Sunday Guardian LiveSince the case went to Supreme Court in 2017, only supplementary arguments have been heard because of delaying tactics by lawyers and others. The original case is yet to be heard. – Sanjeev K. Nayak & Dibyendu Mondal

The three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court hearing the long-simmering Ram Janmabhoomi Babri Masjid dispute, on 20 July concluded listening to the arguments and reserved its order on whether a “supplementary matter” should be referred to a larger five-judge Bench or not. The matter pertains to a 1994 verdict of the Apex Court in the Ismail Faruqui vs Union of India case that the “mosque is not integral to Islam”. The judges, however, turned down the demand that the original dispute be also referred to a larger Bench.

Reviving this question 24 years after it was settled by a full five-judge Bench—that too as a supplementary one to an extremely sensitive case like this—has raised several eyebrows. The questions being asked are: what were the applicant and others concerned doing all these years if they were not satisfied with the judgement; and why is this being sought to be embedded into the Ram Temple case at a stage when final hearings are about to begin?

Those seeing in the move a means to delay the SC’s Ram Mandir verdict indefinitely, believe that the manner in which the arguments are being presented by some parties to the case clearly hints at a concerted effort to stretch the hearings as long as possible. Just when it is thought that the actual hearings in the case would start now, the lawyers appearing for these parties come up with some new or different perspective and forcefully present that as all-important, seeking to get the Court to spend a good amount of time on that angle.

Since it took up the politically explosive case on 11 August 2017, the three-judge Bench of Justices Dipak Misra (not Chief Justice of India then), Ashok Bhushan and S. Abdul Nazeer has only been hearing such supplementary arguments. So far, it has not been able to hold hearings into the actual case, which would have led it to pronounce a definite verdict within months, rather than years or perhaps decades. Moreover, the hearing sessions so far have been marred by “irrelevant requests, unnecessary submissions and personal remarks” by these lawyers, according to those following the case. Of course, this is disputed by the other side in a forceful way.

‘Political benefits’

The political motive behind ensuring an indefinite delay in the final Ram Mandir verdict is not too far to seek. Certainly, several political parties would like the judgement to be put off till after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, although they have no relations to the case in a legal sense. Prominent lawyer and Congress leader Kapil Sibal even went to the extent of directly filing a request before the Bench asking it to postpone the hearings till the elections are over. The Bench, however, turned it down and continued with the hearings.

In case the verdict, whenever it comes, goes as a consequence of facts in favour of the Ram Janmabhoomi protagonists, there is fear among Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s numerous antagonists that if the judgement comes before the elections, it would trigger a wave in the country which would benefit the BJP at the hustings and give the PM another term. A second Modi term is a nightmare for the Opposition, which they seek to avoid at all costs and in whatever way.

“The antagonists (to an early judgement), who include an extremely powerful lobby of lawyers and politicians, started adopting the delaying tactics when they realised that the hearing in the case is nearing completion and it won’t take much time for the Bench to deliver a final verdict”, claimed a lawyer who has been following the issue for decades. It is being alleged that the “indefinite delay” group even tried to influence the roster of the court in a way that cases went to particular judges. However, such an allegation overlooks the fact that judges are wholly impartial and may be expected to come to a finding based solely on the facts presented to them, rather than as a consequence of extraneous factors. The Indian judiciary stands tall in the comity of similar institutions worldwide for its depth and sincerity.

The Chief Justice of India is the Master of the Roster. That role of the present CJI too was challenged. However, the Bench hearing the case confirmed the supreme position of the CJI in the matter. Thus thwarted, the “indefinite delay” lobby helped launch an impeachment process against the CJI, another first in the nation’s history. But that too fell flat after the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha declined to entertain the motion on the basis of its “lack of merits”.

Not interfaith discord

Ironically, the general perception that the case is of an interfaith discord is basically a misconception. While scores of Muslim scholars are openly favouring a Ram Temple to come up at the disputed site in Ayodhya, the majority of their fellow communitarians are not in the least opposed to it. Only a handful of Wahhabi elements are leading the struggle to delay the SC verdict to the maximum extent possible. Even the Apex Court is hearing the case as a civil suit, and not as a communal conflict. It has to basically decide which of the claimants is the real owner(s) of the land in question.

It is heartening that though a small section of hardliners oppose the Ram Mandir, the overwhelming majority of Muslims of the country respect the overriding attachment of their Hindu brothers to the place where the latter believe that Lord Rama, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, was born. They want the dispute to be resolved amicably at the earliest for all time to come and live peacefully with the majority community, thereby isolating hardliners of both communities, who are thriving as a consequence of the dispute not getting resolved.

Echoing the sentiments of the majority of his community members, eminent Muslim scholar Dr Syed Rizwan Ahmed told The Sunday Guardian over phone from Lucknow that “in the inner core of our hearts, we all know that it (the disputed structure in Ayodhya) is not a mosque. I have read the history of Babri Mosque in great details and am scripting a movie on it.”

He said, “There was no mosque at the place where Hindus believe that Lord Ram was born. It was at Emperor Babar’s command that a mosque-like structure was brought up almost overnight at the same place. That’s why the mosque so built neither had the minar (towers) or nakkashi (carvings) as per Mughal or Persian architecture. So it cannot be considered a mosque. Even if Muslims get the land, they will not be able to build a mosque there.”

