As the honourable Supreme Court has initiated another round of mediation through a panel of three members, Justice (Retd.) Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla, spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and leading jurist Sriram Panchu in the Ramjanmabhoomi case, it would be interesting to look at the history of earlier mediations and negotiations on Ayodhya and why they failed
The Supreme Court on March 8, 2019, appointed a three-member panel for in-camera mediation on Ramjanmabhoomi dispute. However, this is neither the first effort for mediation nor the first voice of mediation from the Supreme Court. Here is an account of previous efforts of mediation and reasons behind the failures of the dialogues.
Chandrashekarendra Saraswati and Maulana Abdul Hasan Ali: This is reportedly the first formal effort for an amicable solution on Ramjanmabhoomi and Babri Masjid dispute in modern India. In 1986, the then Shankaracharya of Kanchi Pitham Swami Chandrashekarendra Saraswati initate talks with Maulana Abdul Hasan Ali, the president of All India Muslims Personal Law Board (AIMPLB). It is said that after initial negotiations, the Shankaracharya withdrew citing pressure from various groups. He, however, did not reveal the kind of pressure or threat he was receiving.
VP Singh’s three-member panel 1990: Shortly after becoming the Prime Minister in 1989, VP Singh appointed a three-member panel for arbitration on the issue while the case was pending in the court. This effort became a non-starter as Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC) that was formed in 1986 to protect the interest of Muslims on disputed Babri mosque refused to participate in the proceedings of arbitration.
Chandra Shekhar’s ten member panel: VP Singh’s successor Chandra Shekhar continued his efforts. He formed a ten member panel with then Home Minister Subodh Kant Sahai as its convener. Besides, the members of All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), he also included three Chief Ministers – UP Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, Rajasthan Chief Minister Bhairon Singh Shekhawat and Maharashtra Chief Minister Sharad Pawar. This panel also had experts from history and archaeology etc. As the Congress pulled down Chandra Shekar Government, this exercise became futile.
Chandraswami: In 1992, as the VHP was preparing for Kar-Sewa, the then Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao appointed his spiritual guide Chandraswami as the interlocutor in Ramjanmabhoomi dispute. Before he could start dialogues the Kar-Sewa started, and the mosque was demolished on December 6, 1992.
Ismail Faruqui Judgment: In Ismail Faruqui judgment on October 24, 1994, the Supreme Court had first expressed its view on ‘negotiated settlement’. “This is a matter suited essentially to resolution by negotiations which does not end in a winner or loser, while adjudication leads to that end. It is in the national interest that there is no loser at the end of the process adopted for resolution so that the outcome does not leave behind any rancour in anyone. A negotiated solution can achieve this by which a decree can be obtained in terms of such a solution in these suits. Unless a resolution is found which leaves everyone happy, that cannot be beginning for continued harmony between ‘we the people of India’. There was no immediate response for this call of ‘negotiated settlement’.
Ayodhya Cell: Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee opened an Ayodhya Cell in PMO to amicably sort out the issue. A senior IPS officer, Kunal Kishore played a significant role in organising the meetings between Hindu and Muslim bodies. This dialogue was failed because the Muslims bodies emphasised on the reconstruction of the mosque on the same place while Hindu groups continued to press for their demand to hand them over the disputed land for construction of a grand temple. Muslim groups did not accept the offer to construct a mosque at any other place in Ayodhya.
Swami Jayendra Saraswati: In 2002-03, the Shankaracharya of Kanchi Pitam Swami Jayendra Saraswati made several efforts of arbitration with AIMPLB and other Muslims bodies. His efforts were also based on the line that since the land under dispute is the birthplace of the God Ram, the Muslims should construct the mosque at any other place. However, the Muslim groups rejected the offer. The BMAC has been insisting that as per Quran a Muslim has been mandated not to leave the site of a mosque voluntarily. He, however, contended if mandated by the court or by the law of the Parliament; he would withdraw his claims for the land.
