NEW DELHI: The sensational and unprecedented press conference by four senior sitting Justices of the Supreme Court raising serious concerns about the functioning of the judiciary has come on the eve of the hearing of the controversial Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid case that has generated chaos and conflict at different points of what is now a seven decade old issue. The Supreme Court’s 3 member Bench had fixed February 8, 2018 as the day for hearing the civil appeals in the title dispute despite protests from senior advocates pleading against the haste, and asking for the case to be deferred till 2019 after the general elections.

The Supreme Court constituted a Bench---Chief Justice Dipak Mishra, Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice Abdul Nazeer--- to look into the slew of petitions on December 5, just a day before the demolition of the historic mosque in 1992. The significance of the date was not lost on political leaders and activists. At the core of this dispute is the belief that Lord Ram was born 900000 years ago in Treta Yuga, a room located under the central dome of the mosque that was thus demolished by right wing groups in the presence of senior leaders LK Advani, Uma Bharti, Murli Manohar Joshi on the said date.

A three-judge Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court had upheld this belief on September 30,2010. The judges reasoned that the world was aware of Ram’s birthplace, and ruled that the site be partitioned equally between the Uttar Pradesh Central Waqf Board, Ram Lalla that is the deity, and the Nirmohi Akhara. On subsequent petitions the Supreme Court stayed the “leap of faith” judgement in 2011. And kept the status quo which basically ensured the presence of a lone priest at the makeshift temple on the site.

The Supreme Court judgement is expected to have momentous impact, particularly in the present environment with construction of the Ram Mandir central to the BJP/RSS movement for the same. The final hearing by the apex court will run through several crucial state Assembly elections before the Lok Sabha polls in 2019. Chief Justice Mishra dismissed pleas for a five member Bench at the onset.

For the record, Justice Bhushan started his career in advocacy in Uttar Pradesh and was a permanent judge with the Allahabad High Court. He was appointed Judge of the High Court of Kerala in July 2014, Acting Chief Justice in July 2104, Chief Justice in March 2015 in a speedy rise. He was appointed Judge in the Supreme Court in My 2016.

And Justice Nazeer has the distinction of perhaps being just the third judge to be elevated directly to the Supreme Court without being a Chief Justice of a High Court. He took office in February 2017, having earlier been an Additional Judge of the Karnataka High Court.

On December 5 the apex court saw heated exchanges with senior advocates Kapil Sibal,Dushyant Dave and Rajiv Dhawan representing different petitioners insisting the case be deferred. At one point they threatened to walk out insisting they were “not being given a fair chance.” Sibal who is representing the Sunni Board pointed out that, "BJP leader Dr Subramanian Swamy had gone on record saying that Ram temple would be built before 2019 through legal means. They want to make it as an election manifesto and the court should not fall into the trap. These appeals are not ordinary property disputes as they go to the heart of secular fabric of the country.”

Sibal also asked the Bench why it was rushing to hear the case now. And if there is this haste then “Why wasnt it heard when it was filed? Why now? Why haven’t the contempt cases (over the demolition) been heard so far? There are some 19,000 documents to be studied in the case.”

Sibal said it was one of the most important litigations in the history of India and required time .”It impacts on the future of India”, he said urging the Bench that it should be heard “after everything is over in July 2019.” Dhavan pointed out that teh case, “ "goes into the heart of a democratic, secular nature of a democracy. A mosque was destroyed in this country. You can't run away from this fact. This is not an ordinary case.”

Lawyers Harish Salve and CS Vaidyanathan, who were representing the other side, insisted that the court must treat the Ayodhya case like any other. CJI Misra supported this view expressing “shock and surprise” and maintaining that the judges were not “bothered about what’s happening outside.” Senior BJP leaders including Chief Minister of UP Yogi Adityanath, who won the elections last year, have spoken on the issue, maintaining that the people want the temple, but the matter was sub judice , so they would wait for the verdict.