By K. Raveendran
The last minute volte face by the Muslim parties to the Ayodhya dispute rejecting the terms of the so-called settlement as reported by the mediation panel is a clear case of grandstanding meant to influence the court’s decision.
An agreed, settlement would have made the task of the constitutional bench headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi, hearing the over-fatigued case, easier as it would have removed a major hurdle in deciding the issue once and for all. But, obviously, the Muslim parties do not want that to happen.
The supposed U-turn fits into a pattern followed by the parties throughout the course of the dispute resolution process. This has been characterised by a one step forward, two steps backward approach by the parties, ensuring that the issue stays where it has been all these years.
The objection has been attributed to a ‘leak’ by mediation panel member and senior advocate Sriram Panchu, who has been accused of acting on behalf of Sunni Waqf Board chairman Zufar Faruqui. The advocates representing the Muslim parties have issued a joint statement, questioning the impartiality of the mediation panel.
There have already been several instances in the past when the parties expressed lack of confidence in the panel due to the known stand of some of its members. Firstly, objections were raised over the inclusion of Art of Living chief Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who has gone on record several times that the Hindu claim over the birthplace of Ram is most legitimate and that the Muslim side should concede. The yoga guru has been claiming that the only solution is for Muslims to give up their claim to the site and build another mosque in Ayodhya. He further provoked Muslim public opinion by warning in an interview ahead of his inclusion in the panel that India will turn into Syria if the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi controversy was not resolved soon.
Now the finger of accusation turns to Panchu, whose presence on the panel is on account of his pioneering efforts in promoting arbitration and alternative dispute resolution in India. Lawyers representing the Muslim parties are accusing Panchu of acting in unison with the Sunni Waqf Board chairman, who has apparently fallen out with the team representing the Muslim parties in the Supreme Court hearing.
Irrespective of what caused the new discord, the conditions for a clear verdict by the Supreme Court are more favourable than ever before. Also, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi has expressed his resolve in no uncertain terms that the constitutional bench wants to wrap things up this time around. The entire last leg of hearing was recalibrated for his retirement date, which falls on November 17, and the CJI was keen to ensure that the verdict was issued before that.
Notwithstanding the posturing of the Muslim parties ahead of the crucial stage of writing down the judgment, there is a sense of realism that the final decision in all probabilities will favour the Hindu parties, although there are imponderables as to whose claim among those groups would get more consideration.
Probably, the Muslims lost their cause on the day when a bench headed by the former chief justice Dipak Misra settled the issue on whether to refer the 1994 decision on what constitutes the essential form of Muslim worship to reconsideration by a larger constitutional bench. The Misra-led bench by a majority verdict decided that the 25-year old Ismail Faruqui decision on the issue was final and there is no need to re-visit the verdict.
The judgment came to the conclusion that praying in a mosque is not an essential part of Islam and namaz by Muslims can be offered even in the open. The decision had a major bearing on the Allahabad High Court award in the Ayodhya land dispute in September 2010, when a three-judge bench partitioned the disputed site among Hindus, Muslims and the Nirmohi Akhara. Fourteen appeals had been filed in the apex court against the Allahabad High Court judgment.
Since this is a settled issue, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi’s constitutional bench that just concluded hearing of the case has a major worry out of its way in arriving at a conclusion on the claims of different parties to the 2.77 acre land, where the Hindus believe Lord Ram was born. The three parties in the long pending dispute are the Sunni Waqf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla.
The marathon hearing that lasted 40 days is the second longest after the landmark Keshavananda Bharati case in 1973. Spread over 68 days, during which the doctrine of basic structure of the Constitution was established and is considered an all-time landmark case. Although the Ayodhya case has taken fewer days to complete hearing, its decision is bound to be no less epochal. (IPA Service)