Fine balancing act by Supreme Court

The Supreme Court deserves the highest commendation for bringing to an end a long-festering legal battle over the title to the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya. A five-judge bench of the apex court led by its outgoing chief justice Ranjan Gogoi ruled, in a unanimous verdict, that the entire disputed land be handed over to a trust to be constituted for construction of a Ram temple and that Muslims, in the name of ‘equity’, be given five acres of either the acquired land near the site or at a suitable prominent place in Ayodhya for building a mosque. It must be said to the credit of Chief Justice Gogoi that he honoured his commitment to deliver the judgement before completing his term. That the judgement took 23 days to author and ran into 929 pages was an index of the spirit of accommodation that characterised the historic judgement with there being no dissenting notes. It was always on the cards that some feathers would inevitably be ruffled by any verdict but there is no doubt that the judgement has to a large extent satisfied both sides of contenders and paved the way for sustained harmony and peace among Hindus and Muslims for whom this appeared to be an intractable bone of contention. The very fact that both the Sunni Waqf Board and the Shia Central Waqf Board, have welcomed the verdict and said that they would not file review petitions and another litigant Iqbal Ansari has lauded the order is a positive sign which should be built upon in promoting amity.

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Politicians Kamal Farooqui who represents the Muslim Personal Law Board and is a leader of the CPI and All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) chief Asaduddin Owaisi have said they are ‘disappointed’ with the court order but such stray voices of dissent are natural and were to be expected. It must be said, however, that politics had deepened the gap between the Hindus and Muslims over the years with polarisation sharply increasing the divide. Just as a polarised polity is harming the country in other ways, the polarised temple politics did a distinct dis-service to the cause of Hindu-Muslim unity. However, that there was no spontaneous burst of violence after the judgement is also an encouraging signal. The challenge is, however, ongoing. There must be a sustained effort to ensure that vested interests do not trigger a riot or riots. Prime Minister Modi’s address to the nation in the aftermath of the judgement emphasizing that neither side has won or lost and advice to both sides to eschew violence apparently had a salutary effect. His call to unite and take everyone together without leaving anyone behind exemplified the right spirit. It helped that there was no triumphalism and no exaggerated show of remorse in general from those who had different expectations. The maturity shown by people at large was exemplary and laudable. Now, if some parties or groups file review petitions in court, it must not be misconstrued as a sign of hostility by one community. These must be taken in stride and the challenge allowed to run its legal course which is permissible under law.

The bench has candidly recognised that acts of damage and desecration of Hindu shrines by Muslim rulers in the past and demolition of Babri Masjid by Hindu mobs in 1992 were wrong but while sticking to the legal aspects has indicated that historical wrongs cannot be corrected by courts. There are some blunt hometruths in the judgement like that the Hindus showed better evidence of their continuous worship at the disputed structure for centuries, and that there was no evidence produced by Muslims to indicate that their possession of the disputed structure was exclusive. It is to be hoped that the setting up of the trust by the Union government as decreed by the apex court would also be a smooth affair. The important thing now is to bury old prejudices and move on in a positive direction with a spirit of bonhomie and goodwill. Some aberrations are bound to be there in a country so vast and diverse as India but a healthy spirit of tolerance would go a long way in setting a worthy agenda for nation-building while setting aside any religious differences.

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