Chief Justice JS Khehar’s observation to offer mediation in resolving the Ayodhya dispute over Babri masjid-Ram temple did come as a surprise.
In strict legal terms, there is nothing wrong if the Chief Justice offers to mediate in a case which is essentially a title suit. There have been umpteen instances when the apex court resorted to this practice to settle title disputes or other imbroglios which pertained to either civil or economic domains.
But Ayodhya dispute was clearly more than a mere civil dispute. This was the precise reason why a five-member bench of the Supreme Court rejected the presidential reference in which the PV Narasimha Rao government sought the Supreme Court’s opinion under Article 143 (1) of the Constitution on 15 November, 1994.
The five-member bench had made it clear that since the Supreme Court’s opinion would not be binding on the government, it would not give its opinion on the contentious issue. Obviously, in the course of arguments, the Supreme Court had then asked the Centre if the court’s opinion would be deemed as order and implemented. Obviously, the Rao government prevaricated which ultimately resulted in the rejection of the presidential reference.
Apparently, the Chief Justice of India’s observation assumes significance in view of the fact that since 1989, this will be the first time that the Union government and the UP government belonged to one party — the BJP. Since the Sangh Parivar has been vigorously pursuing the agenda of Hindutva, the CJI’s observation is certainly given to many interpretations.
One obvious interpretation would be to take the dispute to a logical end with the intervention of the judiciary. In fact, the three-member bench of the Allahabad High Court has given a curious verdict after 60 years of litigation on 1 October, 2010 in which the disputed was divided in three parts. One-third of the 2.77 acre of disputed land was allocated to the Sunni Waqf Board to build a mosque.
Even though the Allahabad High Court was touted by the Sangh Parivar as vindication of their stance that a temple predated the Babri mosque in Ayodhya, the verdict was neither acceptable to Muslims nor Hindus. A section of the Muslim leadership found the verdict unacceptable as the high court seemed to have largely relied on myths and beliefs than hard facts to arrive at a conclusion. Similarly, Hindus found nothing less than ownership of 2.77 acre land as acceptable.
Since both the parties moved the Supreme Court to resolve the dispute, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy sought intervention of the Supreme Court to initiate building of the Ram Temple. Justice Khehar’s observation for the court’s readiness to mediate in the dispute is certainly extraordinary judicial discretion. Since the issue involves religious emotions of Hindus and Muslims in the entire country, the apex court runs the risk of treading into a political landmine.
However, at the same time the apex court’s mediation may prove to be an effective move to close India’s most divisive issue since 1947 and has been allowed to fester by successive political regimes. Since the neutrality of the apex court is beyond reproach, the efforts may generate an optimism to forever bury the ghost of communalism in the name of Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute.