The Ayodhya Verdict
Whether one likes it or not, celebrates it or rues it, appreciates it or criticizes it, the unanimous Ayodhya verdict by a 5-Judge constitution bench is now law. Flawed it may be, imbued with strange logic in places it may be, but it is final, because the Supreme Court is structurally supreme and constitutionally final.
Following the Ayodhya verdict, a cartoon in a leading newspaper@@ shows Lady Justice struggling with both hands holding up the scales loaded with a temple in one pan and a masjid in the other. One notices that the lever arm of the temple in the scales is longer than that of the masjid, thus advantaging the temple. But after all, in Badshah v. Urmila Badshah Godse & Anr (2013), the Supreme Court spoke thus: “... just as change in social reality is the law of life, responsiveness to change in social reality is the life of the law”.
The unanimous Ayodhya verdict was a judicial balancing act in a matter referring back five centuries to Babar. Perhaps the Ayodhya bench could not have done differently or better in the circumstances of the unfolding socio-political reality.
PM Modi has spoken that the Ayodhya verdict gives the message to all Indians to move forward together, to come together and live together. Clearly addressing the Muslims, he said that in the “new India”, there is no place for fear, bitterness or negativity. Addressing the youth, he said that we have to make a resolution that now a new generation will start building a new India. Wise and encouraging words, no doubt, but it leaves one wondering what he meant by “new India”, and whether the rank and file of the aggressive Hindutva forces will understand his intent and words, and act to make them a reality.
The Ayodhya case is a web of inextricably intertwined issues – religion & religious practice, belief, land, civic & legal rights, history & historicity, archaeology, and the politics of rulers up to present times. While there are two litigant parties which claimed ownership of the disputed 2.77 acres, there are three “camps” which view the verdict. To the Hindu litigant camp, it is vindication, victory, gain, justice done, historical injustice undone. The Muslim litigant camp may see it as defeat, loss, injustice, success of majoritarian politics, insecurity and humiliation in the street, school and workplace.
The third camp, which is not a party to the title dispute, senses a threat to the Constitution and its values. It observes logical flaws in the verdict, apprehends acceleration of majoritarian nationalism leading to fascism, the establishment of Hindu Rashtra, and communal violence in the public domain. Indeed, according to one writer, “The main beneficiaries of the Supreme Court's verdict on Saturday are organically linked to the main accused in the crime of demolishing the mosque. And that's not good for India”. It also rues the illogic of the verdict which gave the entire 2.77 acres of disputed land to the Hindu litigants based upon acceptance of the preponderance of the “balance of probabilities” of Hindu possession and worship before 1857, because the Muslim litigants were unable to definitively show exclusive possession before 1857.
All the three camps differ in their “idea of India”. Thus, the first camp welcoming the verdict is unsurprising, but it is highly unlikely that it will be gracious in its perceived victory. The Congress party embracing the verdict is only a shade less unsurprising, considering its blundering acts of commission and omission in the matter. The second and third camps have no choice but to accept the verdict, although they may respectfully or otherwise disagree with some or all of it, and criticize it on various grounds. In any case no verdict in the Ayodhya matter, by whichsoever constitution bench, constituted howsoever, would satisfy all three camps. Even if a different verdict brought “real” justice, it would not guarantee peace.
Standing clear of the three “camps”, this writer reckons thus:
# The verdict is now law. Unless some party to the dispute legally challenges the verdict, it is final. If a legal challenge succeeds even partially, it will bring up fresh disputes in the public domain, whereas if it fails, it will reinforce the intensity of the manner in which the three camps view the verdict as it stands today. In any case, the outcome of a possible legal challenge will be “finally final”. It is apt to recall late Justice V.R.Krishna Iyer writing: “What the Supreme Court decides is final not because it is infallible; it is infallible because it is constitutionally final and structurally supreme”.
# Whatsoever they may claim, the Hindu and the Muslim litigants in the Ayodhya case do not represent the entire Hindu and Muslim communites of India. The vast majority of both these communities (and also other religious communities) only want peace and tranquillity in society.
# The Hindu and the Muslim parties to the dispute, would do well to cooperate if they genuinely desire peace and tranquillity in society. It may not be far-fetched to suggest, even to plead, that Hindus should assist materially and financially to construct a mosque in the 5-acres, and Muslims do likewise for construction of the Ram mandir on the 2.77-acre site.
# The third camp would do well to accept the fallibility of the Ayodhya bench and the finality of its verdict. It might look to getting its act together by seizing the political initiative concerning the urgent real-life issues of food and water security, hunger, health, education, housing, social and economic injustices, the pathetic situation of farmers, industrial & unorganized sector workers, the neglected MSME sector, failing banks, etc.
# It will be well to stall Hindutva forces laying claim to other mosque structures and sites, on the strength of the Ayodhya verdict which dismissed recognition of “Asthan Shri Ram Janma Bhumi” as a juristic person.
# It would be correct and necessary to pursue the portion of the Ayodhya verdict that demolition of the mosque in 1992 was an egregious violation of law.
# There is nothing to be gained and much to be lost in looking back in time at recent or ancient wrongs and injustices, and reviving animosities. Lord Ram and Allah would be pleased if peace and harmony prevailed in society. As inscribed on USA’s Supreme Court, “Justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible only as it first resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens”.
# Perhaps the way forward for Indians of all communities is to accept the Ayodhya verdict as a “given”, hold the PM to his words, and defend the Constitution of India.
Maj Gen S.G.Vombatkere retired from active military service and settled in Mysuru. His areas of interest are development and strategic issues.