On Friday, March 8, the Supreme Court (SC) ordered mediation to settle the Ayodhya land dispute, two days after it reserved its verdict. The court initially suggested that the Ram Janbhoomi-Babri Masjid issue be settled through a mediation process headed by a panel. But, after a lack of consensus, the SC reserved its verdict.
Appellant and Shia cleric Maulana Kalbe Sadiq and Nirmohi Akhara, a Hindu sect, agreed to a mediation. However, Ram Lalla Virajman, petitioners claiming to represent Ram, and the Hindu Mahasabha, one of the oldest Hindu nationalist parties in India, opposed it.
How did the Babri Masjid issue begin?
Hindu and Muslim groups have been warring over a plot of land in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, since 1992.
Hindus believe that this plot is the birthplace of Ram and had a Hindu temple; they say that Mughal emperor Babur’s commander Mir Baqi destroyed it in 1528 and then built the Babri Masjid in its place.
On the other hand, Muslims contend that Hindus tried to encroach on their place of worship.
In December 1949, Hindus tried taking ownership of the site by placing idols in the mosque. This agitated the Muslims.
Over the years, Hindu and Muslim groups clashed over control of the Ayodhya site. The Quint reports that the dispute was treated as a “localised communal incident by the administration and the media”.
However, tensions escalated to an all-time high on December 6, 1992; more than 2,000 people died in riots after a massive Hindu mob destroyed the Babri Masjid.
Even media’s coverage on the riots was unreliable, adding to the chaos.
A 1992 article in the New York Times said government news sources, namely All India Radio and Press Trust of India, censored their reports on the violence.
The politics of it all
Even leaders from Hindu nationalist parties became embroiled in the mess.
Livemint explains that in 1989 then-BJP President L K Advani had organised a rath yatra and delivered speeches that encouraged Hindu nationalists to destroy the mosque.
Advani resigned from his post and took full responsibility for the mosque’s destruction.
Then, UP chief minister and BJP member Kalyan Singh resigned hours later, after the Hindu mob razed the mosque, because he failed to provide adequate security in the Ayodhya region, despite assuring the SC that he would.
The NYT said thousands of security troops remained stationed while the mob destroyed Babri Masjid.
This lack of security allowed not only rioters to destroy the mosque but also the demonstrations to go uncontrolled.
Singh is currently serving as the governor of Rajasthan.
Although BJP leader and current Union Minister of Drinking Water and Sanitation Uma Bharti was present at the rath yatra, she denies playing a role in the demolition.
Court decisions 2010-present
NDTV reports that two current SC petitioners filed for ownership to the land years ago—Ram Lalla temple in 1989 and Sunni Waqf Board in 1961.
In September 2010, the Allahabad High Court tried to tackle this land ownership dispute.
It awarded two-thirds of the land to Hindu plaintiffs—Ram Lalla Virajman and Nirmohi Akhara—and one-third to the Sunni Waqf Board.
The court declared that the site was indeed the birthplace of Ram and that a temple was destroyed to build the mosque, the first judiciary in history to say so.
Justice S U Khan, the only Muslim judge on the bench, dissented and said the mosque was constructed over temple ruins, that Babur did not destroy the temple intentionally.
The Sunni Waqf board, Hindu priest Mahant Nitya Gopal Das, and Hindu Mahasabha all said they will file appeals in the SC, the Hindu reports.
Then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi said, “I am happy the judgment now paves the way for building a Ram temple in Ayodhya.”
And in 2011, the apex court suspending this ruling.
When did it all go haywire?
In 2018, the SC reviewed the appeals and suggested that the matter be solved through mediation between all parties. A five-judge bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi asked parties to submit a list of preferred mediators.
Hindu appellants, except the Nirmohi Akhara, opposed mediation. The Sunni Waqf Board agreed with it.
Bar and Bench reported that a lawyer representing Hindus said no one was willing to compromise and that mediation would be useless.
However, Justice Bobde said, “You are looking into the outcome even before mediation is attempted. You are saying it will be a failure.”
He added, “This case is also about heart and mind and healing of relations.”
Another lawyer for the Hindu groups said Hindus should get the entire land, suggesting an alternate plot for Muslims.
“We are ready to crowdfund it,” said Senior Advocate for C S Vaidyanathan representing Ram Lalla.
After hearing all arguments, the country’s top court decided to reserve its verdict on the matter.
Rhea Arora is a staff writer at Qrius.