The Supreme Court decision to order mediation by a three-member panel for a “permanent solution” to the politically-sensitive Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute will be tested for its efficacy over the next few weeks. It is doubtlessly a bold decision but it is debatable whether it has the potential to emerge as a panacea for bridging the chasm between the Hindus who regard the Ayodhya site as the birthplace of Lord Rama and the Muslims who seek retribution for the demolition by Hindu mobs of what they regarded as Babri Masjid in 1992.
Over the years, the positions of both the majority community torchbearers and those of the minority community have hardened even as the dispute has simmered. Finding common ground would indeed be no mean task.
The mediation process will be held in Faizabad on-camera but a five-judge bench of the apex court has barred media from reporting the proceedings. While the court has given eight weeks for the mediation panel to submit its report, the panel has been told to submit a status report in four weeks. The mediation is a huge challenge for the panel which comprises Justice FMI Kalifulla as chairperson and spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Chennai-based senior advocate Sriram Panchu as members.
Justice Kalifulla was a Supreme Court judge from 2012 to 2016, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is founder of the spiritually-moulded Art of Living Foundation in Bengaluru and Sriram Panchu is an expert mediation lawyer. Significantly, the Supreme Court order stemmed from appeals against the judgement of the Allahabad High Court of 2010, delivered in four civil suits, that the 2.77-acre land in Ayodhya be divided equally among the three parties to the dispute—the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.
While the directive not to report the proceedings of the mediation panel may stem media disclosures, that hardly obviates the possibility of widely differing positions that may be taken by the mediators. In the circumstances, a consensus within the panel may be very difficult to achieve. Even if a consensus is evolved, getting the Hindu and Muslim stakeholders to agree on a solution could well be a utopian goal.
Failing such a consensus within and outside the panel, there is every possibility that the apex court would be forced to take the case back in its fold and to deliver a verdict on it. Conceivably, the general elections across the country would by then be over and the element of posturing to please specific vote banks would be largely obviated. But there is no denying that a widely-acceptable solution a to the dispute appears a daunting task.