Judgment of Allahabad High Court: In a judgment on September 30, 2010, the Allahabad High Court accepted the existence of a temple under the disputed site and concluded that the mosque was built after demolishing an existing temple. The court handed over the original disputed land of around 0.3 acres to Hindus but divided the surrounding land that was acquired in 1992, between BMAC and Nirmohi Akhara by a majority of 2:1 judges.
On March 6, 2018, Sri Sri wrote a letter to AIMPLB asking the top Muslim body to gift the disputed land of around one acre to Hindus who in turn would gift five acres of land nearby to Muslims to build a better mosque The Hindu groups contended that the importance of Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya for Hindus is like Mecca and Medina for Muslims Out of the three litigants from Hindus—Nirmohi Akhada has welcomed the mediation; while two—Hindu Mahasabha and Ramlala Virajaman have argued that as the disputed place is the birthplace of Ram, there could be no negotiation on this issueJS Kehar, Chief Justice of India: Hearing a PIL filed by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy for early hearing of Ayodhya dispute on April 4, 2017, the then Chief Justice of India JS Kehar has suggested mediation and even offered himself as mediator. “If the parties want me to sit between mediators chosen by both sides for negotiations, I am ready,” he said adding that if required the court can also choose a principal negotiator for finding a solution. However, nobody came forward for the offer. In the next hearing on March 31, Swamy submitted that numerous attempts for a negotiated settlement had failed and a judicial intervention was required. He also submitted that all the pleadings were complete and case should be listed for final disposal.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar formally initiated his efforts of mediation after a meeting with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath on November 15, 2017. He conducted several rounds of talks with both Muslim and Hindu organisations. A meeting was held between three main stakeholders in Ayodhya—Mahant Nritya Gopal Dash of Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas, Iqbal Ansari, the litigant in Babri Masjid land dispute case and Haji Mehboob, the litigant in Babri mosque demolition case. Gopal Dash asserted that a grand temple should be constructed at the disputed site. Haji Mehboob demanded that the disputed site should be left for a ‘mosque’ and temple should be built at another place. Iqbal Ansari opined that the issue could not be resolved through dialogue and only the Supreme Court could settle it. Sri Sri also met a prominent Muslim cleric Maulana Farangi Mahali who promised to raise the issue in AIMPLB. The Hindu groups contended that the importance of Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya for Hindus is like Mecca and Medina for Muslims.
On March 6, 2018, Sri Sri wrote a letter to AIMPLB asking the top Muslim body to gift the disputed land of around one acre to Hindus who in turn would gift five acres of land nearby to Muslims to build a better mosque. “It is a win-win situation in which the Muslims will not only gain the goodwill of 100 crore Hindus but it will also put this issue to rest once and for all.’ He also promised to put a ‘palak-nama’ recognising that ‘the temple has been built with the cooperation of both the Hindus and Muslims’. He also assured that this gift of Muslims should not be considered to those who demolished the disputed Babri mosque but a gift to the people of India. Some Muslim personalities and organisations were ready to accept the land across the river Sarya or in Lucknow. The proposal was, however, rejected by AIMPLB on November 14, 2017, that opined to contest the case in the Supreme Court and accept the decision.
Supreme Court’s panel on mediation: Justice (Retd.) Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla, former judge of the Supreme Court, spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and leading jurist Sriram Panchu. The panel has been given a time of four weeks to submit the status report and eight weeks for submission of the final report. There will be no media briefing or coverage of the mediation process, and the mediation would be conducted behind the closed doors or in camera proceedings. In the court, the Muslim litigant Babri Masjid Action Committee has supported the mediation with the condition that there would be no pre-condition for the mediation. Out of the three litigants from Hindus—Nirmohi Akhada has welcomed the mediation; while two—Hindu Mahasabha and Ramlala Virajaman have argued that as the disputed place is the birthplace of the God Ram, there could be no negation on this issue. The first meeting of the mediation panel occurred in Ayodhya on March 13, 2019. Initially, Muslim litigant Iqbal Ansari had opposed SC appointed mediation, but later he welcomed it.
(The writer is a freelance journalist)