Their fathers and gurus spent a lifetime in courts, battling for title rights to 2.77 acres, a dispute that spawned high-voltage politics, divided communities, triggered riots and wounded India each flare-up.
Mahant Dinendra Das, Haji Mehboob and Iqbal Ansari are not sure what their lawyers will tell the Supreme Court Tuesday when it starts hearing cross-appeals against the Allahabad High Court verdict that partitioned the disputed site among three parties, awarding each a third of the land. But these three men, in three different corners of Ayodhya, want the Supreme Court to “resolve this once and for all” and “let Ayodhya and the country move on”.
As he prepared to head to Delhi for the court hearing, Iqbal Ansari, whose father Hashim was the oldest litigant in the Ayodhya lawsuit till he passed away last year, told The Indian Express: “It is up to the Supreme Court now. We will accept whatever the court decides. But it must decide and bring this to an end. That’s what my father wanted, and that’s what I want.”
Ansari believes there’s no room for an out-of-court settlement. “We (Muslims) will never sign on any paper giving up our claim. It is a title dispute and the court must determine whose claim is right. Ayodhya is sacred land and there are sentiments, but a title dispute is not about faith and sentiments. There has to be a judicial decision.”
“My father and I have never been against a Ram temple. Build a Ram temple in Ayodhya, but let there be a mosque as well. How can we be told to build a mosque elsewhere? There are 36 mosques, big and small, in and around Ayodhya, and some are near temples. There has never been a problem with that,” Ansari said.
In September 2010, the Allahabad High Court ruled that Nirmohi Akhara, Sunni Central Wakf Board, UP and Ramlalla Virajman were joint holders of the disputed property, and awarded each a third of the land at the site. In May 2011, the Supreme Court stayed the operation of the order, calling it “strange” because “the decree of partition was not sought by the parties… not prayed by anyone”.
Ordering status quo at the site, the Supreme Court restrained any kind of religious activity on the adjoining 67.7 acres acquired by the government a month after the destruction of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.
And now, more than seven years after the High Court ruling, the Supreme Court will start final hearings on the order.
Mahant Dinendra Das, who shrugged off a rival claim by Mahant Ram Das to head the Nirmohi Akhara after the death of their guru, Mahant Bhaskar Das, in September this year, too says it is up to the Supreme Court now.
While he does not deny talks or efforts for an out-of-court resolution — “sadbhavna bana ke rakhni hai na” (harmony has to be maintained) — Mahant Dinendra Das concedes that the Sunni Central Wakf Board will never sign on any agreement paper out of court.
Much of these recent efforts for an out-of-court resolution have to do with the moves of the Shia Central Wakf Board, UP, which has jumped into the fray. It has not only questioned the claim of the Sunni Central Wakf Board but also suggested that the mosque be built at “a reasonable distance” from the “place of birth of Maryada Purushottam Ram” in order “to bring a quietus to the issue”.
Claiming that Mir Baqi, a Shia, built the Babri Masjid in 1528, the Shia board has staked claim to the disputed site. Its chief Waseem Rizvi has met, among others, Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, president of the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas that spearhead the VHP’s campaign in Ayodhya in the 1990s.
But Haji Mehboob, who succeeded his father, Haji Pheku, as a defendant in the Ayodhya lawsuit, rejects these moves. “They are not even a party to the case. We have no objection to a Ram temple. But this is for the court to decide now. Our paperwork is strong, Muslims have a strong case. Parties to the case can always sit and talk. But the VHP is not even a party in this case. They don’t even want to accept that we have a case.”
He refers to the demolition of the Babri Masjid: “If it was a temple, why did you destroy it? Or did you destroy it because it was a masjid?… Let the Supreme Court decide now. They must do what they have to. But I would request the court to resolve this, once and for all. For the sake of this country, do it,” he said.