The Chief Justice of India last week offered mediation by a Supreme Court judge, not excluding himself, in the Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid dispute that has remained unresolved for the past 70 years. The matter has, in fact, been hanging fire in the Supreme Court for six years.
It took everyone concerned with the dispute by big surprise when the CJI observed, during a hearing, that it was in the best interest of everyone that the matter was taken up for an out-of-court settlement, given the deep emotions involved in the issue by both contending parties. The CJI invoked the 'give-and-take' spirit to find a solution to such a sensitive matter. The CJI’s observation has been, by and large, welcomed by the broad spectrum of political establishment having a stake in the issue. The BJP, the RSS and other outfits of Sangh Parivar have expressed their willingness to carry the matter forward for a negotiated settlement. However, a set of Muslim bodies have been cautious about this offer.
What is then the stumbling block?
Isn’t the apex court-mediated solution a good idea to the long-pending dispute? Well, theoretically yes, but the ground reality gives a different picture. In the seven decades since Independence, a host of compromise formulas have been brought to the negotiating table, but they have virtually come to nought. Since it is a matter of faith, not legal evidence, no contending party is ready to lower its guard lest it is discredited by its core, rather militant, support base. The competitive populist stance has demonstrated the limitations of the negotiations so far.
Will this scenario change if a Supreme Court judge, instead of the top executive of the government — say, the prime minister — is the presiding officer at the negotiating table? Will that facilitate the emergence of a new give-and-take formula? Or is it that in the changed scenario some of the old proposals that did not earlier find favour with one or both sides will suddenly appear reasonable and acceptable to all?
Will the inspiring presence of a senior judge make the difference?
Why then is the please-all — rather, displease-none — judgment of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court (2010) not acceptable to all? After all, the high court had found a solution by way of mediation rather than any legal assertion. In the absence of any viable legal evidence adduced by either of the contending parties, the Lucknow bench accepted that the location of the makeshift temple in the disputed land at Ayodhya was the birthplace of Lord Ram "as per faith and belief of the Hindus", but asked for a three-way partition of the land keeping in view the historical circumstances in which Hindus and Muslims had used the site.
The high court tried to assuage the Hindu sentiment; at the same time, it did not want to leave the Muslims in the lurch. It offered a solution in a manner that neither of the contending parties could claim outright victory; this was a virtually mediated, rather than a legal solution. The positive spin-off of that verdict was that it outraged none and it prevented a further spiral of communal polarisation and violence.
It is true that both Hindu and Muslim groups, in the absence of complete vindication of their respective stands, were not quite happy with the verdict; therefore, both chose to move to the apex court to challenge it. The Supreme Court is seized of the matter since 2011. The mediation offer from the Supreme Court has come after a lapse of six years.
What does it suggest?
It appears that the Supreme Court, after perusing the available documents submitted by the opposing parties to muster their claim, does not find a purely legal basis to pronounce the verdict. The high court had faced a similar situation in the last decade. It had then found a way out by offering a compromise formula — that the disputed land would be divided into three equal parts, two parts being offered to Hindu plaintiffs and a third to the Muslim Waqf Board.
The Supreme Court has stayed the verdict of the Lucknow bench but it has not ventured a compromise formula of its own. Perhaps, it does not want to find itself in an embarrassing position, as was the case with the high court, by offering an extra-legal solution that might or might not find favour with one or both the disputing parties. The Supreme Court is therefore seeking a way out in an out-of-court settlement.
Isn’t it a fact that a mediated solution is a mirage that we have been chasing since the days of Jawaharlal Nehru and Govind Ballabh Pant in the late 1940s when the Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Mosque dispute cropped up? Indira Gandhi too had burnt her fingers in the heat of the dispute and found no middle ground. VP Singh and PV Narasimha Rao had also set up committees for finding a mediated solution to the problem, but to no avail.
Ever since the matter has been sub judice, there has been a lull in the Ram Janambhoomi movement. It is partly because the issue has lost much of its potency as a tool of Hindu mobilisation. It has also partly to do with the fact that the BJP and the Sangh Parivar as a whole have become lukewarm to the idea as they have already achieved political success riding on the plank of development.
In the absence of any Hindu religious consolidation, there is no counter-movement by the Muslim outfits either. It ensures that peace prevails on that front.
Why then incite passions again by reopening the wound? We must realise that there are some intractable problems, especially those based on faith and religion, that cannot be resolved by dialogue, as neither party would like to be seen as letting down the best interest of the community it represents. There are extremists on either side who would paint any give-and-take to reach a solution as a virtual sellout. In the absence of any unimpeachable legal evidence, the case is also not amenable to any strictly judicial adjudication.
The best option for the Supreme Court then is to lie low. Sometimes one can tide over, or manage, some intractable problems by sleeping over them rather than losing sleep over them. The apex court has, in fact, not delivered judgment on numerous cases for decades. There is nothing wrong if another case is added to the long list. That would, in fact, be in the best interest of the country and its communal peace.
Updated Date: Mar 27, 2017 10:26 AM