The BJP-led government’s move in the Supreme Court seeking permission to return the excess parcel of 67.03 acres adjacent to the disputed site in Ayodhya to Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas stands in stark contrast to what one of the party’s tallest leaders and then Prime Minister had told Parliament nearly 17 years ago.
In a statement made in Rajya Sabha on March 14, 2002, the late A B Vajpayee had made clear that his government is the statutory receiver of the land and “is duty bound to maintain the status quo at the disputed site in Ayodhya”.
Heading the NDA-I government at the time, Vajpayee told Parliament that the government had neither filed an affidavit nor filed a written submission on a plea filed in the Supreme Court challenging the request made by the Nyas to perform a symbolic puja on the acquired land that is not part of the dispute.
Vajpayee’s assurance came after the then Attorney General Soli Sorabjee had submitted in the Supreme Court that “temporary use” of the undisputed adjacent land per se would not violate the status quo ordered by it.
It was the same petition, filed by Aslam Bhure, that had led to the three-judge Supreme Court bench passing an interim order on March 13, 2002 — that no religious activity should take place on the adjacent land. A year later, the five-judge Constitution Bench passed a similar order stating that the two pieces of land are “intrinsically connected” and cannot be separated until the title suit was adjudicated.
Clearing the air, Vajpayee had stated in Parliament that it was after “being asked by the court” that the Attorney General submitted “his reading and interpretation” of the 1994 Ismail Farooqui judgment that “temporary use” of the undisputed parcel for puja would not violate the status quo.
“The Government of India had made this point clear through the President’s Address to the two Houses of Parliament on February 25, 2002. I quote the relevant sentence : ‘The Government of India, being the statutory receiver, is duty bound to maintain the status quo at the disputed site in Ayodhya’,” Vajpayee had said.
“It is the Constitutional duty of the Attorney General to interpret a law or a judgment of the court, when asked to do so. This is what the Attorney General did when the Supreme Court asked him if a symbolic puja on the undisputed acquired land in Ayodhya is permissible,” Vajpayee had said.
Vajpayee told Parliament that the Nyas was a permanent lessee of 42 of the 67 acres of the acquired land, adjacent to the disputed site, and that his government had received a letter from the Trust requesting permission to perform puja.
“Before the government could decide on this matter, a Writ Petition was filed by Aslam Bhure… the government took the view that the decision… would be in accordance with the orders that may be passed by the Supreme Court,” Vajpayee had said.
Vajpayee had also said that the government had kept “its commitment of going by the order of the Supreme Court in the matter of symbolic puja on the undisputed acquired land.” “I take this opportunity to appeal to all the political and non-political organisations across the country to cooperate with the central government as well as with the respective state governments to maintain peace and communal harmony,” he had said.