OPINION: The new reality in Ayodhya

It is a tribute to India’s secular traditions that political parties and communities largely accepted the SC's Ayodhya verdict without rancour, thus making the temple a reality.

ByK M Chandrasekhar

Published Feb 02, 2024 | 1:01 PMUpdatedFeb 02, 2024 | 1:02 PM

Ayodhya temple

The temple at Ayodhya is now a reality. It is constructed over almost three acres of land, with a total area of 57,000 square feet and a height of 161 feet; it looks fabulous, is the rival of the Taj Mahal, and will attract pilgrims and tourists alike. A new airport, a renovated railway station, and overall sprucing up of the city will make Ayodhya a huge attraction for years.

My memory goes back to 1990 when LK Advani led a rath yatra in which a young Narendra Modi participated and to the infamous destruction of the Babri Masjid on 6 December, 1992.

I thought at the time that this could be the last nail in the coffin of secularism, following as it did a spate of terrorist incidents which had wracked the country for the past two decades and more. I was in Kuala Lumpur on the day, due to return to India the next day.

Many stories were told about the culpability, or at least gross negligence, of the people who then ruled India. There were rumours that the destruction of the mosque had been carefully planned well in advance by the perpetrators and their mentors.

The Justice Liberhan Commission was set up, which gave its report after 16 years in 2009, concluding that the destruction of the mosque was “neither spontaneous nor unplanned”.

The Commission pinned responsibility on 68 people, including top national leaders Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, and the then Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh. The CBI filed a case against 32, all of whom were acquitted by the Special CBI Court in September 2020.

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Allahabad High Court verdict

I was the Cabinet Secretary when the Allahabad High Court adjudged the dispute in September 2010. It was not a unanimous decision, unlike the later Supreme Court decision; it was passed by a majority of 2:1 even though all agreed on the conclusion.

The judgement divided the site, measuring 2.77 acres, amongst the three principal contenders, one-third each for the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and ” Ram Lalla”, represented by the Hindu Mahasabha, subject to minor adjustment of boundaries as may be needed.

Frankly, I thought to myself that the high court had found an equitable solution to a complex problem laden with intense emotion, conflict and rivalry.

However, the parties to the dispute were not satisfied and appealed against the judgement to the Supreme Court, which set it aside on the ground that the high court was required only to adjudicate legal rights to the land.

All three high court judges — Justice Khan, Justice Agarwal, and Justice Sharma — held that no party had established legal title over the land through documentary evidence.

They agreed that Hindus traditionally regarded the area under the central dome of the erstwhile mosque as the birthplace of Rama. Justices Agarwal and Sharma believed that the mosque was established after demolishing a non-Islamic structure, with the latter stating that “the Archaeological Survey of India [ASI] has proved that the structure was a massive Hindu religious structure”.

Justice Sharma also held that the mosque had been built after the structure’s demolition, while Justice Khan saw no evidence of demolition.

He said, “No temple was demolished for constructing the mosque. Mosque was constructed over the ruins of temples which were lying in utter ruins since a very long time before the construction of a mosque, and some material thereof was used in the construction of the mosque.”

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Supreme Court verdict

The Supreme Court unanimously decided that the entire site of 2.77 acres was in the possession of ” Ram Lalla Virajman”, but in the interests of fairness and exercise of its powers under Article 142(1) of the Constitution, it decreed that a 5-acre plot be identified in Ayodhya and given to the Sunni Waqf Board for construction of a mosque.

The court concluded that the Hindus had “open, exclusive and unimpeded possession of the outer courtyard” and that there was no evidence produced by the Muslims of namaz having been offered continuously before 1857.

It said, “As regards the inner courtyard, there is evidence on a preponderance of probabilities to establish worship by the Hindus before the annexation of Oudh by the British in 1857.”

Yet, it also said that the mosque was “desecrated by the installation of Hindu idols” in December 1949 and that, again in 1992, “The entire structure of the mosque was brought down in a calculated act of destroying a place of public worship”. The Court further said, “On 6 December, 1992, the structure of the mosque was brought down, and the mosque was destroyed. The destruction of the mosque took place in breach of the order of the status quo and an assurance given to this court. The destruction of the mosque and the obliteration of the Islamic structure was an egregious violation of the rule of law.”

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Temple a reality

While the law had been violated and desecration had taken place, the Supreme Court considered it fit to end this long-festering dispute and to take a decision to construct the temple. It is a tribute to the secular traditions established in the country that political parties and all communities largely accepted this decision without rancour, thus making the temple a reality.

The inaugural function took place in pomp and style. It was reported widely that Ram Lalla had come back to Ayodhya.

Of course, Ram Lalla never came back; he was always there. And he is not just in Ayodhya; he is everywhere. Ishavasyamidam Sarvam, says the first verse of the Ishopanishad, “God pervades everything”, moving, static, animate, inanimate. Whichever form of divinity anyone worships, ultimately the prayer comes to me, says Krishna in Bhagavad Gita, 9:23.

As Brutus said to Cassius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.” This moment has arrived for the people of Ayodhya. It is yet to be seen whether a tide has arrived for the National Democratic Alliance also, giving them the 400 seats they want in the next general elections.

(KM Chandrasekhar is a retired IAS officer and former Union Cabinet Secretary. Views are personal.)