts of the country that the Allahabad High Court finally pronounced a verdict in 2110. That left both sides dissatisfied but the proponents of the Masjid felt a greater cause for grievance since the court had allowed exclusive ownership of a small portion for the construction of a sanctum sanctorum to the votaries of a Ram temple.
The appeal in the Supreme Court against the HC order has been pending disposal for seven years. It took prodding by the Ram temple advocates and by that gadfly Subramaniam Swamy for the apex court to list the matter for a quick disposal. A bench headed by the previous Chief Justice J S Khehar had fixed the matter for an early hearing. When on Tuesday, a three-member bench headed by CJI Dipak Misra took up the Ayodhya matter, the lawyers engaged by the Sunni Wakf Board and various other minority community organisations pleaded vociferously for a further adjournment.
Instead of seeing percentage in the early disposal of a dispute which has hung like the proverbial Damocles’ sword over the Hindu-Muslim relations for over seventy years, these worthies were determined to press the court for pushing it yet again on the back burner till 2019. The too-clever-by-half-ploy did not work with the court now scheduled to resume hearing in February next year. The pleaders for further deferring the case clearly had extra-judicial reasons underpinning their arguments. Fearing that the early disposal would allow the proponents of the temple to work up a popular emotional upsurge yet again ahead of the next general election, they sought to have the hearings put off till 2019. But as a widely respected lawyer on the opposite side argued, the judicial process cannot be hostage to political/electoral considerations.
What happens outside the court and which is not connected directly or indirectly to the title dispute in Ayodhya cannot be germane to the disposal of the appeal before the apex court. The inability of the politicians and religious leaders to find an amicable end to this eyesore on the always fragile tapestry of inter-faith relations leaves the highest court as the only valid arbiter in what, in the final analysis, has come to be reduced to a land dispute. Whatever the roadblocks one or the other disputant might create in the smooth hearing of the matter, a greater responsibility now vests with the highest court to try and adjudicate the title dispute once for all. Resort to evasions and airy-fairy ideas such as a national monument or an all-faith structure at the disputed site is unlikely to heal the wounds on either side.
Construction of a temple might not right the wrongs of history, but it might help settle the grudge match between the two communities. The Babri Masjid has never held a special place for the Muslims, but the place of its location is revered by millions of Hindus who believe that Lord Rama was born there. What is holy for one community, for instance, the hair of the beard of Prophet Mohammad in the Hazratbal shrine in Kashmir deserves to be granted due respect by members of other faiths. An accommodation by the Muslims in Ayodhya can do for communal relations what nothing else in the last 70 years has done – and what no court or executive order can ever hope to do. What is needed is Hindu and Muslim leaders of good faith and good sense. In fact, in that lack lie the origins of the Ayodhya dispute. No court can compensate for the absence of people of goodwill and peace, though for that reason alone no court can put off disposing off the long-pending Ayodhya dispute.