The SC has done well to push the Ayodhya decision to next year
A pro-mandir verdict would have energised the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and its affiliates and supporters. An unfavourable verdict would have given them an opportunity to polarise the electorate.
The Supreme Court has done well to push hearing the Ram Janmabhoomi case to January, effectively ensuring that a verdict on the case doesn’t come before the next parliamentary elections, which are likely to happen across April and May. The court’s logic is that the dispute is a civil one, over land, and that there is no urgency in hearing the case. In truth, the dispute transcends domains and could have a huge implication on the elections. A pro-mandir verdict would have energised the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and its affiliates and supporters. An unfavourable verdict would have given them an opportunity to polarise the electorate. Both may have affected the verdict of what is promising to be a very interesting election. In that aspect, the delay is an entirely reasonable trade-off.
Both the BJP and its ideological parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), were optimistic about a verdict on the decades-long dispute coming out this year. The initial thinking was that this would happen under the previous chief justice of India, Dipak Misra, who retired in early October. Later, with the hearing expected to begin on October 29, the thinking changed to a verdict being delivered in four to five months. That is not to be. The court will now start hearing the case only in January; even a bench hasn’t been constituted. It is safe to say that a verdict can be expected only after the next government has been sworn in. The court’s decision breaks the momentum that seemed to be building up. Over the past few months, the temple issue has come to the fore again. Last week, this newspaper reported a meeting in Lucknow attended by senior BJP leaders and representatives of around 40 RSS affiliates on political strategy. One of the things discussed at the meeting was to leverage the Ram mandir and the upcoming Kumbh mela at Allahabad. Even Shiv Sena leader, Uddhav Thackeray, said he would make a trip to Ayodhya in relation to the temple.
The RSS has already responded to the court’s decision, repeating its earlier demand, asking the government to legislate a law that allows for a Ram temple to be built at the disputed site at Ayodhya. There has also been some noise about the need for an ordinance. The government’s initial response to the court’s decision has been cautious but clear: that it doesn’t want to comment on what the court has done but that it would have been good to resolve the festering dispute at the earliest. It isn’t clear whether the government will listen to demands for a legislation or an ordinance. Either would bring Parliament to a standstill.