Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid dispute: Negotiated settlement is music to ears, but may not cut through complexity of case

Shouldn’t courts judge cases solely on the basis of evidence? Yes. But what if evidence is not much beyond faith, belief and contestable historical facts? The Supreme Court’s call for an amicable, negotiated settlement to the Ram Temple-Babri Masjid dispute is reasonable.

Supreme Court. Reuters

Supreme Court. Reuters

However, any typical evidence-driven decision on the matter is not only difficult to arrive at, it might also open the floodgates for similar litigations in future.

Chief Justice JS Khehar, heading a three-member bench of the Supreme Court, said the issue was one of sentiment and religion. Efforts should be made to employ moderators and hold meeting between the parties to the dispute. If there’s still no resolution possible then the court could come into picture. He was hearing an appeal from BJP leader Subramanian Swamy. The call for negotiation has been welcomed in some quarters.

So far so good. Now the big question: Is a negotiated solution possible to the long-running dispute which is so steeped in communal colour? Zafaryab Jilani of the Wakf Board is not exactly impressed with the court’s call. Either he is absolutely confident of a verdict in their favour – the board is an important party to the dispute – on the basis of evidence or he believes a negotiated settlement would not be a fair one acceptable to all.

Speaking to CNN-News 18, the counsel for Ram Lalla, Ranjana Agnohotri, also rejected the idea of a negotiation to settle the dispute. She said only a “verdict in favour of one party or an ordinance can solve the dispute”.

It is not that such an effort was not made earlier. But it yielded neither a result nor a way forward. In mid-2016, Mahanta Narendra Giri, president of All India Akhara Parishad met Hashim Ansari, the oldest litigant in the title suit. Both expressed hope of a mutually acceptable solution. Ansari has since passed away. Negotiations have stalled.

The Allahabad High Court’s verdict in 2010 was theoretically the best solution possible. Hearing the title suit, the Lucknow Bench of the court concluded that the Hindu and Muslim litigant were joint title holders to the plot measuring 2.77 acres and divided it equally between Nirmohi Akhara, Ram Lalla and the Sunni Wakf Board.

The order also held that the dome under which the idol of Ram Lalla has been placed at the point is the birth place of the latter. The court justified the later on the basis of ‘faith and belief of Hindus’. Unsatisfied with the verdict both parties moved the apex court.

How can a negotiation work when both sides want a clear verdict in their favour? Even a Supreme Court-backed negotiation, no matter how fair it sounds, may not provide a solution. If it is meant with the good intention of avoiding communal tension and letting no side feel cheated in the final deal it may not work. As for a definitive court verdict, it too is fraught with the risk of fostering a communal situation.

The problem lies with the evidence available. Which makes it difficult for the court to draw a conclusion that cannot be called prejudiced one way or the other. Are the Hindus going to accept it if the verdict is not in their favour? Imagine the shape the dispute would then take.

Now that a Hindu hardliner and vociferous Ram Mandir advocate like Yogi Adityanath is the chief minister of the state with a popular mandate to back him, the situation could be pretty unpleasant. If the Muslims lose the case, there is the possibility of them blaming the court for bowing to the pressure from the majority community.

To conclude, the temple-masjid dispute remains complicated. Negotiated settlement is music to the ears but it may not produce a solution.

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Updated Date: Mar 21, 2017 17:29:10 IST

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