In its attempt to give mediation a shot to resolve the vexed Ayodhya issue, the Supreme Court Friday picked one of its own former judges, Justice Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla, a spiritual guru, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, and a mediation expert, senior advocate Sriram Panchu, to sit with the parties and try to reach a settlement.
It’s not clear how the five judges on the Constitution Bench decided on these three as mediators but their order noted “having taken note of the names suggested by the parties we are of the view that the following panel of learned mediators should be appointed to go into the dispute with liberty to the learned Mediators to co-opt other members of the Panel, if so required”.
All three have a Tamil Nadu connection. Justice Kalifulla, son of late Justice M Fakkir Muhammad, hails from Karaikudi in Sivagangai district. An active labour law practitioner, he was appointed permanent judge of the Madras High Court in March 2000. He served as Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir High Court from September 18, 2011 till April 2, 2012 when he was elevated as a judge of the Supreme Court.
Along with the then Chief Justice of India T S Thakur, Justice Kalifulla delivered the verdict for structural reforms in the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) in July 2016. At his farewell, Chief Justice Thakur described Justice Kalifulla’s appointment as Chief Justice of J&K High Court as a step towards national integration. He underlined the role played by Justice Kalifulla in “restoring faith in the minds of Kashmiris” by travelling across the state and setting up legal aid clinics.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was born in Papanasam in Tirunelveli district. A spiritual leader, he is popularly known as Sri Sri and founded the Art of Living (AOL) Foundation which says it has presence in 156 countries.
After the Supreme Court named him as a member of the mediation panel, Sri Sri tweeted “respecting everyone, turning dreams to reality, ending long-standing conflicts happily and maintaining harmony in society — we must all move together towards these goals”.
He had welcomed the Supreme Court’s proposed move to attempt mediation on March 6 as well, writing on his Twitter timeline “this move towards mediation by the Hon Supreme Court is in the best interest of the country and all parties concerned. We should not leave any stone unturned in resolving this burning issue amicably. We should keep our egos and differences aside and come together with a spirit of honouring and accommodating the sentiments of the communities concerned”.
When he attempted to find an out-of-court settlement in November 2017, Sri Sri travelled to Lucknow and Ayodhya and held talks with stakeholders, sants and Muslim clerics, but his efforts did not bear fruit. At that time, he said: “If this issue has to be resolved forever, the only solution is that a grand temple is constructed with cooperation of both communities. This dream could be made true. There is generosity, love and bhaichara among people of communities and youths in the country.”
Senior advocate Panchu had begun his practice under well-known lawyer Govind Swaminathan, former Advocate General of Tamil Nadu. Panchu was nominated for judgeship in Madras High Court twice — in 2001 and 2003. While the entire list including his name was returned in the first instance over procedural issues, his second chance in 2003 made headlines after then Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa, and subsequently the Collegium too, rejected him. Panchu later announced his withdrawal from the race, citing lack of transparency in the selection process.
Incidentally, Panchu had appeared in the Pleasant Stay hotel case against Jayalalithaa. The illegal structure was demolished later.
He later turned his attention to mediation. In 2005, he founded the country’s first court-annexed mediation centre — The Mediation Chambers — in the Madras High Court and played a key role in making mediation a part of the legal system. He has mediated several complex and high-value matters including construction and property development, insolvency and winding up, family business conflicts and international commercial disputes.
On Friday, when he was asked if eight weeks was enough for the Ayodhya mediation, Panchu said: “Very important question. But let me not comment on that now. It is a very serious responsibility given to me by the honourable Supreme Court. I will do my best.”