Favouring an out-of-court settlement to give fillip to brotherhood among the communities, Dr Ahmed added, “It’s an established fact that Muslims had invaded this country and destroyed the temples here. There is no harm for Muslims in admitting this historical fact, even apologise for that. So Muslims of this country should think prudently and hand over the land to Hindus on their own, rather than court pronouncing a verdict to that effect.”

Even the Uttar Pradesh Shia Waqf Board had told the Bench in clear terms that it wanted to settle the Ayodhya dispute peacefully and was willing to donate one-third of the land granted to Muslims by the Allahabad High Court to Hindus for building the Ram Temple. The Board contended that the custodian of the Babri Mosque was a Shia.

“There was never a mosque on that site in Ayodhya and there can never be a mosque there. It is the birthplace of Lord Ram and only a Ram Temple will be built. Sympathisers of Babar are destined to lose,” its chairperson Waseem Rizvi had told the court during his deposition at the 13 July hearing. Any delay in handing over the land to Hindus would only breed more communal hatred, he opined.

‘Not trying to delay’

Senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan, who has sought reference of the Ismail Faruqui case to a larger Bench, refuted the allegation of adopting diversionary tactics to delay the case. He told The Sunday Guardian, “There is no intention to delay the case. All we are saying is that we need to relook into the 1994 judgement which said masjid is not an essential part of Islam, and this has been our primary complaint.”

Appearing for M. Siddiq, an original litigant in the case who has died but is represented by his legal heir, it was sought to be clarified by the eminent advocate that “I have told the court that we are not trying to delay the matter. I did not support Kapil Sibal when he asked for deferring the matter till the general elections of 2019.”

“There was no occasion that arose in the past to ask for setting aside or calling for a modification in the 1994 case. I argued in court that Muslims have Article 25 (freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion) as part of their fundamental right and the argument given by the Hindu groups about pilgrimage sites being the only holy sites is not acceptable,” he explained.

Iqbal Ansari, son of another original litigant Hashim Ansari, told this newspaper, “We are hopeful that the judgement in this case will be delivered soon. We have given to the court all the evidences—right from the time when the idol of Ram Lalla was placed inside Babri Masjid in the late 1940s. It is now up to the court to decide whom the land belongs to.”

However, Ansari said he too agrees that the case should be heard by a larger Bench as it’s a very important matter that concerns the entire country. His counsel M.R. Shamshad said, “It should be heard by a larger Bench because the 1994 judgement was given by a five-judge Bench.”

Right to worship

But the protagonists of an early verdict, which would finally end the long-simmering dispute, are not amused. During its deposition at the 6 July hearing, the Uttar Pradesh government told the Bench that “some groups were trying to delay the hearing of this long pending case by raking up the 1994 judgement in the Ismail Faruqui case, in which the Supreme Court had already ruled that masjid is not an essential part of practice in Islam.”

Senior lawyer and BJP MP Subramanian Swamy recently moved the Supreme Court for an “urgent” hearing of his plea for enforcement of “his” fundamental right under Article 25, the right to worship at the birthplace of Lord Ram at the disputed land in Ayodhya. Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, Swamy said, “I had moved the Supreme Court to enforce my fundamental right to worship which is currently being violated.”

“I want my right of worship as a Hindu in Ayodhya to be restored. Lord Ram has been made to sit in a makeshift tent. There is no water to drink on the way, no place to keep your shoes, causing great inconvenience for all the devotees. I will go to the court again in two weeks’ time and I am optimistic that my fundamental right would be restored,” Swamy asserted.

Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, chief priest at the Ram Janmabhoomi Temple, Satendra Das accused the few Muslim appellants of trying to divert the case from its core issues and delay the case. “They do not want this issue to be settled soon. They are raking up a 1994 judgement knowing well that it will again take a long time to conclude, like it has been happening for the last so many years,” he said.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad too accused the Muslim appellants of “deliberately” trying to derail the hearings in the case, the judgement in which may, or may not be announced by September or October. VHP national spokesperson Vinod Bansal told this newspaper, “It is now a well established fact that the other parties are trying to divert from the main aspect of the issue.”

“When the Supreme Court had clearly said that this matter would be heard only as a land dispute and no sentiment or religious aspect would be taken into consideration, then why are they bringing up issues about religion and faith? They are doing it because they have realised that this case could come to a conclusion soon and therefore are using all possible methods to divert the court from the main issue,” argued Bansal.

‘Hindu Taliban’

Meanwhile, the courtroom witnessed some fireworks on Friday when Rajeev Dhavan’s “Hindu Taliban” remark drew sharp reactions from the protagonists. Senior counsel C.S. Vaidyanathan and others asked him to withdraw his remarks. A verbal duel ensued between the two sides when Dhavan refused to oblige and kept repeating the comment.

When things came to a head, with Dhavan and Vaidyanathan getting closer to each other at one point, security personnel came inside and escorted the former away. CJI Dipak Misra then said that such adjectives should not be used inside the court and the decorum of the court should be maintained, after which the hearing resumed. – Sunday Guardian Live, 21 July 2018

Shila Puja at Ayodhya