New Delhi: In a judgement that seeks to find a compromise solution, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court ruled that the disputed land at Ayodhya will be divided between the Hindus and Muslims, with the former getting two-thirds of it, and the latter the rest.
The site housed the Babri Masjid which was demolished in 1992 by Hindu protesters who believe the plot once had a temple marking the birthplace of Lord Ram. The high court treated the parties in the case as representatives of the Hindu and Muslim communities.
The court ruled that the two communities will be free to build a religious structure on their respective portions of land for worship. The entire division process will have to be concluded in three months.
Expectedly, a disappointed Sunni Waqf Board has decided to challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court, setting the stage for a fresh round in the six-decade-long title dispute over the ownership of the 2.77-acre plot in Ayodhya.
Mint’s Sahil Makkar talks about the verdict from the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court
The verdict, delivered just two days prior to the opening of the Commonwealth Games, touted as India’s coming-out moment, should come as a relief to the government as it has not triggered any untoward communal incident as yet. Lucknow and Ayodhya remained calm with shops closed, traffic off the roads and people preferring to stay indoors. In Ayodhya, approximately 50,000 heavily armed security personnel marched the streets, seemingly outnumbering residents.
Click here Click here to listen Sahil Makkar’s update from Lucknow
Political parties reacted cautiously to the judgement, even while there were sporadic celebrations among some Hindu groups across the country. The government hedged its position, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, saying in a statement, “The correct conclusion, at this stage, is that the status quo will be maintained until the cases are taken up by the Supreme Court.”
Six-decade case: Lawyers outside the Allahabad high court soon after the Ayodhya verdict on Thursday. Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Analysts averred that it was a difficult verdict, given the huge stakes, and that the court had indeed staved off a confrontation by a please-all verdict. “It is a difficult judgement. However, as is common with courts in India, the judgement is an artfully brokered compromise. It has been designed in a way to prevent any polarization,” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president, Centre for Policy Research.
Hindus, Muslims and the Nirmohi Akhara (a denomination of Hindus) will equally share the title to the 2.77 acre plot. Wednesday’s unexpected judgement saw two of the three judges in the bench observing that the disputed site was indeed the birthplace of Ram, according to the belief of Hindus.
Click here to read the complete Ayodha judgement
The court has accepted the evidence of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to determine that Hindus used the disputed site as a place of worship prior to the building of the mosque. Thereby, it held that the Hindus too had a stake in the title dispute by virtue of their belief—that Ram was born there—and faith.
The portion under the central dome of the erstwhile Babri mosque will be given to the Hindus, based on the court’s decision by a 2:1 majority.
The three judges on the special bench—Dharam Veer Sharma, Sudhir Agarwal and S.U. Khan—arrived at a decision after compiling a judgement that amounts to roughly 10,000 pages. The sequence of the judgement appears to be the only thing the three judges have agreed upon, as all their observations have variations according to the abridged versions distributed to the press.
Justice Sharma, who is scheduled to retire on Friday, and Justice Khan shared different views on the ownership of the land before the mosque was built by a general of Mughal emperor Babar circa 1528. Justice Agarwal, who observed that the site was “the place of birth of Lord Ram as per faith and belief of the Hindus,” did not disregard the Babri mosque like his colleague Justice Sharma.
The controversy surrounding the “appearance” of an idol of Ram at the site—it was touted as a miracle—was cleared up after the court ruled that the idol was placed there on 23 December 1949.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which have been spearheading a movement for the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, termed the judgement as a “significant step” towards building a “grand temple”.
BJP leader L.K. Advani, whose Rath Yatra in the early 1990s led the campaign for a Ram temple, said his party believed the verdict opens a new chapter for national integration and will lead to a new era in inter-community relations.
BJP leader L.K. Advani says the Ayodhya decision is a significant step towards building a grand temple at the site
Welcoming the judgement, the RSS said the verdict should not be treated as victory or defeat for anybody. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat said the past should be forgotten and everyone should cooperate towards building a Ram temple at the site.
RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat says Thursday’s verdict clears the way for a Ram temple to be built at the disputed site
The judgement of the court has no bearing on the criminal case against the demolition of the Babri Masjid which will continue.
Congress general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi said his party has held that the controversy should either be solved through talks or that the verdict of the court should be accepted. Welcoming the judgement Dwivedi said if any person or organization has any reservation, they could approach the apex court. But former law minister Shanti Bhushan said neither of the parties to the suits should challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court as they have been held joint owners of the disputed site.
Janardan Dwivedi of the Congress says the court’s verdict should be welcomed by everyone
Background to the dispute
“In my opinion, all parties to the disputes should accept the judgement and no one should file an appeal in the Supreme court... The most beautiful part of the judgement is that it has provided a legal basis for holding that the parties are joint owners of the land,” he said, adding it would pave the way for constructing a temple and a mosque.
The decision, while favourable to the BJP, may also make it difficult for the party to get political mileage.
“For the BJP, it is at some level a certain kind of emotional vindication,” CPR’s Mehta said. “However, it also poses a political dilemma for them since the decision has taken the wind out of their core issue.”
Elizabeth Roche in New Delhi, Sahil Makkar in Lucknow and PTI contributed to this story.