New Delhi: The stage is set for the resolution of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute, with the Supreme Court on Wednesday concluding its daily hearings that had gone on for an unprecedented 40 days.
The judgement, which has serious social and political implications, depending on the verdict, is expected to be delivered next month—before 17 November when Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, who chaired the five-judge Constitution bench, demits office.
The day-to-day hearing of the Ayodhya land dispute case began on 6 August after mediation between the Hindu and Muslim claimants failed.
The 40 days of hearing witnessed a lot of drama, and it continued right up to the concluding day. On Wednesday, the hearings took on a confrontational turn when senior counsel Rajeev Dhavan, representing the Muslims, tore a pictorial “map" showing the place where Ram is said to have been born, that had been handed over to him by the Hindu Mahasabha. The court had earlier refused to accept the “map" as evidence, he said, adding that it should not be brought up again. The “map" is from the book Ayodhya Revisited.
Injecting uncertainty into the resolution process, there was a buzz outside the courtroom that the Sunni Waqf Board had stated in the mediation report submitted to the Supreme Court on Wednesday that it would have no problem if the land were to be acquired by the government. It was also reported to have said that a mosque could be built at an alternative site.
Contents of the mediation report have not been made public. If the Waqf Board has withdrawn its claim to the site, then it needs to file an application in the Supreme Court to this effect, which could lead to another set of arguments being heard by the court. This means the verdict kept pending on Wednesday could be affected.
The timing of the judgement is crucial because it will come just a couple of weeks before the 27th anniversary of the 6 December 1992 demolition of Babri Masjid.
The state government has already imposed Section 144 in Ayodhya till 10 December and cancelled all leave for government servants in the state till the end of the month.
The judgement will come ahead of assembly elections in Delhi and Bihar in 2020. Further down the road are state elections in West Bengal in 2021 and Uttar Pradesh in 2022.
While Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has maintained that it favours the construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site, affiliates of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological parent of BJP, have been putting pressure on the Union government to pass a law in Parliament in order to facilitate the early construction of a temple.
“Whatever is the outcome of this case, it is likely to further strain relations between Hindus and Muslims. If what is being speculated (about the Waqf Board) is true, then there would be a huge demoralizing effect among Muslims, who might think that they were let down by their leaders and representatives, probably under pressure or sentiment of the majority community," said Sanjay Kumar, director of the New Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.
“Politically, if this speculation is true, it would further strengthen the electoral base of the BJP, which is already going strong. While they cannot take credit for this, there will certainly be a buzz that this happened during their tenure," he added.
The Ayodhya dispute has been the source of constant friction between Hindus and Muslims. Matters came to a head after supporters of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Shiv Sena and BJP brought down the Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992, triggering communal riots. The dispute continues to simmer, peaking during election cycles.
BJP, which heads the National Democratic Alliance, has in its election manifesto committed to building a temple for Ram at the site.
Anuja and Gyan Verma contributed to this story.