A five-judge Supreme Court Bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, in a unanimous decision on Saturday, cleared the way for constructing a Ram Temple in Ayodhya at the disputed site, which would be given to a government-run trust. It directed the Centre to allot a 5-acre plot to the Sunni Waqf Board for building a mosque.
Seeking to end a dispute that is about 150 years old and has significantly shaped India’s politics at least since 1989, the court said the mosque should be constructed at a “prominent site”, allotted either by the Centre or the Uttar Pradesh government, and a trust should be formed within three months for constructing the temple.
The court said the faith of the Hindus that Lord Ram was born at the site was undisputed, and he was symbolically the owner of the land. Yet, the court, in the judgment running into 1,045 pages, said it was also clear that the destruction of the 16th-century three-dome structure by Hindu kar sevaks, who wanted to build a Ram temple there, was a wrong that “must be remedied”.
The Bench, also comprising judges S A Bobde , D Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan, and S Abdul Nazeer, termed “legally unsustainable” the 2010 judgment of the Allahabad High Court, which had partitioned the 2.77-acre disputed land in Ayodhya equally among the Sunni Waqf Board, Nirmohi Akhara, and Ram Lalla.
“Dividing the land will not subserve the interest of either of the parties or secure a lasting sense of peace and tranquility,” the judgment said, delivered at the end of a 40-day hearing, the second-longest in the history of the apex court.
Justice Gogoi, who retires on November 17, read the judgment for the first 40 minutes.
Ganga aarti along the banks of Varanasi | Photo: PTI
The court said the possession of the disputed 2.77-acre land rights would be handed over to the deity Ram Lalla, but the possession would remain with a central government receiver.
It said Hindus had established their case that they were in possession of the outer courtyard and the UP Sunni Central Waqf Board had failed to establish its case in the dispute. It asked the Centre to grant representation in the trust to Nirmohi Akhara, whose suit claiming management and “shebaiti” rights over the temple was dismissed. The Akhara later said it had “no regrets” about the judgment.
Zafar Ahmad Farooqui, chairman of the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Waqf Board, one of the main litigants in the dispute, welcomed the verdict.
“The Board has no plans to challenge it,” he said. “If any lawyer or any other person says the decision will be challenged by the Board, it should not be taken as correct,” Farooqui said.
In his initial reaction soon after the judgment, the Board’s counsel Zafaryab Jilani had said in Delhi: “The Ayodhya verdict has a lot of contradictions. We will seek a review.”
Jilani later clarified the press conference was organised by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) and he had reacted as its secretary and not as counsel for the Sunni Waqf Board.
“Even the inner courtyard has been given to the other party. It is not just,” Jilani said, but added the AIMPLB respected the verdict and said certain aspects of the judgment could help improve the secular structure of the country.
Asked about apprehensions that there could be similar claims in Mathura and Varanasi after the verdict, Jilani said: “It is expected that such apprehensions (‘Mathura-Kashi baki hai’) will not be there (after this judgment), and if anything occurs, the Supreme Court will be there.”
He said the Supreme Court invoked its special powers under Article 142 of the Constitution in pronouncing the verdict. The lawyers’ team hoped that after this verdict no other mosque in India would be touched.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who inaugurated the Kartarpur corridor in the morning, tweeted after the judgment: “Whether it is devotion to Ram or Rahim, now is time for everybody to strengthen devotion to India.”
Later, in an 11-minute address to the nation in the evening, Modi said peace, unity, and amity were essential for the development of India and described November 9 as a day to forget any bitterness one might have. He said there was no place for fear, bitterness, and negativity in a new India.
Addressing the nation, Modi likened the verdict to bringing down the Berlin Wall, which took place on this day in 1989 and united the two Germanys a year later. He drew a parallel between that event, the opening of the Kartarpur corridor, for which he was in Gurdaspur earlier in the day, and the Ayodhya verdict.
Nearly all parties have welcomed the decision, with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L K Advani, who had spearheaded the political movement on the issue from 1990 onwards, stating that he had been vindicated.
Vishva Hindu Parishad hoped the trust would build the temple before 2024, and base its design prepared by the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas.
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat, who addressed a press conference in the national capital, said: “We wanted the issue to end, (and) this has happened. All sides (of the case) were evaluated and truth and justice have been highlighted.”
While neither the VHP leadership, nor Bhagwat gave any categorical assurance on the issue, the RSS chief indicated that the organisation might not take up similar disputes involving the temple sites in Mathura and Varanasi. “There was a historic background to the RSS being involved with Ayodhya, as an organisation we don't otherwise involve ourselves in agitations and we will revert to our manushya nirman (man making) mission,” Bhagwat said.
All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen President Asaduddin Owaisi said the judgment was a “victory of faith over facts” and suggested a rejection of the five-acre plot given for constructing a mosque.
Owaisi quoted former Chief Justice of India J S Verma that the “Supreme Court is supreme ... and final but not infallible”.
“Modi 2.0 is to make India a Hindu Rashtra and the road of that vision begins from Ayodhya. The BJP and RSS will use this verdict, the National Register of Citizens, and the Citizenship Amendment Bill to achieve its poisonous agenda,” Owaisi said.
He claimed the disputed structure was “sacrificed” because of the Sangh Parivar and the conspiracy of the Congress.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi chaired a meeting of the Congress Working Committee, which passed a resolution that said the party respected the verdict. Congress Spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said the party supported Lord Ram's temple construction.
All political parties appealed for peace and communal harmony. There were no untoward incidents till the time of filing this report, but the police in several states arrested people for posting content that was deemed provocative or warned them, and stopped bursting firecrackers.