As the Supreme Court looks at October 18 to wrap up hearings in the appeals against the 2010 order on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit, hopes of arriving at a negotiated settlement to the Ayodhya dispute via a parallel mediation process faded after Ramlalla Virajman, one of the three main parties to the suit, said no to further mediation.
Senior advocate C S Vaidyanathan, representing the deity in Ayodhya, conveyed this to a five-judge Constitution Bench which is hearing appeals against the September 30, 2010 verdict of the Allahabad High Court ordering a three-way division of the disputed 2.77 acres between the Nirmohi Akhara, the UP Sunni Central Waqf Board and Ramlalla Virajman.
Settlement via talks looks over
The three-member mediation committee, formed by the SC, had given another shot at a negotiated settlement after its first effort failed. The court, while making clear that hearing of appeals will continue, had given its nod for a fresh parallel effort to resolve the vexed issue. It had also said that should there be a breakthrough, the court should be duly informed.
Vaidyanathan told the bench of Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S A Bobde, D Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer that there were reports in the media about fresh mediation and “I want to make it clear that we do not want to be part of any mediation efforts”.
The CJI said the bench was hearing the appeals and trying to wrap up the proceedings by October 18 and “if required” will sit even on Saturdays to complete it.
Exploring the mediation option, the Supreme Court had on March 8 constituted a three-member committee comprising its retired judge Justice F M Ibrahim Kalifulla, Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and senior advocate Sriram Panchu.
Reviewing the progress on August 1, the court announced that the process had failed to make any headway and, five days later, started day-to-day hearing on the appeals.
Subsequently, the mediation committee once again approached the bench, saying it had received letters from Zufar Farooqui, chairman of the Sunni Waqf Board, and Dharam Das of the Nirvani Akhara, who had called for resumption of the mediation process.
On September 18, the Supreme Court said that “the hearing of the appeals, which is at a very advanced stage, will continue without any interruption. If, in the meantime, the parties desire to settle the matter(s), including, by resort to mediation by the earlier constituted mediation panel, they may do so and place the settlement before the Court, if reached”.
It also made it clear that “the terms and the process of settlement including mediation, if resorted to, will abide by our earlier order dated 8th March, 2019, with regard to confidentiality”.
Meanwhile, the bench Monday questioned one of the Muslim litigants on its contention that the legal validity of the actions of Mughal emperor Babur — during whose time the Babri Masjid was said to have been built — had to be judged on the touchstone of the law prevailing then and not in the context of the Shariah law.
The Hindu parties had contended that Babur was an invader and his rights could not be legitimised.
“Are you trying to say that a sovereign is not bound by Quranic injunctions?” Justice Bhushan asked advocate Mohammad Nizam Pasha who appeared for Faizabad resident Misbahuddin.
Pasha said Babur was a sovereign and all land was vested in him and evaluating his actions in the context of Shariah law would not be the proper way. He said the fact that Babur invoked the Quran at times to justify his actions or to motivate his men did not mean that his actions can be judged in the context of Shariah law.
Pasha said a constitutional court today cannot evaluate the validity of the actions of a sovereign 500 years ago and hold that they were illegal according to what he should have conformed under Shariah law, and that doing so would be stretching the concept of judicial review of executive action beyond breaking point.
He also countered the Hindu side’s claim that the Babri Masjid was not a mosque as per Islamic law because it did not have a wuzu (for ablution) or minarets. Pasha said the first mosque built by the Prophet himself did not have a minaret and added that under Islamic law, it was not mandatory that a mosque should follow any particular architectural style. On wuzu, he said what Islamic law says is that it it better to perform ablution at home and then go to the mosque.