The majority verdict of the Allahabad High Court on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute is a compromise calculated to hold the religious peace rather than an exercise of profound legal reflection. This search for a compromise informs the orders of Justice S.U. Khan and Justice Subir Agarwal even if they would seem to stretch the law and, at times, logic as well. The third judge, Justice D.V. Sharma, decided that the disputed structure could not be regarded as a mosque and ruled in favour of the Hindu plaintiffs. The effect of the majority judgments is that the disputed land of 2.77 acres is to be divided equally among the two Hindu plaintiffs, the Nirmohi Akhara and Bhagwan Sri Rama Virajman, the deity regarded as a jurisdic person that can own property, and the Sunni Central Board of Waqfs U.P. The portion of the inner courtyard where the central dome of the Babri Masjid stood before its demolition and where the makeshift temple now exists is to be given to the Hindu plaintiffs. The rest of the area where the Babri Masjid stood, including part of the inner courtyard and some part of the outer courtyard, is to be allotted to the Waqf Board. The Nirmohi Akhara is to be allotted the buildings that stood in the outer courtyard of the premises, including Ram Chabutra and the Sita Rasoi, while it is to share the unbuilt area of the outer courtyard with Bhagwan Sri Rama Virajman. To facilitate such a three-way division, and also to provide access, some part of the land acquired by the Central government around the disputed land could be used.

In arriving at his decision on the three-way division, Justice Khan has concluded that the disputed structure was a mosque constructed by or under orders of Emperor Babar and that it was built not after demolishing any temple but on an area where some temples were already in ruins. He notes that before the mosque was constructed, the Hindus believed that somewhere in the large area of land where the Babri Masjid came to stand later was the spot of birth of Lord Ram. After the mosque was constructed, they came to believe that the place where the mosque stood contained the birth spot, and much later in the decades before 1949 they came to identify that spot as the one under the central dome. He also holds that much before 1855, the adjoining Ram Chabutra and the Sita Rasoi existed and Hindus were worshipping there. According to his finding, the idol of Lord Ram was placed for the first time under the central dome of the Babri Masjid in the early hours of December 23, 1949. In view of the side-by-side worship and joint possession of the disputed site, he would declare both parties as joint title holders. However, that part of the land under the central dome of the Babri Masjid where the idols were placed and the makeshift temple now stands after demolition would be allotted to the Hindus.

However, Justice Agarwal who also favoured the division of the land differed from Justice Khan on some critical issues. He does not find evidence of Babar having built the mosque or any material to support the exact date when it was built, though he finds it was in existence before 1776. He finds also that the idol had been placed under the central dome on December 23, 1949 but wants that spot to be allotted to the Hindus. The Sunni Central Board of Waqfs is to get no less than one-third of the total area in dispute, including the rest of the area on which the mosque stood and some part of the outer courtyard. Justice Sharma finds that the idol was placed under the central dome on December 23, 1949 but in his other findings and conclusions he differs radically from his fellow judges on the Bench. He has ruled that as the disputed structure was built against Islamic tenets, it could not be regarded as a mosque.

At one level, from the standpoint of political morality, the verdict could be viewed as partially rewarding those who placed the idol overnight under the central dome of the mosque and those who in 1992 razed it to the ground. Nevertheless, the confusing mass of findings the reasons for which are not entirely clear and the compromise nature of the verdict along with the substantive outcome of dividing the disputed land have restrained any party from claiming outright victory or sulking in total defeat. The Sunni Waqf Board and the Sri Ramjanmabhoomi Trust have indicated that they would appeal against the verdict to the Supreme Court.

All sections of political opinion had issued appeals for calm and restraint on the eve of the verdict but apprehensions of disturbances remained, and a last minute effort was made to halt the judgment. The Supreme Court struck a blow for the rule of law and decided that the judicial process that has been winding slowly over the last 60 years ought not to be halted at the last minute for fear of disturbances and under some imaginary hope of the parties arriving at a negotiated settlement. If overall the reaction from the public and from large sections of political opinion has been subdued, much of it has to do with the mood of the nation in which the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue does not find much traction any more — in striking contrast to the 1990s. On balance, the nature of the Allahabad High Court verdict should help the nation as a whole put a longstanding dispute behind. Secular India needs to move on and not be held hostage to grievances, real or imaginary, from the distant past. A great deal of the responsibility lies with political parties and religious groups to maintain harmony in the face of fundamentalist forces seeking to disturb the peace and profit from raising communal issues. They ought not to allow revanchist sentiment and any talk of revenge to come to the fore as many of them did in the 1980s and 1990s by their passivity or collaboration. For too long has the Ayodhya dispute remained an obsession with large sections of the people. It is to be hoped that after this major, even if not final, step in the judicial process it will cease to occupy the political stage.

Keywords: Ayodhya verdict

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