April 02, 2017

India: Paving the Way for Ram Lalla? - Editorial EPW, 1 April 2017

Economic and Political Weekly - Vol. 52, Issue No. 13, 01 April, 2017


Paving the Way for Ram Lalla?

The Supreme Court’s preference of negotiations over adjudication presages an unfair outcome.

The 30 September 2010 judgment of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court in the Babri Masjid–Ram Janmabhoomi case was resolute that what Hindu fundamentalists believed was indeed fact. Those beliefs were the articles of faith of those who had engaged in “great painstaking preparation and pre-planning”—according to the official inquiry of the Liberhan Ayodhya Commission—to demolish the mosque on 6 December 1992. These were also the beliefs of the top leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the other Hindu fundamentalist organisations linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) who had addressed the mobs on that date, calling upon them to demolish the mosque. So all of us—irrespective of our identity in terms of religious denominations or even as atheists—who think of ourselves as equal citizens of India and believe that the Indian state has to guarantee the rights that come with such citizenship, have been hoping the Supreme Court will scrupulously uphold the Constitution and the rule of law in the Babri Masjid–Ram Janmabhoomi case.

But instead of going ahead in fulfilling the Court’s primary responsibility of adjudication, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, J S Khehar, has advised the parties to the dispute to negotiate an out-of-court settlement, even offering himself as a mediator in the process of such negotiations. “Give a bit, take a bit. Make an effort to sort it out ... if the parties want me to sit with mediators chosen by both sides for negotiations, I am ready to take up the task,” Justice Khehar is reported to have said. In his view, the issues are related to “sentiments and religion.” The Court “should come in the picture only if you cannot settle it,” he maintained.

But should negotiations between what are, quite obviously, unequal parties—with one side backed by the Hindutvavadis in power at the centre and in the state of Uttar Pradesh, the site of the illegally demolished Babri Masjid—be even considered a “fair” way of settling the dispute? One would have thought that it was precisely in such a case that the chief justice of India’s highest court would have preferred not the relative political power behind each of the parties to the dispute to determine the outcome but instead, the evidence and the facts related to the case, and the correct interpretation and upholding of the relevant laws related to it. Is the belief that “lord” Ram was born under the central dome of the masjid pertinent to the case, as the Allahabad High Court averred? And even if one were to concede this, does that give him proprietary rights over the land on which the mosque came up in 1528? Was a temple razed to construct that mosque? Apart from there being no concluding evidence to establish this contention as fact, would not the Limitation Act apply to reject the assertion that the land could not be possessed adversely?

It is evident that the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are waiting to get the required numbers in the Rajya Sabha to make a law for the construction of the Ram Temple on the site of the demolished mosque, as proposed in the BJP’s manifesto. But before that, they have to find a way to get the judiciary out of the picture. Does this explain the sudden entry of Subramanian Swamy (of the BJP and the RSS), who has never been a party to the case, being permitted by the Supreme Court bench to intervene with his plea seeking construction of the Ram Temple at the site of the demolished mosque? And how does one explain the underserved attention to him by the chief justice?

Right from the night of 22–23 December 1949, when some 50 people led by three persons entered the mosque and installed three statues under its central dome, to 30 September 2010 when the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court handed over the land on which the demolished mosque once stood to Ram Lalla, the executive and the legislature—the latter enacted the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act, 1993—of the Indian state have willy-nilly aided Ram Lalla’s appropriation of the mosque. The judiciary in the form of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court, of course, gave legal sanction to Ram Lalla’s acquisition. And now, the highest court of the land, instead of going by the evidence and the facts related to the case, and correctly interpreting and upholding the relevant laws related to it, prefers the unequal contending parties to negotiate an out-of-court settlement.

The Ram Temple might indeed rise on the ruins of the Babri Masjid, but this will be at the cost of secularism, for the Indian state will have thereby derived its sanction from faith and from deity—more to the point, from Ram Lalla. And the Ram Temple will then have risen at the cost of democratic functioning; democracy will be the victim, for secularism is a necessary condition for democracy.
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