Lord Ram, from ‘mandir’ to the more important ‘rajya’

The Ram Temple is now a reality, but more important than this is ensuring that religious disputes do not recur in India and for all to follow the dharma of Ram Rajya

Updated - January 13, 2024 08:06 am IST

Published - January 13, 2024 12:16 am IST

The Ram Temple

The Ram Temple | Photo Credit: ANI

The most remarkable aspect is that following the unanimous Supreme Court judgment awarding the disputed Babri Masjid site to Hindus, there was not a single incident of bloodshed in the entire country, let alone the loss of life. Amidst fears of widespread violence and the country being placed on full alert, this is indeed phenomenal.

As one who has delved into this matter deeper than most people, I would say that there were important factors at the root — the voiced utterance in many Muslim forums and discussions that this must be the last of such disputes, and second, this case must not be a precedent for other mosques which are under the scanner of some political organisations for whom mandir-masjid disputes are a handy tool. Correspondingly, if this were to be accepted, Muslims would respond positively to the very strong feeling among Hindus that this spot was needed to mark Lord Ram’s birthplace, having no other in Ayodhya. And the realisation among those involved, centre of the dispute and periphery and stands, that it was in the primordial interest of the nation that this dispute ends without more damage.

Rounds of mediation

Fortunately, India has a progressive piece of legislation in the form of the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act 1991 (hereinafter the Act) which prohibits conversion of any place of worship from its state of existence as on the fifteenth day of August 1947. This was formulated to prevent such disputes from shredding this country. The only exception in this legislation was the Babri Masjid-Ram Janambhoomi dispute in Ayodhya.

This dispute wended its way through the labyrinth field of India’s court system, producing in the Allahabad High Court a three-way panchayati-style partition of the land amongst the Hindu party styling itself as the representative of Ram Lalla, the Nirmohi Akhara and the Muslim Sunni Waqf Board. All appealed. Nine years later the matter was referred by the Supreme Court of India for mediation by former Supreme Court judge Ibrahim Kalifulla, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and this writer.

One significant aspect of mediation is that it fosters positive communication, brings realities and long-term interests to the fore, and enables a clearer look at options to see where some give and take is possible. This happens not just at the mediation table but also in discussions and deliberations at which the mediators are not present.

The first round of mediation was brought to a rather hasty end by the Court in end July 2019, but to paraphrase Sri Aurobindo in his classic writing, The Hour of God, even though a settlement may “seem to pass on the wings of the wind”, it shall return. It did indeed return and was agreed to and formulated by a significant array of the important parties, Muslim and Hindu. It was a simple document — the disputed land would be given up without claim of compensation, and all other places of worship including mosques would be protected by strengthening the Act. Subsidiary suggestions included the opening up of some select mosques under Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) control for worship. Two very generous donations of land near the disputed site in Ayodhya to set up an institute for communal harmony were noted.

Distinctive features

The Supreme Court acknowledged this settlement effort and referred to it, specifically noting the willingness to hand over the land. It could have, in the view of very senior retired judges, used this as the basis of an Order under Article 142 of the Constitution to resolve the dispute, or applied other provisions of the Code of Civil Procedure to further the settlement. It, however, chose not to, and instead went into facts and law to ultimately hold that since Hindus had established their usage over the outer part of the disputed land, the whole could be given to them. The judgment has been critiqued, strongly and extensively, both for its reasoning as well as the remarkably unique aspect that it does not bear the signature of its author. What is significant here is that it responded to Muslim concerns (shared by many Indians) by uploading the Places of Worship Act to the status of having the features of the Basic Structure of the Constitution, thus inhabiting a galaxy free from encroachment by a majoritarian Parliament.

Not even the most optimistic of judges would think that the country’s acceptance of the Ayodhya decision stemmed from the law, logic or language of the judgment. For that we need to look at other factors, and amongst these must be a general weariness, the political landscape, but also very sharply the Muslim mind which predicated the cessation of masjid-mandir conflict in perpetuity over the loss of this one piece of land. And, correspondingly, the affirmation too by other parties, including significant Hindu entities, that this should be the last of such disputes for modern India. One significant Hindu party stayed away from affirming thus; its associates are the drum beaters for discordant notes in other places of worship.

Indeed, one distinctive feature of the demand for the Ram Mandir was that there was no other temple for Ram in his birthplace Ayodhya. This distinction has been drawn by seers across the board. Kashi and Mathura stand on a different footing because although the old temples were destroyed during Mughal rule, new temples on adjoining land have been built many years ago which have become major shrines. The Kashi Vishwanath temple was built in 1780, and the Srikrishna Janmasthan in 1982.

Need for constitutional spine

Building the Ram Temple is a landmark achievement, but not the only important thing here. The other, as important if not more, is to ensure that these disputes do not recur and that can only be done by strict implementation, in letter and spirit, of the Places of Worship Act, as regards which the courts have turned in a dismal performance so far. The Act is a straightforward piece of legislation, requiring no legal adroitness for enforcement, but needs constitutional morality and spine. And living up to one’s words. Much to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat’s credit, his public statements are far more statesmanlike than those emanating from judicial heads — there was a historic background to the RSS being involved in Ayodhya, but otherwise its work was man-making and not being involved in agitations (responding to a question on Gyanvapi and Mathura); one cannot be looking for a shivling in every mosque.

A last word on Lord Ram, who is or ought to be the central figure here. Not having his designated temple all these years has made no difference to his centrality in the hearts of Indians and his position as the Maryada Purushottam (the ideal man). But Ram is more than that — he is the ideal ruler, ensuring for all his subjects justice and protection and welfare and making righteousness the creed of his rule. Building a temple and installing a statue and creating an airport and the like is of far less worth than following the dharma of Ram Rajya. Lord Ram will smile then.

Sriram Panchu is a senior advocate and mediator

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