The Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid Timeline
- 1885 Mahant Raghubir Das files a suit seeking permission to build a canopy on Ram chabootra. Petitioners not given access by the Faizabad district court in 1886.
- 1950 Hashim Ansari files a petition in the Faizabad court asking for the mosque gates to be opened and namaz allowed. Soon after, Gopal Visharad and Mahant Paramhans Ramchandra Das file a suit asking for permission to offer prayers to the idols installed at asthan janmabhoomi. An interim injunction allows a pujari in but forbids entry to others.
- 1959 The third suit by the Nirmohi akhara (headed by Mahant Bhaskar Das) is filed in Faizabad. The akhara stakes claim to the disputed ground and claims to be responsible for conducting the puja.
- 1961 A fourth suit is filed by the UP Sunni Central Waqf Board in the Faizabad court asking for the restoration of the Muslims’ right to pray at the mosque.
- 1989 A fresh suit is filed by former VHP vice-president Deoki Nandan Agarwala in the name of Ram for declaration of title and possession in favour of him at the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad HC. In July 1996, the high court clubs all cases together.
The dust could still rise from that doomed structure in Ayodhya. The special bench of the Allahabad HC gives its judgement on September 24 and sources in Lucknow say two of the three judges are ready with their verdicts. A third judge has reportedly expressed anxiety about the implications of any judgement on an issue that changed all our histories. He is, sources say, in a “dharam sankat” (inner conflict).
There have been some odd legal manoeuvres too. In a somewhat unprecedented move, Justice D.V. Sharma (one of the three judges), who is due to retire at the end of the month, recently admitted three applications seeking an amicable solution without consulting his colleagues on the bench. This action, just days before the judgement is due, has raised a few eyebrows in legal circles. Especially as the special bench had given time earlier to the various litigants in the case to come to an amicable settlement. This last-ditch move now comes up before the special bench on September 17 (a day after Outlook closed this issue) and a week before the judgement.
“We’d like this matter to be settled amicably... the court is a last resort. Still, we are not taking any chances.”
Digvijay Singh, Congress, UP in-charge
So there still remains a slim possibility that the judgement may be further delayed. For one, the “amicable settlement” route is being seen in some quarters as an attempt to prevent the inevitable by parties who fear they may lose. [Web update, Spetember 17: The Allahabad High Court dismissed the plea for mediation saying it was aimed at "creating obstruction" in the final disposal of the matter. A three-judge bench of the court comprising Justices S U Khan, Sudhir Agarwal and DV Sharma also imposed "exemplary costs" of Rs 50,000 terming his effort for an out-of-court settlement as a "mischievous attempt"]
Then there’s the far-out possibility of one of the judges falling sick. Like, if the judge due to retire is unable to make it, then a new judge would have to be appointed and the process would again be in temporary storage. But at the time of writing, those following the case and analysing the various scenarios are placing their bets on a judgement being delivered.
If so, then what are the possible outcomes? First, there are several litigants who have filed cases claiming ownership of the land. There has been speculation that on the basis of documents alone, the title deeds could go to the Muslim litigants. There has been talk in political circles of a 2-1 verdict. Sangh parivar sources are very aware of this, perhaps why RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat recently said the verdict would immediately be appealed in the Supreme Court. “We will respond in a democratic manner and react within the law to an adverse verdict. This will in any case be only a high court verdict...there’s always the recourse of going in appeal,” he said.
File photo of the Babri masjid demolition on Dec 6, 1992 (Photograph by D. Ravinder Reddy)
But it is not just the title deeds that make any possible judgement sensitive. The controversial matters that the justices may or may not comment on are issues linked to the technicalities of the title deeds, although they can also be evaded. These are issues on which national faultlines remain, on which the BJP came to national prominence, and which changed the nature of the secular Indian state and competitive politics. These are questions such as: was Ram born on the site or not? Is the site a mosque or a temple? Was the Babri mosque constructed over a demolished temple?
