By Prarthana Mitra
The Supreme Court on Monday deferred the hearing on Ayodhya’s Ram Janmbhoomi-Babri Masjid case to January 2019, despite growing demands from the government to expedite the process and pass a law in favour of the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya.
The bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi was preparing to hear the pleas challenging a UP court’s verdict on Monday, when it pushed the case to next year citing other priorities over a four-minute hearing. Following the postponement, several hardline Hindu affiliates including Sangh Parivar groups have begun to agitate for an ordinance, to bypass the judicial process and fast-track construction of the temple on the disputed territory.
Here’s what led up to this
In 1992, the 16th-century Babri mosque was razed by Hindutva groups and activists who believed it was built on the ruins of an ancient temple marking the birthplace of Hindu deity-king Lord Ram. This characterise communal tension in the country even today and is believed to have changed the course of Indian politics forever.
In 2010, the Allahabad High Courton heard the Ram Janmbhoomi-Babri Masjid case and directed the disputed land on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid area to be divided into three parts. Some 14 petitions have challenged this verdict partitioning the land among the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla (infant Lord Ram, a party to the case).
The top court was hearing these appeals when the issue of a mosque’s integrality to the practice of Islam came into question.
In 1994, during the hearing of the Ayodhya land dispute, the apex court had observed that building a mosque was not integral to Islam. On September 27, 2018, the Supreme Court refused to review this observation, saying that the previous verdict bears no relevance to the issue at hand. The judgement, pronounced by then CJI Dipak Misra, said that the context in which the five-judge bench had delivered the 1994 verdict needs to be established first. Justice S Abdul Nazeer had said that whether a mosque is integral to Islam has to take religious beliefs into account, which requires detailed consideration.
The court had then ruled that the civil suit on land dispute would be heard by a three-judge bench on October 29.
What happens next
Now, with the deferment, it is unlikely that the verdict on the decades-old title suit will arrive anytime before the 2019 general elections. This is a secular and thoughtful move according to some; now, the BJP can neither polarise nor valourise the outcome of the hearing.
However, with a poll promise to deliver, Uttar Pradesh’s BJP unit and several BJP-affiliated groups are banking on an ordinance to circumvent the hearing and clear the way for the construction of their mythological temple. Several devotees had protested against the delay before and with the latest postponement, their hopes of seeing the temple built in their lifetime have been dashed for the umpteenth time. The main petitioner, Iqbal Ansari himself wants the Supreme Court to consider concluding the hearing in this case soon.
Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said many in the country wanted the case to be heard quickly. Opposition parties stand firmly against the ordinance route. Former union minister P Chidambaram told the press, “This is a familiar story. Every 5 years, before the election, the BJP will try to polarise views on Ram mandir. The Congress believes everyone should wait until the Supreme Court decides. I don’t think we should jump the gun.”
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.