Ayodhya case: It may fail, but mediation should be given a chance
With elections nearing, there are bound to be calls for the announcement of a date for the temple construction from right wing groups. The mediation effort will help to soothe tempers on all sides, at least for the moment.
In theory, the Supreme Court’s decision to give mediation another chance in the contentious Ayodhya issue is a good one. After all, it holds out the possibility of a satisfactory closure to a painful dispute on which the first petition was filed 134 years ago. As some experts have pointed out though, it is probably an idea that looks doomed to failure. After all, one of the three main parties in the case disagreed with the notion when the court was hearing arguments for and against mediation.
Why then, did the court plump for this option? At one level, the five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi may have believed that mediation holds out hope of a healing touch in a vastly polarising dispute. As the court put it, if there is even a 1% chance of resolving this problem, it should be explored. Optimistic as that expectation may be, one can’t find fault with it.
At another level, the mediation may be the perfect excuse for a breather in this case -- it wouldn’t have made sense to hear it in the already heated environment ahead of the summer’s Lok Sabha elections . If this has at all played a part in the decision, then the court should be congratulated for its pragmatism.
Sceptics have already pointed out that this mediation effort is of a piece with many such efforts and formulas that have been proposed in the past, some by former prime ministers and others by religious leaders.
Supporters of the move counter that the Sunni Central Waqf Board has shown increasing accommodation and has signalled its willingness to talk. That the Shia Waqf Board has been clear that it is not opposed to building a temple at that site at all. And that only the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and some of its affiliates seems opposed to mediation. Surely, they argue, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its ideological parent the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, can prevail upon it?
Clearly, the panel will have to explore fresh avenues for resolution and learn from past efforts which have not worked. The fact that the SC has ordered that the proceedings of the mediation be kept confidential will help in preventing it from becoming more of a political issue than it already is.
That this is a court-sanctioned mediation effort gives it greater legitimacy than some of the earlier attempts. A resolution to this deeply divisive dispute could transform Hindu-Muslim relations, hold out hope for greater communal harmony and end opportunistic politics --- all probably worth taking that 1% chance for.