There is the view that the judgement will either skirt such controversial matters or use very evasive language. But there are no certainties. Zafaryab Jilani, fighting the case from the Muslim side, says “the judges can certainly comment on such issues. For us, it would be a victory if they say it has not been proved that a temple existed on the site and if the land is handed back to the Muslims”. If that were to happen, then other scenarios can be speculated on. For instance, if even a small section of Muslims display triumphalism it would be counter-productive and will provide a handle to Hindutva forces.
“We will react within the law to an adverse verdict...anyway, there is always the recourse of going to the SC.”
Mohan Bhagwat, RSS sarsanghchalak
But does the issue have resonance in Indian society now? K.N. Govindacharya, RSS man, ex- BJP ideologue and one of the architects of the Ayodhya movement, doesn’t think so. “It is not that easy to rekindle that kind of faith in the minds of the people. The credibility needed to lead a Hindutva movement was damaged by the BJP’s ‘over-intelligence’ and the double standards adopted during the NDA rule,” he says, adding that “the present BJP leadership has no emotional involvement in this issue and at this point no sound political reasons to jump in.”
Could a judgement reignite the Ayodhya passions again, make it a vote-catching issue? Here too, Govindacharya gives a thumbs down, saying the nature of the middle class, so prominent in the movement then, has changed. “Globalisation and the market have changed their concerns,” he says, adding that even the hardline VHP is demoralised today as “the six years of NDA shook their belief systems and inner confidence.” As for the ideologue himself, he is following the cases closely and says “I am neither apprehensive nor enthusiastic because the verdict means nothing when the dispute is based on faith. Issues linked to civilisational roots cannot be trivialised by law,” he says. He also believes that if certain archaeological evidence is not taken into consideration, then the decision may not go in favour of the Hindus.
Mazaars and temples alongside in Ayodhya (Photograph by Jitender Gupta)
BJP sources also point to the importance of archaeological evidence to bolster the temple claims. But will the court accept that when the evidence of a mosque existing for 400 years is so much more conclusive? “The court may say there is no evidence to alter the fact of a mosque having existed here and that the evidence for a temple is inconclusive,” says a source. The court, incidentally, will also decide whether both, the Hindu suits and the Muslim suits, are barred by time.
Political circles, for one, are abuzz already—there’s already some informed speculation and great analysis happening. But the verdict will create its own special chemistry. It could be a non-event—Ayodhya is an issue the country has increasingly become indifferent to. Or depending on the wording, it could inflame some spent passions. The overwhelming view, at this stage, is that it may just be a storm in a teacup.
“The BJP leadership now has no emotional involvement with Ayodhya...no political reason to jump in.”
K.N. Govindacharya, Ex-BJP ideologue
Yet political parties are worried. The Congress has asked all its leaders in Uttar Pradesh to be in their constituencies on the day the verdict is delivered. Digvijay Singh, general secretary in charge of the state, says, “We would like this matter to be settled amicably...the court is a last resort. Still, we are not taking any chances.” I&B minister and Congress spokesperson Ambika Soni also held a press conference where she pleaded for people to stay calm whichever way the verdict goes.
For the Congress, any Babri verdict spells potential trouble. The party and its first family have a chequered history linked to Babri. Mandir and mandal are what brought the grand old party crashing down to earth, reducing it to a position of always seeking alliances. Two decades on, Uttar Pradesh is critical to the planned coronation of Rahul Gandhi and any Congress revival in the Hindi heartland. Then, as a senior leader says, “both the SP and BJP would like matters to polarise on this issue and we have to stop them”. CM Mayawati, meanwhile, is planning to deal with any kar sevak activity with a firm hand as she sees no political gain from a communal fallout.
BJP leaders Pramod Mahajan, Advani and M.M. Joshi wave to supporters, Dec 6, ’92 (Photograph by D. Ravinder Reddy)
The BJP will wait and watch. There is a big section that prays the party play down ideological dinosaurs from the past. Besides, there is Bihar CM Nitish Kumar to consider—he would be livid with any religious articulation by his electoral partner in the middle of an assembly campaign. So if it’s a tame verdict, the party of the gods can be expected to make, with little conviction, a few statements. If the verdict is pro-mandir, of course, it will be celebration time. But if it’s seen as pro-mosque, it will be very hard for the BJP to keep as quiet as they have been on the ‘Ram janmabhoomi’ aspect recently.