Editor's note: This article was originally published on 17 October. It is being republished in light of the CJI Ranjan Gogoi-led Supreme Court bench being slated to deliver the verdict in the Ayodhya land dispute case on Saturday at 10.30 am.
Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan's brilliant performance as the counsel for the Muslim side drew praise in legal circles for its depth and breadth.
But equally noteworthy were his temper tantrums and his general scorn for the lawyers of the opposite side — being represented, among others, by the venerable K Parasaran.
Even the Bench was not spared of his courtroom misbehaviour when he, rather foolishly, let his anger get the better of him. In the process, he willy nilly allowed his 40 days performance to be defined not by the brilliance of his arguments bit by his anger management issues. Thus, it was that on the last day of hearing in Ayodhya-Babri Masjid land dispute he produced what looked like a scene straight from a Bollywood courtroom drama.
Dhavan dramatically tore up a document submitted by one of the Hindu parties in the presence of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and other four judges of the Bench. As part of a submission of evidence, the document was a property of the court and destroying it bordered on, if not contempt of the court, contempt for the court.
The document that Dhavan tore up was a map of Ram Janmabhoomi site that was taken from a book titled 'Ayodhya Revisited' written former IPS officer Kishore Kunal and was being presented by the Hindu Mahasabha to buttress their claim of pre-existence of the Ram Temple on the disputed site. However, the purely legal act of presenting a piece of evidence irked Dhavan to an extent that he not only opposed the presentation and acknowledgment of any such document but also tore it into pieces, leaving the entire courtroom shocked.
However, it was not for the first time that Dhavan — who had been passionately arguing for the Muslim side — has displayed his unruly behavior and theatrics. On 1 October, during the hearing, while the Hindu parties were making their submission, Dhavan and Meenakshi Aroram, representing the Muslim side, reportedly made several interruptions which led the bench to reprimand them.
As reported by The Times of India, when Dhavan and Arora constantly interrupted the Hindu parties' counsel K Parasaran and C S Vaidyanathan the bench said, "We are being told the same thing again and again as if there is no application of mind on this side (by the judges). This is no way to argue the case. It is impossible to complete arguments if it continues in this manner".
While the reprimand by the bench forced Dhavan to apologise, he nevertheless continued with his tactics to create a problem for Parasaran and Vaidyanathan.
"There was cacophony in the Supreme Court's biggest courtroom as Dhavan put the microphone to good use and attempted to drown Vaidyanathan's arguments. An irritated Vaidyanathan retaliated by increasing his pitch magnified manifold by the microphone, to protest Dhavan's constant interruptions. As a result, it became difficult to decipher who was saying what," The Times of India reported.
Dhavan's display of temper is not something new and has been on display on several other occasions in the past. In 2016, during the hearing of Sahara Chief Subrato Roy case, there was a serious argument between Dhavan and the then CJI TS Thakur, who was heading the bench that canceled the parole granted to Roy.
Following the argument, while Dhavan remained unrepentant, CJI Thakur, mincing no words, directed his displeasure over Dhavan's conduct. According to Economic Times, he said, "There are some senior advocates who are disrespectful to the court and play with its dignity. It was very unfortunate. We don't need respect from lawyers as much as the institution does but you can't go on brow-beating judges".
He added, "One may be very eloquent, scholarly but that doesn't mean he can browbeat the court. You should present your case politely. There should be a threshold of tolerance".
Apart from showing shocking rage in the courtroom, Dhavan's arguments in the present case were also bereft of logic on several occasions. In the first instance, on 25 September, the Muslim side questioned the authorship of the 2003 report of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Meenakshi Arora, also representing the Muslim parties, questioned the ASI report saying every chapter is attributed to an author but the summary has not been attributed to anyone. Adding to Arora's claim Dhavan had said that while "he has not forfeited his right to question the report but the evidence cannot be discredited after being accepted by the court".
However, a day later Dhavan apologised for the same. "It is not expected that every page is to be signed. The authorship of the report and the summary need not be questioned. If we had wasted my Lords' time, then we apologise for that. There is no point going into that. The report in question has an author and we are not questioning the authorship", said Dhavan.
In this context, the second instance where Dhavan's argument seemed to be self-contradictory was in his assertion that demolition won't take away mosque character and "Once a mosque, always a mosque".
According to a report in The Indian Express, Dhavan said, "The Babri Masjid was mosque by the user, and it was Sharia-compliant in build and architecture. Even demolition would not take away the character of a mosque, as even an open space can be masjid and therefore the site of Babri Masjid remains a mosque even today. Once a mosque, always a mosque. The property does not lose its character even if it has been abandoned and proper prayers are no longer offered".
Dhavan contended that counsels for Hindu parties have been "unable to establish that Ram was born in the area under the central dome (Babri Masjid)". If one accept this point that it has been not established that Ram was born in the area under the central dome (Babri Masjid" the fact remains that ASI report, (which has been accepted by the Supreme Court and Dhavan himself accepted that evidence cannot be discredited after being accepted by the court) had concluded that there was a massive structure resembling North Indian temples directly beneath the disputed structure.
Dhavan's argument is that "once a mosque, always a mosque" and the property does not lose its character even if it has been abandoned and proper prayers are no longer offered. So, if one applies the same argument to a temple, then the logical conclusion would be "once a temple, always a temple" and its demolition does not take away its character.
In this context by questioning the claim of Hindu parties, Dhavan contradicted his own argument. Hopefully Dhavan realises that he doesn't have the Arnab Goswami of the apex court to make his case. Because, bereft of his outbursts and tantrums it must be said that few could have defended the Muslim side's case better.
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Updated Date: Nov 08, 2019 22:20:51 IST