Apex court reopens Ayodhya dispute

Apex court reopens Ayodhya dispute

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday stayed the ruling of the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court which divided the disputed land at Ayodhya between Hindu and Muslim groups.

Passing the injunction, the apex court maintained that the high court’s ruling needed “correction" and in the process has reopened a potentially contentious debate. Sixty-one years after suits were first initiated in the case, the basic question of who is entitled to the land is wide open once again.

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•Points of Note (PDF)

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At the heart of the dispute between both religious groups is the birthplace of Hindu god Ram, immortalized in the epic Ramayana, and the 16-century Babri Masjid or mosque, which stood at the site till 6 December 1992, when Hindu activists pulled it down.

With Monday’s order, the Supreme Court restored an earlier position arrived at on 7 January 1993, when it was decided no religious activity would be permitted on the adjacent 67-acre property, but Hindu rituals would be allowed close to where the mosque stood.

Last September, the high court had ruled that the disputed land of 2.77 acres at Ayodhya would be shared in a 2:1 ratio by Hindu and Muslim groups, respectively.

Justices Aftab Alam and R.M. Lodha also reasoned against the judgment of the high court on the ground that none of the litigants in the four title suits had asked for partition of the land.

“As a matter of fact the judgment created fog...therefore the judgment has to be stayed. Nobody prayed for partition. This is a case where an entirely new dimension has been created. The court has given an entirely new relief," observed the bench before passing the stay order and admitting the appeals filed by parties to the case.

During the hearing, the start of which was unusually delayed by over an hour, it became increasingly apparent that the apex court was in disagreement with the high court’s decision, thereby needing little persuasion to admit the appeals.

“How can a decree of partition be passed in this matter? This is something that needs to be corrected at this level, at least prima facie it appears so," said the bench.

All the litigants seemed pleased with Monday’s decision, although they had opposed staying the high court’s judgment at the start of the hearing.

The appeals filed by the parties demand that the land be handed over to them in its entirety.

The Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha and Nirmohi Akhara, both of which were allotted one-third of the land, have asked that the last third also be handed over to them. On the other hand, the Jamiat-Ulama-i-Hind and the Sunni Central Wakf Board want the majority decision of the high court be struck down and the site be declared theirs.

Political parties were cautious in their initial response to the Supreme Court’s decision.

The Congress party, which heads the coalition in the Union government, declined to comment officially as the case is again before a court.

Ravi Shankar Prasad, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokesperson, said, “It is a process of law and the BJP hopes the apex court will pass its judgement on the matter soon."

Expelled BJP leader Uma Bharti, one of the key accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case, demanded the building of a country-wide consensus for the construction of a “magnificent temple" at Ayodhya in wake of the Supreme Court order and said the matter should be settled outside court, the Press Trust of India reported.

According to Badri Narayan, a political analyst in Uttar Pradesh, although the issue has largely lost relevance, it has the potential to gain traction. “Given it is an emotive issue, fringe elements on either side can play it up when needed," he said.

The legal battle for the land dates back to 1885 when a civil judge did not pass a decisive verdict on who should be allotted the land in a similar bid to broker peace between the two religious communities.

In 2002, the Allahabad high court asked the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to conduct excavations at the site. There was “architectural evidence of a massive structure just below the disputed structure and evidence of continuity in structural phases from the 10th century onwards up to the construction of the disputed structure", ASI said in a report.

The report also said the structure below the mosque had characteristics similar to temples found in north India, which resulted in two of the three high court judges ruling that there existed a Hindu temple beneath the Babri Masjid.

Justice Sudhir Agarwal and justice D.V. Sharma of the high court bench also arrived at the finding that Lord Ram was born within the 1,482.5 square yards of the disputed premises over 900,000 years ago during the Treta Yuga, using a mixture of anecdotal evidence and folklore.

Ruhi Tewari and PTI contributed to this story.