The feral, giant creature of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute has been finally placed where it belongs: within the solid and safe confines of India’s legal system. This is no mean feat. For those who have been following the trials and tribulations of the issue since 1949 when Ram idols were placed within the structure of the then existing Babri Masjid, a chapter that seemed to refuse to be closed has come to a major pit stop, if not necessarily to a close. What had initially been a property dispute morphed into something far bigger, fuelled by the sectarian politics of the late 80s that reached a bloody climax in the destruction of the disputed structure in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 and its horrific aftermath across India. Thursday’s verdict was a product of its time. The India that dabbled in communal politics has given way to an India that finds such tremors to be obstacles, rather than short-term stepping stones for one community, in its path. But the high court’s verdict couldn’t have been left hanging indefinitely. For leaving such a sore open, even if it had become just a scar for an India that has moved on since, would have left the door ajar for future misunderstandings and calamities.
Political parties across the spectrum have reacted in a mature manner to the verdict. The judgement itself — essentially acknowledging the fact, for the first time, that a Ram temple did exist prior to a mosque being built over it, and the division of the contentious land between three petitioners — is a sagacious one that, importantly, leaves no ‘losers’. There
may be critics who will find the law sidestepping certain issues, but they are liable to be nitpicking, missing the wood for the trees. The fact that the Sunni Waqf Board will be taking the verdict to the Supreme Court is itself a recognition that the ‘Ayodhya’ issue has been contained within the frames of the law. A bull has been caught by its horns and credit should be given where its due: the law overwhelming what had always seemed — and had, during a dangerous period of our political history, become — a matter of extra-judicial misadventures and posturings.
One hopes that even with the differences that may remain after the High Court’s verdict, the judgement will provide enough impetus to all sides of the dispute to work out an amiable solution to independent India’s most voluble property dispute. In the end, what is of prime importance and deserving both relief and applause is that the verdict, in no mean way, has been a touchstone moment for Indian secularism and a definitive step away from the pit of religious fundamentalism.