Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived at Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh to lay a 40-kg silver brick to mark the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the Ram Temple. Days before the scheduled event, the Ayodhya district administration on August 1, officially transferred 2.77 acres of land to the Ram Lalla Virajman under the aegis of the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust headed by its general secretary Champat Rai.
The construction of the Ram Temple signifies the end of one of the longest-running land disputes in the history of this country. A centuries-old battle between Hindu and Muslim factions charted the course of politics over the decades and also resulted in one of the worst communal riots – the 1992 Bombay riots, in independent India.
The construction of the temple also marks a political victory for the ruling dispensation – the Bharatiya Janata Party, which had promised the "Ram Mandir" in their 2014 and 2019 election manifestos.
However, the journey to the event on August 5 was not easy. The centuries-old dispute began in 1528 with the construction of a mosque at the site considered to be the birthplace of Lord Ram, and ended in November 2019 with the historic Supreme Court judgment which ruled in favour of the Hindu faction.
At least 52 parties were involved in the litigation represented by almost 200 lawyers – led by 18 senior advocates. The top court went through 533 exhibits which included oral testimonies, and centuries-old texts, scripts, palimpsests and records in various languages. More than 9,000 pages translated from languages like Pali, Sanskrit, Arabic, Gurmukhi, Persian were placed before the constitution bench of the Supreme Court.
What is the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute?
The case was essentially a property dispute between Hindu and Muslim factions. The Hindus claimed possession to the land – measuring 2.77 acres, on which the Babri Masid once stood. The 16th century mosque was razed to the ground by kar sevaks on December 6, 1992.
In 1885, the dispute reached the courts for the first time. The Faizabad district court rejected a plea filed by Mahant Raghubir Das who sought permission to build canopy outside the structure of the mosque. In 1949, the issue reached the courts again when devotees forcibly placed an idol of Ram Lalla – infant Lord Ram, under the central dome of the mosque.
In 1959, the Nirmohi Akhara filed a suit in court seeking complete possession of the land. Two years later, in 1961 the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Wakf board filed a counter suit claiming possession. Over the years, the case made its way through the trials of judiciary before finally reaching the Allahabad High Court in 1989 and the Supreme Court in 2010.
What did the Allahabad High Court say?
The Allahabad high court dealt with the title dispute case on several fronts for almost 20 years before delivering its final verdict on September 30, 2010 when a three-judge bench by a 2:1 majority divided the land in three equal parts between the Nirmohi Akhara, the Sunni Waqf Board and Ram Lalla.
The matter in the Supreme Court
On May 9, 2011 the Supreme Court stayed the High Court verdict. The matter remained in the cold storage before it was revived in 2016 when BJP leader Subramanian Swamy filed a plea in the SC to allow "rebuilding of the Ram Temple" so he could exercise his fundamental right to pray. Swamy's plea in the top court kicked off a slew of appeals, cross appeals and interventions in this matter. With fervor of Lok Sabha elections at the time, the issue gained intense political attention. However, on March 14, 2018 the apex court rejected all pleas seeking intervention and allowed appeals from the original parties only.
But first, it is pertinent to point out that this is not the first time the issue came up before the apex court. Besides determining on the ownership of the land, the Supreme Court also adjudicated on several writ petitions which challenged the 'Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act' which allowed the Centre – led by the PV Narasimha government at the time, to acquire 67 acres of the land in the disputed area. In 1994, while upholding the constitutionality of the act, the apex court in Ismail Farooqui judgment also observed that a mosque was not integral to Islam.
Over the years, there have been at least nine attempts to settle the issue out of court.
"We are seriously thinking over giving mediation a try since the dispute is not about anybody's private property," then Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi – who was also leading the five-judge Constitution Bench, had said on February 26. "Even if there is one per cent chance of an amicable resolution, it should be given a try," Justice S.A. Bobde – the current CJI who was also on the bench at the time, had said.
When all attempts failed, the constitution bench began hearing the dispute on August 6, 2019 on a day-today basis. After a marathon hearing that lasted 40 days, the property fight came to an end when the apex court in a unanimous verdict set aside the high court verdict on November 9, 2019 and granted Ram Lalla full possession of the site. The top court directed the Centre to form a trust which would monitor the construction of the temple on the site and directed it to allot the Waqf Board five acres of land.
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