The Supreme Court on Tuesday cleared the way for Allahabad High Court to deliver the verdict in the Hindu-Muslim dispute over Babri Masjid, but it is almost certain that this will not bring closure in the case.
When the high court pronounces the judgment in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit, the first leg of the 61-year-old litigation will come to an end.
There are already indications that this will be just the beginning of the second and crucial round of the legal battle when some parties in the case will approach the Supreme Court in appeal.
The Lucknow bench of Allahabad High Court has ended the suspense over the date of the verdict. The counsel for the petitioners have been told that the judgment will be pronounced at 3.30 pm on Thursday.
Representatives of parties in The Ram Janmbhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit after the Supreme Court decides on a plea seeking deferment of the verdict on the case.
This communication was made shortly after a three-judge Supreme Court bench – comprising Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justices Aftab Alam and K.S. Radhakrishnan – dismissed Ramesh Chandra Tripathi’s special leave petition (SLP) for deferment of the verdict to enable another attempt at an out-of-court settlement.
Justices S.U. Khan, D.V. Sharma and Sudhir Agarwal of the special high court bench held a meeting and communicated the next date for the verdict to the registrar and officer on special duty. However, the parties to the dispute have indicated that an appeal could be filed before the Supreme Court by those who feel aggrieved by the high court judgment.
Zafaryab Jilani, counsel, Sunni Central Waqf Board (SCWB), said, “I have been saying right from the beginning that the high court verdict is only one step towards justice. One can move the Supreme Court or opt for amicable settlement after the high court pronounces the judgment.” Ranjana Agnihotri, counsel for Shankaracharya Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati, one of the plaintiffs, said, “We want to know the high court verdict as soon as possible because we have to plan our next step. We will accept the high court verdict even if it goes against us. This is because we know it is only a step towards the judicial process. A higher court is still there.” Ashok Singhal, international president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), said, “We will be free to move ahead and appeal in the Supreme Court in case the verdict goes against us. There is much more in stock in future.” Singhal said Parliament can enact legislation for a Ram temple in Ayodhya. This, according to him, would be the only way for an amicable settlement.
On Tuesday, the apex court did not give reasons for dismissing the petition, which seemed to upset lawyers representing the parties in the case. The court only said, “Having considered the detailed arguments advanced in these cases, we are of the view that the special leave petitions deserved to be dismissed.” One legal view is that the court is not bound to give reasons for not entertaining an SLP – unlike an appeal – as the court has the discretion to entertain or reject it.
Even as the Centre identified potential trouble spots and made elaborate security arrangements to keep matters under control if tension built up following Thursday’s verdict, political parties believe there will be no communal flare-up.
In the Congress’s assessment, apparently bolstered by intelligence reports, the Ram Janmabhoomi issue has “outlived its votecatching utility” for the BJP. The VHP alone could provide cause for worry for the law-enforcing agencies. The Congress’s confidence is underscored by the statement of Digvijay Singh, AICC general secretary in charge of Uttar Pradesh, “I am sure the BJP will realise that 2010 is not 1992 and refrain from inciting violence.” BJP spokesman Prakash Javadekar said that the Supreme Court decision had ended the uncertainty over the long- standing dispute. However, he noted that even after the verdict of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad high court, there will still be legal avenues ahead.
“We appeal to the people to maintain peace and calm in the country and are hopeful that they will do so.” Earlier, senior counsel Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Tripathi, admitted that most parties were against talks for settlement. But he stressed that it was a dispute between two major groups or denominations in the country and 20 parties fighting the legal battle did not reflect the views of the two communities.
On Justice Kapadia stressing that he had intervened in the last minute to attempt an out-of-court settlement, Rohatgi said the application was filed as other parties had not come forward. “We are running against timeâ€¦ You woke up late,” Justice Alam said.
Senior counsel Anoop G. Chaudhari, appearing for the waqf board, said, “Let us be practical. It is a suit in which both parties have let evidence to prove their title. There is no question of dividing the land… either I or he has to give up.” Senior counsel Ravi Shankar Prasad said the court should reject the argument that the verdict would have law and order problems as “non-delivery of the judgment” will also have consequences. “All major parties in the case are ruling out a settlement at this stage. The matter will come here on merits, evidence and on facts… there will be a wider canvas for settlement.” Soli J. Sorabjee also supported Prasad and said the parties may soften their stand after learning of their rights after the judgment.
“Should the judges be held at ransom,” he asked, rebutting arguments that there could be law and order problems.
Attorney General G. E. Vahanvati might have tilted the balance against the petitioners by stating that mediation, though the preferred option, had failed. He said the government was in favour of a resolution one way or the other.
The judges leaned in favour of putting an end to the legal dispute which had cropped up immediately after independence. The earlier September 23 order of the apex court staying the pronouncement of the verdict by the high court had raised fears for further delay. But, the three-judge bench presided over by Chief Justice Kapadia gave the green light for the high court to pronounce the judgment, eventually reducing the delay in the matter to mere few days.