The Supreme Court ruled on Saturday in favour of a Ram temple on a disputed 2.77-acre plot in Ayodhya, in a move cheered by hundreds of millions of people around the country although some Muslim parties questioned the verdict and said they may seek a review of the order passed by a five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, who retires on November 17.
The construction of the temple at the place several Hindus believe is the birthplace of Ram also ticks off another item on the checklist of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Many people believe the ruling is the beginning of the end of the festering dispute, if not the end itself.
The court told the Union government to set up, within three months, a trust to oversee the construction of the temple.
“The faith of Hindus has been reaffirmed by the Supreme Court verdict. We had faith before the mosque. We had faith during the mosque and we had faith after the demolition of the mosque and there was continuous worship by the Hindus,” said PS Narasimha, who appeared for the child deity Ram Lalla Virajman in the title dispute. “We are grateful to the institution of judiciary for the extraordinary measures for restituting the historical belief,” he added.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board’s secretary Zafaryab Jilani, a lawyer, expressed his dissatisfaction over the verdict. “The Ayodhya verdict holds no value for us. We are dissatisfied with the verdict. It has a lot of contradictions. We will seek a review.”
Zufar Faruqi, the chairman of the UP Sunni Waqf Board, struck a different note: “I, as the chairman of the UP Sunni Central Waqf Board, want to make it clear that the Board will not go in any review of the Supreme Court’s order or file any curative petition.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who on Wednesday, warned his ministers not to make extreme comments on the judgment, irrespective of which way it went, welcomed the court’s ruling. “The Honourable Supreme Court has given its verdict on the Ayodhya issue. This verdict shouldn’t be seen as a win or loss for anybody. Be it Ram Bhakti or Rahim Bhakti, it is imperative that we strengthen the spirit of Rashtra Bhakti. May peace and harmony prevail!,” he tweeted.
Addressing the nation later over the SC order, the Prime Minister said the verdict marked a new dawn and gave a message that even toughest issues can be resolved within the framework of the Constitution. “We should learn from this verdict that even if there is some delay, we should remain patient. This is in everyone’s interest,” he said.
An issue of faith for over a hundred years, the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid , or mandir issue, issue has been one of the two major shapers of the political landscape of the country over the past three decades. The other has been the Mandal movement, which has made Other Backward Classes a powerful political constituency. The mandir issue helped revive the BJP’s fortunes in the mid-1980s, and has found a mention in every one of the party’s manifestos since 1991. Given the sensitivity of the issue, and remembering the riots that followed the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, the response from most political parties was measured.
Home minister Amit Shah welcomed the verdict and appealed all communities to accept the SC order, maintain peace and remain committed for “Ek Bharat Shreshtha Bharat”. Defence minister Rajnath Singh urged everyone to accept the verdict with equanimity and magnanimity.
The Congress said it respected the verdict and was in favour of the construction of a Ram temple. “It is the responsibility of each one of us to reaffirm our tradition of mutual respect and unity among all that has defined our society through the ages,” the Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, quoting a resolution passed by the Congress Working Committee, the party’s highest decision-making body, at a meeting chaired by party chief Sonia Gandhi.
However, there was fear among some Muslim parties that the ruling could strengthen the resolve of Hindus fighting for control of other disputed sites, including ones at Mathura and Varanasi.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) leader Asaduddin Owaisi said the verdict was a “victory of belief over facts”. Owaisi said he was not satisfied with the ruling and quoted a former CJI to say the top court is “indeed supreme but not infallible”. National Commission for Minorities chairperson Ghayorul Hasan Rizvi, however, said that Muslims were happy with the order and condemned remarks made by Jilani on considering a review plea.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the BJP, and also of most groups that actively worked for a temple at Ayodhya, said the dispute over the issue must be forgotten. “Forgetting all the things that happened in past, we all should come together to build a grand temple at Ram Janma Bhoomi in Ayodhya,” RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said. “The decision should not be taken as victory or defeat,” he added.
