Ayodhya is on simmer again. Judgement day looms in land dispute

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Long-drawn The Babri masjid land dispute has raged on in various forms for nearly five centuries
Long-drawn The Babri masjid land dispute has raged on in various forms for nearly five centuries

UTTAR PRADESH is in a state of mobilisation. Fearing communal riots, the state government is stepping up policing in sensitive areas and asking for Central reinforcements. The VHP is holding recitations of Hanuman Chalisa to rally support. They are restless in anticipation of the second half of September, when the Allahabad High Court’s Lucknow bench will deliver its verdict on the 60-year-old Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi case. Media commentators are already confusing it with the inquiry into the demolition of the mosque on 6 December 1992.

In contention is a parcel of 90ftX110ft land in Ayodhya, on which stood the Babri mosque. The Hindu litigants have argued this is Lord Ram’s birthplace and Babar’s general Mir Baqi demolished a temple to build the mosque — 482 years ago. It is almost certain that the losing side will be appeal the verdict in Supreme Court. The legal battle is far from over.

This case has tested the limits of jurisprudence. It combines five suits, the last of which, filed in 1989, actually lists the two plaintiffs as “Bhagwan Shri Ram Lala Virajman and Asthan Shri Ram Janmabhoomi”, represented by “their next friend” Justice Deoki Nandan Agarwal, a retired judge and a former VHP vice-president. Agarwal is dead, as are two other petitioners Gopal Singh Visharad and Mahant Paramhans Ramchandra Das.

The court will have to decide on events in the distant past that are difficult, if not impossible, to determine now. Crackling under the weight of history, it bears the omens of Hindu-Muslim riots.

The political battle is warming up each day in the lead-up to the verdict. Under pressure from the Centre, Chief Minister Mayawati is focussing on law and order. She has already asked the Centre for 485 companies of paramilitary forces. The Congress and Mayawati take the Muslim voters of UP seriously and want to avoid anything untoward.

Both the VHP and the All India Babri Masjid Action Committee have denied the possibility of talks for an out-of-court settlement. Reports of initiating negotiations, by bringing different parties on the table, were quickly denied.

THE MUSLIM leadership will, by and large, accept the final verdict of the judiciary, says S Qasim Rasool Ilyas, convenor of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board’s committee. “If it is proved in court that the land was forcibly taken from a temple, we cannot have a mosque on that land as the shariat forbids a mosque on forcibly acquired land,” he says, adding the mosque should be restored if this cannot be proved. Zafaryab Jilani, the lawyer arguing the case on behalf of the Sunni Central Board of Waqfs, concurs, “We will pursue the matter within the judicial process only.”

The Sangh Parivar, which started the campaign for the temple in the 1980s, maintains the matter is not a legal one but that of faith. “We believe the best solution will be through a legislation by Parliament on a magnificent temple at the place,” says RSS spokesman Ram Madhav.

There are indications of mobilisation in the Sangh Parivar. The VHP central direction committee met during the Kumbh in Haridwar in April and later in Ayodhya. The result of this deliberation was a three-month campaign that began across the country on 16 August: Hanumat Shakti Jagaran Abhiyan, a series recitation of the Hanuman Chalisa. Inaugurating the campaign in Nagpur, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said, “No man-made court can resolve the issue of Ram Janmabhoomi as it has been the matter of faith for millions of Hindus. But we are waiting for the courts to decide the issue for this long.”

“We are trying to have the grand temple built there with consensus, but if required, we are ready for another struggle,” Bhagwat was quoted as saying in the RSS weekly, Organiser.

‘No man-made court can resolve the Ram Janmabhoomi issue as it has been a matter of faith for Hindus,’ says RSS chief Bhagwat

The most deafening silence in recent times has come from the BJP, which owes its rise in the 1990s to the temple campaign. Apart from faint murmurs here and there, the party has not made any attempt to gain eyeballs or column width on the issue. For the BJP, the matter is a squeezed lemon. Its leaders admit in private that the party has lost all credibility on the matter with the electorate that voted for it on the issue in the 1990s.

VHP spokesman Surendra Jain reminds that it was the Congress government under Rajiv Gandhi that allowed the unlocking of the masjid gates in 1986, and that Rajiv started his 1989 election campaign from Ayodhya with the promise of Ram Rajya. The Sangh Parivar has said it would like the temple to get built like the Somnath temple was built in 1951. The Congress leaders backed the Somnath temple then. This time, the Congress will be more bothered about communal harmony. Somnath was not this divided an issue, and the Parivar had not yet brought down a mosque.


TIMELINE

1528: Mughal emperor Babar orders a mosque to be built. Hindus claim a Ram temple was demolished for it

1855: Hindus and Muslims clash over possession of the mosque. There are claims that Sita Rasoi and Ram Chabootara were built around this time

1885: Mahant Raghubar Das files a suit seeking permission to build a canopy on Ram Chabootra

1949: Hindus place an idol of Ram inside the mosque. Mosque premises locked after the incident

1950: Gopal Singh Visharad and Mahant Paramhand Ramchandra Das file suits in Faizabad, asking for permission to offer prayers to the idols installed at Asthan Janmabhoomi. Inner courtyard gates are locked, but puja is allowed

1959: Nirmohi Akhara and Mahant Raghunath file a case, claiming to be the sect responsible for conducting puja

1961: Sunni Central Board of Waqfs, UP, files a case claiming the mosque and the surrounding land was a graveyard

1986: On a petition of Hari Shanker Dubey, a judge directs masjid gates be unlocked to allow darshan. Babri Masjid Action Committee is formed

1989: Former VHP vice-president Justice Deoki Nandan Agarwal files a case, seeking the mosque be shifted elsewhere

2002: The High Court directs the Archaeological Survey of India to excavate the site to determine if a temple lay underneath

2010: Hearings end in July. Justice BD Sharma is set to retire on 1 October. A judgement is expected before then

Photo: Getty Images

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