Ayodhya case: Supreme Court turns down plea to defer case till 2019 elections are over
The Sunni Wakf board, represented by Kapil Sibal, wanted the hearings in the Ayodhya case to be heard after 2019 Lok Sabha elections.india Updated: Dec 05, 2017 23:19 IST
The Supreme Court on Tuesday decided to continue the final hearing of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case on February 8 next year, brushing aside the plea of the Sunni Wakf Board to postpone it till after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as the final verdict would have political and electoral repercussions.
The Waqf Board’s stand, articulated by its counsel Kapil Sibal, a senior Congress leader, took on a political hue outside the court, with Bharatiya Janata Party president Amit Shah asking Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi to clear his stand on the Ram temple issue.
“On the one hand, temples are being visited (by Gandhi) ahead of elections. On the other hand, they (the Congress) are trying to delay hearing of the Ram Janmabhoomi case. The Congress has double standards on the issue. They should clarify their stand,” Shah said in Ahmedabad.
Demanding that the case be heard as soon as possible, Shah said: “The Supreme Court should give a judgment and a grand Ram temple should be built in Ayodhya.”
Appearing for the Waqf Board, one of the plaintiffs in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case, Sibal took strong objection to the manner in which the hearing was expedited on the request of “someone (BJP leader Subramanian Swamy) who is not even a party in the case”.
The Supreme Court commenced the final hearing of the case at a time when the Congress and the BJP are engaged in a political battle in poll-bound Gujarat, where the opposition party is aspiring to dislodge the BJP from power after 22 years. The BJP’s criticism of the Congress over Sibal’s arguments in the top court could reignite a debate on the Ram temple issue and Hindutva.
It was on Swamy’s request that the then Chief Justice JS Khehar set up a bench to take up 13 appeals against the Allahabad high court’s 2010 judgment in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case. A circular was issued on August 3, listing the matter for a hearing on August 11. The high court had ruled for a three-way division of the disputed 2.77 acres in Ayodhya among the parties — the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and the deity Ram Lalla (Lord Ram as an infant, represented by a VHP activist).
Swamy, who intervened in the case, claimed the pending appeals infringed on his right to worship at the temple. On August 11 the bench fixed the matter for hearing on December 6, the 25th anniversary of the demolition of Babri Masjid, and said no further adjournments would be given.
“Why should this court fall in the trap? Why was it not heard earlier, why now? This is not an ordinary suit. It is perhaps the most important litigation in the history of India and will decide the country’s future. It will have serious ramifications. The court should not in this circumstance hear this matter that will have an impact on polity,” Sibal argued before a three-judge bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, asking it to refer the case to a larger bench of five judges.
He also pointed out that technical formalities in the case were still incomplete and documents on which the high court had based its ruling were yet to be filed.
The bench did not accept Sibal’s arguments but deferred the matter to February 8, 2018, with instructions to advocates of contesting parties to complete the formalities. It ordered the lawyers for both sides to sit together, work in harmony and ascertain which documents have been filed so that “no adjournment takes place in the case”.
“Both sides had a message for this court. But we know what to do. Don’t give a message to this court by telling us what message we will send out,” Chief Justice Misra said as he took strong exception to the arguments advanced. “We will start the hearing.”
The high-voltage hearing lasted over an hour and witnessed heated exchanges between the counsel representing the Sunni Wakf Board and those appearing for Hindu Mahant, Ram Lalla and the Uttar Pradesh government.
While Sibal and his colleagues, senior advocates Rajeev Dhawan and Dushyant Dave, insisted technical formalities were yet to be complied, senior counsel Harish Salve, CS Vaidyanathan and additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta disputed this.
When the bench insisted on proceeding with the hearing and allowed Vaidyanathan to open his arguments on behalf of Ram Lalla, Sibal, Dhawan and Dave threatened to walk out.
Salve asked the bench to not to take note of the request to defer the case as it undermined the court’s position as a fair arbiter. “I am little disturbed that one is presuming which way this court will decide the case.”
He said it was true that the outcome of the title suit might have ramifications. “But to say that it should be heard in July 2019 is disturbing. This should be the only ground to start the hearing today,” he told the bench.
(with inputs from agencies)