The three-judge Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court on Thursday decreed a three-way split of the disputed site at Ayodhya. It declared the Sunni Waqf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and the party representing ‘Ram Lalla Virajman’ (Lord Ram) as “joint title holders” of the property, each with one-third ownership rights.
Pronouncing its verdict on four title suits pertaining to the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute, the country’s longest-running case, the bench of justices SU Khan, Sudhir Agarwal and Dharam Veer Sharma allotted the spot where the idol of Lord Ram is kept and being worshipped at present to Hindus.
In effect, it means the makeshift temple remains where it is. The adjoining portion including the ‘Ram Chabutra’ and ‘Sita Rasoi’ would go to the Nirmohi Akhara, the original petitioners in the case, and a third portion, yet unspecified, would be allotted to Muslims.
The majority verdict, written in separate judgments by justices Agarwal and Khan, goes into the ownership issue, while the minority judgment of justice Sharma says the disputed site is the birthplace of Lord Ram and the Babri Masjid was constructed on the site of a destroyed temple.
Justice Agarwal recognises that the disputed site was seen by Hindus as Lord Ram’s birthplace and partially agrees with Sharma that a non-Islamic structure (i.e. a temple) was demolished to build the mosque. Justice Khan emphatically disagrees that any temple was demolished, and says that the masjid was built on a site when there was a ruined temple.
The high court order specifies that status quo would be maintained at the disputed site, and the process of apportioning the areas to the “joint holders” would begin after three months, unless the order is modified or vacated.
Justice Sharma said the disputed site was the birthplace of Lord Ram. “Place of birth is a juristic person and is a deity. It is personified as the spirit of divine… and it can be shapeless and formless also.”
Thus while the majority judgment recognised partially the claims of the Muslim petitioners, justice Sharma stated that the entire property in dispute belonged to Lord Ram. While counsels for the Hindu petitioners welcomed the verdict, theWaqf Board termed the order as “partlydisappointing” and declared that it would appealin the Supreme Court.
We honour the verdict but we also feel it is against the settled principles of law and evidence which we had offered…(However) There is no reason for any loss of hope for the mosque,” the Wakf Board’s counsel Zafaryab Jilani said.
Jilani said the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) would meet soon to examine the judgment in detail and formulate the appeal to be filed in the apex court. Asked whether the verdict opened up avenues for mediation, he said, “Let some proposal come… but there is no question of withdrawing or surrendering our claim on the disputed site for construction of a mosque.”
Advocate PN Mishra, who represented Jagadguru Shankaracharya, was visibly overcome with delight as he briefed the media. “The order has once again strengthened the faith of the people in the judiciary and proved that justice may be delayed but cannot be denied,” he said.
“Our claims have been vindicated… Ram Lalla will stay at the place of which he is the rightful owner,” said Ranjana Agnihotri, another counsel on the Hindu side.
Reacting to the verdict, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) said the high court verdict has paved the way for the construction of a Ram temple on the disputed site. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, however, took a restrained position, saying “the verdict should not be seen as anybody’s victory or defeat… The movement for Ram temple is not a reactionary one, nor is it against any particular community”.
The Congress welcomed the judgment saying everyone should accept it. “The Congress has held that the controversy should either be solved through talks or the verdict of the court should be accepted. The court has given the verdict. We should all welcome it,” party general secretary Janardhan Dwivedi said.
BJP spokesperson Prakash Javedekar said the judgment was a “positive” development. Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, a known Hindutva hardliner, was happy at the verdict but said there was “no room for frenzy”.