People's faith in the rule of law can't be interpreted as their unquestioning acceptance of law that is based on faith. Unfortunately, such an interpretation is what appears from the judgement delivered by the three-member Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court on the over 60-year-old petitions seeking adjudication of the title deed of ownership of the disputed Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi land. These judicial pronouncements are, therefore, seen by many as more a political adjudication than a legal one. Surely there will be appeals in the Supreme Court.
LK Advani, who spearheaded the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation by leading the infamous ‘rath yatra' that culminated in a bloody trail of communal riots and the eventual demolition of the Babri Masjid, has rushed into claiming that, "the situation no longer is faith versus law, it is faith upheld by law".
In the evolution of human civilisation, the dividing line between mythology and history and between theology and philosophy has always resulted in conflict situations. The ease with which myths are passed off as real historical facts have, indeed, laid the foundations of many constructs of nationalism. Noted writer Karen Armstrong, in her work on the history of myths informs that they assume a peculiar character of being real while not based on reality. On the widely held belief that myths constitute the collective historical memory of the people, noted historian Eric Hobsbawm says: "It's not a question of people constantly remembering: they remember because someone is constantly reminding them." So, people are constantly reminded in order to rouse their passions to serve a political end.
In a modern, secular, democratic republic, such matters will have to be settled in the political realm. In the judicial realm, the courts are meant to adjudicate on the basis of evidence, facts and legal provisions and not on the basis of "faith' and "belief'. The symbol of justice, universally, is that of a lady with her eyes covered and holding a pair of scales that are evenly balanced. Justice, thus, is blind to the relative strengths of the political mobilisations, or, for that matter, any other social strength of the contesting claims. It is based entirely on the law of the land that is derived from our Constitution.
Naturally, this judgement raises many serious questions. For instance, would the judgement have been the same if the Babri Masjid was not demolished and continued to stand today? This is relevant in the sense that when the petitions were filed before the court, the Babri Masjid stood on that very spot. Does the judgement, therefore, justify the demolition? The demolition was universally condemned and is seen as the biggest disfigurement of secularism, which the apex court decreed as a fundamental feature of our Constitution. In fact, on this basis, the apex court had upheld the then P.V. Narasimha Rao government's decision to dismiss some state governments on the ground that they had mobilised kar sevaks for the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
Likewise, what about the FIR lodged by Sub Inspector Ram Dube of Ayodhya police station stating that a group of 50-60 people stealthily placed the idols of Ram and Sita in the central dome of the Masjid in the night of December 22-23, 1949. The later sequence of events — the locking and the much later unlocking of the mosque's doors etc — are vividly recorded by the Supreme Court in its judgement in the Ismail Faruqui vs Union of India (1994) case. All these raise serious questions about the jurisdiction of the courts to adjudicate on matters of "faith' and "belief'.
After the judgement, slowly but steadily, the shrillness is mounting, asking the Muslims to give up their one-third of the land and join the "building of a grand temple' in a gesture of reconciliation. Efforts are building up for a fresh round of communal polarisation in the name of reconciliation. When the hated apartheid regime was defeated in South Africa, the Nelson Mandela government had to confront the issue of reconciliation between the victims and perpetrators of inhuman crimes. After a wide and an intensely passionate debate, a seminal conclusion was arrived at: justice was a pre-requisite for reconciliation rather than an alternative to it. Thus was constituted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Thus, reconciliation is possible only when the truth is established first. Justice will follow accordingly. The truth, in this case, is that the Babri Masjid existed for over four centuries. The High Court, however, relied more on the "faith' of the people who believe that Lord Ram was born on this very spot. Apart from appearing as a post facto justification of the demolition, the judgement also gives a legal clearance to the slogan "Mandir wahin banayenge'. Can the legal outcome of a property dispute be influenced by an act of illegal demolition? Separate legal proceedings are pending on cases related to the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Justice must be delivered on these matters.
The Supreme Court will now have to deliver justice upholding people's "faith' in the rule of law and not on a law that is based on "faith'. This has to be in conformity with the blindness and the evenhandedness of the Lady of Justice. This judicial process is the only recourse that people have to seek a solution to such disputes. It is, therefore, incumbent to thwart all efforts that seek to sharpen communal polarisation. This judicial process must be allowed to come to its conclusion and deliver justice without any pressures being mounted that can weaken the secular, democratic foundations of modern India.
Sitaram Yechury is CPI(M) Politburo member and Rajya Sabha MP. The views expressed by the author are personal.