It has taken 70 years for the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi litigation to come close to finality. The appeals against the Allahabad High Court’s judgment on the title-suits filed by both Hindu and Muslim parties have been heard by a five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court for 40 days. The court has reserved judgment after hearing impassioned, sometimes acrimonious, arguments. The embers of competing claims, which remained alive well into the 20th century, were stoked by the surreptitious installation of Lord Ram’s idol on the night of December 22/23, 1949 under the structure’s central dome. Suits were filed over the years by both sides. It was not until the 1980s that the Ayodhya dispute was used for political mobilisation by Hindu nationalist groups. After a court ordered the reopening of the structure’s doors in 1986, the Bharatiya Janata Party saw the scope for a national movement that would one day catapult it to power. With the VHP and Bajrang Dal launching a movement for the ‘retrieval’ of the site for the construction of a grand Ram Mandir, a dispute over title and the right of worship transmogrified into an intractable litigation predicated on faith. It is possible that the case’s emotive nature and its potential for dividing society prevented its early disposal. The matter was ultimately disposed of by the High Court Bench in 2010. The decision — a three-way division of the disputed area among the deity, the Nirmohi Akhara and the Muslim side — satisfied no one and the matter went up to the Supreme Court.
As the final verdict is awaited, it cannot be forgotten that the demolition of the disputed structure in December 1992 was an egregious crime against the country’s secular fabric and its constitutional ethos. The purported evidence of a Hindu structure beneath the mosque came up only in excavations made after the structure was razed. Any decision made on such evidence, which would not have been available to the court if the suits had been disposed of in earlier decades, might amount to the judicial system legitimising the demolition. Even otherwise, the fact that a modern democracy should have been saddled with litigation motivated by historical revanchism is execrable in itself. There can be no judicial standards to settle a faith-based argument. There is some talk of a “settlement” based on mediation efforts at the court’s behest. A mediated settlement would be welcome, even though it is not clear if all sides are on board. However, if the outcome is not to be based purely on the rule of law, it would be better there is a mediated settlement.