The apex court’s suggestion for a negotiated settlement to the several centuries old Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri masjid dispute must be music to chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s ears. The court has also observed that sensitive issues are best settled through negotiations. The chief justice of India in fact offered to act as a mediator between the two parties staking claim to the disputed site.
Incidentally, former Allahabad High Court judge Pulak Basu had, on behalf of the Ayodhya Vivad Samjhauta Samiti, sent a compromise formula, signed by 10,502 local inhabitants of the temple city, to the apex court in February 2017. The exercise began in 2010 and the formula includes building the Ram temple where the idols are placed and the Babri mosque, about 300 metres away from the disputed site but within the 67 acres of acquired land.
The construction of the Ram temple will perhaps be the chief minister’s biggest challenge. In all his poll speeches he has promised: “Is there any force that can stop the construction of temple? When they could not stop demolition of Babri mosque, how can they stop this?”
As chief minister he will have to convert rhetoric to reality but the bitter truth is that not all promises made in the electoral battlefield are easy to implement.
Despite his strong conviction that the Ram temple issue is a matter of faith that no court can decide, he as chief minister has no option but to look for an out-of-court settlement. The contentious issue is caught in a legal wrangle that had compelled the BJP to push it to the backburner. Therefore, the observation of the apex court comes as a relief. Now expectations have risen with ‘Modi in Delhi and Yogi in UP’ heading the majority government which the hardliners describe as a palatable situation.
The pressure has already started to build. The saffron scarves are back along with the chant ‘Ek hi naam, ek hi shaan, Jai Sri Ram, Jai Sri Ram.’ The slogan, which was associated with the country’s biggest religious movement, had gone silent after the demolition of the masji in Ayodhya on December 1992.
It had also disappeared from BJP’s political narratives — the emotive issue, that had lost its viability after the demolition of the disputed shrine — had been flippantly dismissed on the last pages of the party’s poll manifesto.
But Jai Sri Ram is back with a bang. It reverberated throughout the state as the governor administered the oath of office and secrecy to the Yogi, bringing back the temple issue into focus.
At best, Yogi Adityanath can recreate the temple fever reminiscent of the Kalyan Singh era in the 1990s when the Jai Sri Ram slogan had become a way of life, dominating all public discourse and political meetings. But the party lost more electoral battles than winning them after the demolition of the disputed shrine in 1992. Now, after the 2014 general elections and 2017 state polls, the BJP leadership knows what works best for the party – a cocktail of Hindutva and development.
Moving beyond the rhetoric will be a gigantic task as the impediments are more challenging than what Kalyan Singh had faced in the 1990s. Even then, the chief minister had to take one step forward and two steps backward to circumvent the status quo order of the court. But how many had foreseen the demolition of the shrine when the Kalyan Singh government had taken its first step towards its hidden agenda: acquisition of 2.77 acres of land by the tourism department in the mid-1990 to promote tourism and provide amenities to visitors. The land was handed over to the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas on lease for one rupee. Thereafter the government axe fell on the temples in the complex and the cleared ground became an open field for the assembly of the kar sewaks that thronged Ayodhya to liberate the Ram Janmabhoomi. The kar sewaks began the construction of the Ram temple by building a platform in June 1992. Six months later, the shrine was demolished and Kalyan Singh sacked.
After the demolition of the shrine, 67 acres of land in and around the disputed structure were acquired by the Narasimha Rao government in 1993. It was challenged and in 1994, a five-member constitutional bench delivered a judgment upholding the validity of the acquisition of the 67 acres of land in Ayodhya. Simultaneously it struck down the section of the government enactment ordering abatement of all pending suits and legal proceedings related to the Ayodhya dispute, which revived the title suits pending before the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court which would decide the ownership of the land on which the Babri masjid stood and where the Rama idol was placed in December 1949. The VHP has since then been demanding that a share of the 67 acres of land be given to them and a portion was handed over by the government to them. As per the judgement, no part of the land can be handed over by the government to anyone before final settlement of the dispute. This is the justification for the demand from some quarters for a temple ordinance on the pattern of Tamil Nadu on the Jallikattu issue.
Zafaryab Jilani, contesting the case on behalf of the Sunni Waqf Board, is confident that the Centre and the state can do nothing as they will have to oppose the Supreme Court first. If they seek a revision in the court order by a constitutional bench of five judges, a bigger bench of seven judges will have to be constituted.
The other way forward is dialogue, something Jilani says they have already rejected since the matter should be decided by a court of law. However, now an observation has come from the apex court and it is unlikely that the Muslim community will agree to any settlement outside the courts.
For any legislative move, the BJP leadership may have to wait for their party’s strength to rise in the Rajya Sabha and for the country to get their new President. Thus they will have to wait for 2018, which is closer to the 2019 general elections.
Till then they can play the Ram dhun!