For MA Siddiqui, this would be the 40th year as a lawyer in the Ayodhya dispute case – one of the first cases he took on the day he started practicing law. His client Hashim Ansari, the youngest of the petitioners in the Sunni Waqf board's appeal in 1961 died last year at the age of 95. "Hashim was a very vocal man. His house was barely 200 metres away from the Babri mosque. Whether he is dead or alive is immaterial to the case. The solution to Ayodhya is a matter of public interest and his death would have no impact whatsoever," says Siddiqui. While the Ayodhya land dispute has finally reached the country's highest court, the solution that people like Siddiqui have been seeking all their working lives may still be some distance away. "The Allahabad High Court has committed an error by partitioning the inner side of the mosque compound as this was the property of Muslims before 1949. The high court has presumed that Hindus were also having a faith that it was the birth place of Ram. This faith was never proved by any evidence. Hindus never exercised any such right until 1949. Faith is not evidence. Evidence is what is defined under the Indian Evidence Act 1872," says Zafaryab Jilani, the lawyer of the Sunni Waqf board representing the Muslim side in the case. "Our appeal in the Supreme Court is going to be that the entire trifurcation of the birth place of Ram is illegal. The place of birth of Ram belongs to Nirmohi Akhara. We will also challenge the high court's ruling that Nirmohi Akhara came into existence only after Babar. The Ramananda bairagees who make up the Nirmohi Akhara have been in existence from times immemorial. The formal nomenclature came later," says RL Verma, the lawyer for the Nirmohi Akhara in the case. ALSO READ: Babri demolition, 25 years on: BJP's transition from Ram to reform to Ram "Faith is not a matter of a few decades. It is a matter of centuries. We have shown that this was not the place of faith of the Hindu community or the birthplace of Ram. We have given historical and other evidence in court. There is no new evidence that can now be given," says Jilani. While conflicting histories has introduced its own set of complications, there also seems to be a bigger divide than ever before on who is representing the Hindu side in the case. "It is not yet decided who is representing Lord Ram to whom a third of the land was awarded by the high court. That's in a legal vacuum at the moment," says Verma. If the Nirmohi Akhara decides to challenge this part of the order in the highest court, it would intensify the acrimony between Hindutva representatives and the Nirmohi Akhara. That's because the suit on behalf of Lord Ram, to whom a third of the land has been awarded, was filed by a former judge affiliated to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). At present, the representative of Lord Ram in the case is senior VHP leader Triloki Nath Pandey. If the Nirmohi Akhara manages to successfully challenge the VHP's claim over Lord Ram, it could repudiate the VHP's decades-long projections of being the champions of a new temple as is evidenced by their stone carving workshops in Ayodhya and large-scale displays of an envisaged temple at its base camp at Karsewakpuram in Ayodhya. "The Vishwa Hindu Parishad is the outside party in this case. Their influence has gone up manifold in Ayodhya after 1989. They started buying properties and organising agitations in Ayodhya," says Verma. "In 1949, big people were not involved. Since 1976, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have taken up this matter. Pictures depicting Ram in chains were pasted across Ayodhya and the impression was given that these people have come to free him. This was an emotional call to Hindus," says Siddiqui. ALSO READ: Ayodhya verdict: Deadline for parties to submit evidence in English ends With fissures deepening among the non-Muslim parties in the case, there have been efforts by people like Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravishankar to act as mediators with the goal of negotiating an out of court settlement. But even a so-called out of court settlement is a minefield not all parties want to enter. The Muslims represented by the Sunni Waqf board are averse to an out of court settlement. The Nirmohi Akhara welcomes Ravishankar's mediation but wants to firmly keep out the VHP from the talks. "We are willing to accept Sri Sri Ravishankar as the mediator. We want a solution.
Our claim is that the entire disputed site is ours. We are opposed to the VHP. Their goal is to make a Ram temple with a portrait of Ashok Singhal outside. They want to build a temple and employ Nirmohi Akhara as priests. That is impossible," says Verma."An out of court settlement is most welcome. The only thing that matters is for things to be settled. But now it is not possible. There has to be some common ground between parties. But, here each party wants the whole thing. There is infighting among the Hindus. The Nirmohi Akhara is being ousted by the BJP and RSS," says Siddiqui. "We do not want to waste our time on third parties who have no legal grounds. I am advising Sri Sri Ravishankar not to enter into this. He should first approach the VHP. Only if the VHP is willing to negotiate should he approach us," says Jilani. One of the reasons for the apprehension among Muslims is the nature of the deal being put forth by the Hindus, more specifically the Nirmohi Akhara. They have three options for the Muslims to choose from in the event of an out of court settlement. The first option for the Muslims is to relinquish their claims over the entire land and say that they do not want to build a mosque. The land would be given to Nirmohi Akhara without any quid pro quo. Whatever remains of the Babri mosque would be razed and a Ram temple built there. The second option being put forth by the Nirmohi Akhara is to give Muslims land at least 500 metres away from the disputed site to build a mosque. But the Nirmohi Akhara would oppose the construction of a mosque any closer to a Ram temple than that. The third option put forth by the Nirmohi Akhara is that if Muslims agree to move out of the disputed site, they will be given four bighas (or an acre) of land owned by it at a locality called Vidyakund in Ayodhya. Vidyakund is almost three kilometres away from the disputed site and houses many temples, religious ashrams, and educational institutions. "It can be given at a nominal rent of, say, two rupees since Muslims believe a mosque should not be built with donations and has to be bought," adds Verma. Although the VHP hasn't yet revealed its proposals in the event of an out of court settlement, they are believed to closely resemble those of the Nirmohi Akhara. The very question of dislocation from the disputed site, unless ordered by the country's highest court, is unacceptable to the Muslims. Moreover, the Sunni Waqf board says any out of court settlement should also be monitored by the court. Jilani says, "Any negotiation will have to start with the realisation on part of the VHP that Muslims will not surrender. I don't think the VHP is prepared for this. When somebody told me that Sri Sri Ravishankar wants to meet me, I told the person that he should be meeting VHP first because we know from experience that VHP doesn't want any negotiation. It wants only surrender. Surrender is not negotiation." Beyond the preparations of a final push for the disputed site in courts or the negotiating table, there is a sense of subdued anticipation among the VHP cadres in Ayodhya. Hazaari Lal, a man in his 50s with a strong hand and a cataract in his right eye, shows visitors to Karsewakpuram a life-size model of the proposed Ram temple. He claims to have been one of the many who were on top of the mosque's dome on December 6, 1992, bringing it down. "I arrived in Ayodhya on the night October 2, 1990, from my village in Shajahanabad district. I along with others had already started the karsewa. My case still lies buried somewhere. Now, the time has come for a temple to be constructed. Everyone is losing strength in fighting this case over Lord Ram. Once the temple is constructed, I can go back to my village."