Supreme Court to hear Ayodhya case in January, refuses UP govt’s early hearing request
The Supreme Court on Monday turned down requests for an early hearing in the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi title dispute and said the top court will decide the course of hearings in the first week of January.
In a hearing that barely lasted five minutes, a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi dismissed requests by additional solicitor general Tushar Mehta, who appeared for the Uttar Pradesh government, and senior advocate CS Vaidyanathan, who represented the deity Ram Lalla, that the court take up the dispute after the Diwali break.
The decision effectively means that the verdict is unlikely to be out before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections expected to held around April-May, and that the issue may remain dormant during assembly elections in five states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Telangana and Chhattisgarh – scheduled for November-December this year.
“We have our own priorities. Whether hearing would take place in January, March or April would be decided by an appropriate bench,” the CJI said. He also clarified that appeals would come up in January before a bench “not for hearing but for fixing the date of hearing.”
The court is hearing 14 petitions challenging a 2010 Allahabad high court decision that trifurcated the disputed site in Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya town between Hindus, Muslims and the representatives of Ram Lalla, a petitioner.
The Ayodhya dispute is among India’s most sensitive and divisive political issues. Hindus believe the 16th century mosque, Babri Masjid, was built over a temple dedicated to Hindu god Ram, whose birthplace is also considered to be at the site. The mosque was demolished by a mob of thousands in 1992, triggering a cycle of violence and riots across India.
The court’s decision evoked a mixed response within the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rose to prominence on the back of the Ram Temple movement in the early 1990s. Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the government had full faith in the judiciary and respected it.
“I would like to humbly say that a lot of people in the country want that the hearing on the issue be completed soon. We have full faith in the court and we fully respect it,” the minister added.
But his party colleague and Union minister Giriraj Singh blamed the Congress for communalising the issue and said Hindus were running out of patience on the Ram Temple issue. “ Shri Ram is the cornerstone of faith of the Hindus. Hindus are running out of patience. I fear what will happen if Hindus lose out of patience,” the minister of state for micro, small and medium enterprises said.
Congress leader and former finance minister P Chidambaram accused the BJP of polarising people on the issue ahead of the Lok Sabha polls. “Every five years before elections, the BJP tries to polarise views on Ram Mandir. Congress’s position is that the matter is before the Supreme Court and everyone should wait until the top court decides... I don’t think we should jump the gun,” he said.
The Ayodhya dispute has slowly returned to the political centre stage over the past few months. Earlier this month, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat called for a law for the construction of the temple. On Sunday, Uttar Pradesh deputy chief minister said no one would want a structure named after Mughal emperor Babur in Ayodhya. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, an affiliate of the RSS, said it would lobby with lawmakers from several political parties during Parliament’s winter session to push for a legislation for the construction of a Ram temple.
BJP ally Shiv Sena, which has also been pushing for the construction of the temple in recent weeks, said the courts won’t do anything in the matter. “We are not paying attention to what the Supreme Court verdict (on Ram Temple issue) is and what date it gives (for the verdict). We don’t want to pay attention. The court won’t do anything in the Ram temple matter,” party leader Sanjay Raut said in Mumbai.
Triloki Nath Pandey, who represents Ram Lalla, said the top court’s decision was unfortunate. “Now, the Centre must bring an ordinance and frame a law for construction of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya.” But another Hindu litigant, the Nirmohi Akhada, said they will wait for the court’s judgment.
Senior counsel for the Muslim litigants, Zafaryab Jilani, said they wanted the top court to give them a patient hearing before passing a verdict. “It is not for us to condemn or welcome the order,” he said.
Last month, the apex court declined to reconsider its observations in a 1994 judgment that a mosque was not integral to Islam — an issue which had arisen during the hearing of the Ayodhya land dispute. In a 2:1 verdict, a three-judge bench headed by then chief justice Dipak Misra had said the civil suit would be decided on the basis of evidence and the previous verdict had no relevance to the matter.
Sanjay Kumar, director of the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, said the SC decision will prove to be an advantage for the BJP.
“The BJP too would not like to go to polls in the shadow of a vicious atmosphere, so a delay on the issue will help them to keep the hopes alive. They will be able to go to people with the assurance that something positive is being done and if they are questioned on the delay, they can say that their hands are tied because the issue is in court,” he said.