Ram Mandir issue about faith, not legality; SC's suggestion of out-of-court settlement not realistic

Ever since 6 December, 1992, the date on which the Babri Mosque at Ayodhya was demolished, Hindutva forces have installed a makeshift temple of 'Ramlala' (a childhood Lord Rama idol) at the supposed Ram Janmabhoomi site. As facts stand today, the place is under an extremely tight security cover, and every move is monitored by the court. And while it's true that the Ramlala idol cannot be removed from there, the only big question which remains to be answered by the court is whether a brick and mortar temple, featuring all its associated rituals, can be constructed here.

It's ultimately a matter of faith rather than legality that the highest court of the land is expected to pronounce a verdict on. And as it happens, both communities have taken positions which are too stiff to be negotiated.

The makeshift Ramlala idol in Ayodhya is under heavy security today. Reuters

The makeshift Ramlala idol in Ayodhya is under heavy security today. Reuters

Chief Justice of India JS Khehar's observations on Tuesday, while hearing a petition filed by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy, called for an early resolution of the dispute, suggesting an out-of-court settlement. Khehar also offered his services to both parties to help them arrive at a settlement. It's reflective of the dilemma which the apex court finds itself in, where a matter of faith will be decided using legal tools.

The CJI's observations have nothing to do with anything happening in the political arena, but the sheer timing of it does reignite the Ram Mandir debate, and does so with renewed vigour among both parties.

Let's look at the current political situation. BJP, the party that has been fighting for construction of a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, has governments at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh state, and enjoys a massive majority in both. Narendra Modi, who has organised the launch of LK Advani's 'Rath Yatra' in 1990 from Somnath is now Prime Minister of India, while Yogi Adityanath, a staunch proponent construction of the Ram Mandir, is now Uttar Pradesh chief minister. Adityanath is also the serving mahant or head priest of the Gorathnath Peeth, a stream of Hinduism whose successive heads have all been involved with the Ayodhya dispute.

In fact, the Ramlala idol had appeared "miraculously", or was placed "stealthily" inside the mosque during the course of a Ramcharitmanas recitation ceremony organised by Mahant Digvijaynath of Gorakhnath Peeth in December 1949. His successor Mahant Avaidyanath carried the baton with the same vigour. Yogi Adityanath is Avaidyanath's successor at Gorakhnath temple in Gorakhpur.

Therefore, the current situation in the country couldn't have been any more conducive for the construction of a Ram Temple. The BJP has maintained that the issue is one of faith and has refrained from taking a categorical position on administrative or legislative measures it plans to take. Even today, top party leaders, including party president Amit Shah, have said the resolution of the issue would be taken within the ambit of constitutionality. The party's vision document released ahead of Assembly election in Uttar Pradesh had also maintained the same position.

Advani, the original charioteer of Ram Rath Yatra, used to say, "Ayodhya has been an issue which has changed the political history of the country." It was indeed so. It catapaulted BJP from a negligible two-MP party in the Lok Sabha in 1984 to 85 in 1989, when it provided the crutches to the VP Singh government. It also was the issue that helped it become the single largest party by 1996. Elevation of a saffron-clad serving head of the Gorakhnath temple to chief minister of Uttar Pradesh could be yet another defining moment in Indian politics.

Now that the Supreme Court has gone a step forward, the question is if the central or state government take an initiative in appointing a person or committee to hold dialogues with the two communities.

Already, Zafaryab Jilani of the Babri Masjid Action Committee has not reacted favourably to Chief Justice Khehar's observation.

In  September 2010, a three-judge bench of the Allahabad High Court had ruled that the disputed 2.77 acre land be split into three parts — the site of the Ramlala idol would go to the party representing Ram Lalla Virajman (the installed infant Ram deity); Nirmohi Akahara to get Sita Rasoi and Ram Chabutara; and the Sunni Wakf Board to get the rest. The Supreme Court stayed that verdict.

The Centre had acquired 67 acres of land adjacent to the Ram Janambhoomi Babri Masjid site, but again any religious activity there was banned by the Supreme Court. Findings of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which conducted extensive excavations at the site in 2003 on orders of the high court, came to a conclusion that a temple-like structure existed there prior to the construction of the Babri Masjid. These findings were also placed before the high court and found a reference in the judgment.

All of this means that the Supreme Court's suggestion of an out-of-court settlement doesn't generate much hope, though it is a welcome move. In fact, such attempts have been made in the past as well. In November 1990, then Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar had formed a committee headed by an official from the Prime Minister's Office, and had invited Hindu and Muslim groups to hold dialogue and exchange evidence. But his government was far too short-lived to take this idea forward. His successor PV Narsimha Rao too tried to evolve mechanism to hold negotiation, but it was during his tenure that the mosque was demolished.

BJP's Atal Bihari Vajpayee's reign saw deputy Prime Minister LK Advani hold informal negotiations with leaders of the two communities, but the party was out of power by 2004 and that was the end of these conversations.

Since then, stress has been put on court verdicts to produce a settlement. The Supreme Court has now put the ball back in the government's court, asking the latter to find a negotiated solution. Interestingly, the government top brass have refrained from taking a position.

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Updated Date: Mar 21, 2017 18:22:09 IST

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