“We believe that the government should take steps to end the dispute in the case after the SC decision.”
Several Hindus believe that a temple to Ram once stood at the disputed site. In the 16th century, one of the generals of Babur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty, built a mosque at the spot. An Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) report referenced by the court points to the existence of a Hindu structure below where the mosque stood (before its demolition in 1992), but the court added that it hasn’t been able to show that this structure was a temple, or that it was demolished to build the mosque.
The court’s ruling comes 136 years after the first case in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue was filed, and nine years after the Allahabad high court delivered a judgment that each of the three main parties, the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla Virajman get an equal portion of the disputed land measuring 2.27 acres. The court based its decision largely on the title claims to the disputed land, choosing to look beyond the ASI report on the matter, but sticking to its previously stated intent of viewing a case that the parties and much of India saw as a faith-based one through the strict legal lens of ownership and possession. As such, it found Ram Lalla Virajman (the personification of the Hindu god), whom it identified as a juristic person, and who is represented by Trilok Nath Pandey, as having a better claim to the title than the Sunni Waqf Board. The latter, it said, can’t exercise the right of “adverse possession” nor establish a “possessory title”.
Under the first, a person who is not the original owner of a property becomes the de facto owner by being in possession of it for at least 12 years during which the original owner did not seek legal recourse, and can, if dispossessed by the original owner, file a case seeing restoration of ownership under the right of adverse possession. The court held that this did not apply in the case because the Muslim parties never really lost possession. The second refers to the ownership of land or property by someone who does not hold a title deed or document that proves ownership – specifically because these documents do not exist, having been lost or destroyed. In this case, the court held that the Muslim parties were not able to establish a possessory title. The Hindus, the court found, had “unimpeded access” to the outer courtyard and, till 1857, even the inner courtyard.
“Hindu worship at Ramchabutra, Sita Rasoi and at other religious places including the setting up of a Bhandar clearly indicated their open, exclusive and unimpeded possession of the outer courtyard. The Muslims have not been in possession of the outer courtyard. On a preponderance of probabilities, there is no evidence to establish that the Muslims abandoned the mosque or ceased to perform namaz in spite of the contestation over their possession of the inner courtyard after 1858,” the SC order said.
The court also seems to have gone by its understanding that namaz was not offered in the structure before 1857 or after 1949 on the basis of documentary and oral evidence. In contrast, similar evidence points to continuous worship by the Hindus, it added. However, its judgment did highlight the fact that both in 1949, when locks were broken and idols installed in the structure, and 1992, when the Babri Masjid was demolished, the Muslims were at the receiving end. To remit the wrong committed – to paraphase the court – the judgment said five acres of land must be given to the Sunni Waqf Board for a mosque, elsewhere in Ayodhya.
“We welcome and humbly accept the verdict of the Supreme Court,” the UP Sunni Waqf Board chairman said. Speaking about the decision on the five acres of land, AIMIM’s Owaisi said: “We have full faith in the Constitution, we were fighting for our right, we don’t need five-acre land as donation. We should reject this five-acre land offer. Don’t patronise us.”
Leaders linked to the Hindu parties welcomed the apex court’s order for an alternative land to the Muslim parties in the case. Ram Lalla deity lawyer CS Vaidyanathan told news agency ANI: “It is a great day for India. The Supreme Court has pronounced a verdict that has balanced the interest of all parties and also tried to ensure that unity and integrity of the nation are preserved and brotherhood is maintained.” The court also directed that “in the scheme to be framed by the Central Government, appropriate representation may be given in the Trust or body to the Nirmohi Akhara in such manner as the Central Government deems fit”, even though it rejected the claim of the Nirmohi Akhara of being a ‘shebait’ (a devotee who serves the deity).
The Ram Janmabhoomi is not a juristic person, the SC held.
Mahant Dhinendra Das, head of the Nirmohi Akhara, said: “All members of the Nirmohi Akhara will meet and take a collective decision. Only after this meeting we will be able to say anything on the issue.”