On November 9, the Supreme Court delivered a historic verdict on the Ram Mandir issue, which was under litigation for more than seven decades. Finally, the judgment put to rest the competing claims of two opposing sides — for the construction of a Ram temple and the rebuilding of the Babri masjid respectively.
It is a unique judgment for the manner in which it has been authored and delivered. The 1045-page judgment, and its addendum, does not mention the name of the author of the judgment — it has been signed by all the five judges. The regular practice of the Supreme Court is that every judgment — whether majority, concurring or dissenting — carries the name of the author. The verdict was pronounced on a Saturday, which is again unusual as it was not a regular working day. And, the judgment becomes more efficacious, since it is a unanimous one by all the five judges constituting the bench.
The Supreme Court while deciding this contentious issue strictly went by the evidence placed on record, the testimony of witnesses, the ASI report and travelogues. The judgment makes it clear that all faiths and religions are to be respected equally.
To the credit of the bench, the judges always patiently heard both sides, maintained rectitude to uphold the dignity of the Court, even when there were multiple occasions when the counsels for the Sunni Waqf Board made scurrilous remarks, and tried to browbeat it.
The Supreme Court firmly rejected the prayer of the Sunni Waqf Board opposing the its five-day a week hearing plan. It also decided to exercise restraint for the larger public good when a lawyer, acting unprofessionally, tore a map handed over by the counsel for the Hindu side. During the course of the hearing, in December 2017, a request was made to the Supreme Court to defer the matter till the completion of the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Senior lawyers even went to the extent of threatening to walk out of the Court room, if their prayers were not accepted: This was completely blasphemous and against the traditions of the Supreme Court. However, the Court showed exemplary restraint here too.
Eventually, the Supreme Court, on the basis of clear evidence held that, “the worship by the Hindus in the outer courtyard continued unimpeded” and “their (Hindus) possession of the outer courtyard stands established together with the incidents attaching to their control over it.”
As regards to the inner courtyard, the Court stated that, “there is evidence on a preponderance of probabilities to establish worship by the Hindus prior to the annexation of Oudh by the British in 1857.” It was also recorded by the Court that “The Muslim side offered no evidence to indicate that they were in exclusive possession of the inner structure prior to 1857 since the date of the construction in the sixteenth century.”
The Court set aside the Allahabad High Court judgment and held that “Three-way bifurcation by the High court was legally unsustainable. Even as a matter of maintaining public peace and tranquillity, the solution which commended itself to the High Court is not feasible. The disputed site measures all of 1500 square yards.”
The Court noted that, “dividing the land will not subserve the interest of either of the parties or secure a lasting sense of peace and tranquillity.”
It is evident that in the present case justice was clearly delayed, if not completely denied. The real delay was caused at the trial stage, as litigation which was going on since 1950 was finally adjudicated by the Allahabad high court on September 30, 2010. Whereas, in a relatively shorter span of nine years, the Supreme Court was able to deliver this historic verdict.
The main reason why it took the Supreme Court nine years to finally decide the matter, has more to do with the procedural aspects — like the completion of pleadings and translation than the lack of will on part of the Supreme Court to finally decide on it. What added to the delay was the lackadaisical approach of the earlier state governments of Uttar Pradesh in assisting the Supreme Court registry in getting approximately 14,000 pages translated in time. These relevant pages were translated within a short span of five months by the newly elected government led by the present chief minister, Yogi Adityanath.
As a result, the matter was decided expeditiously.
Significantly, in the interest of justice, the Supreme Court also directed that a suitable plot of land measuring five acres be handed over to the Sunni Waqf Board, either by the Central government or the state government. The Nirmohi Akhara was also granted appropriate representation in the Trust/body to be formed by the Central government.
Finally, it augurs well for our democracy that both sides had the patience to wait for decades for this historic verdict. All parties exercising patience displayed that unity in diversity is the inherent strength of our democracy.
It is important that in a democracy governed by the rule of law, every action undertaken by a citizen or a community has valid legal sanctity. This judgment ensures that the construction of a temple at Ayodhya will also have complete legal sanction. It will be apt to say that the Supreme Court, with one stroke of the pen, has strengthened the democratic fabric of our country. It has played the decisive role of “Unifier-in-Chief”.
This article first appeared in the print edition on November 16, 2019 under the title ‘Supreme Court as unifier-in-chief’. The writer is senior advocate, Supreme Court of India, and national spokesperson, BJP
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