The Ayodhya verdict has been immediately analysed in the media as reflecting an attempt by the Lucknow bench to reconcile Hindus and Muslim sentiments over the site of the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi. The judges have considered both communities as joint titleholders of the disputed land and therefore entitled to share it in order to resume the parallel worship they observed for decades and centuries before the issue became political. One may wonder whether it is the role of a High Court to embark on a grand project like national reconciliation, but the politicians having repeatedly referred the issue to the judges instead of doing the job themselves (remember Narasimha Rao and then AB Vajpayee), no one can really blame the judiciary for trying to play their part. The problem is that if the intentions of the judges are virtuous, but the nature of their decision and the grounds on which it was founded are not, the whole purpose may well be defeated.
Let’s be technical first. The most problematic part of the verdict pertains to what it says about the Ramjanmabhoomi. The judges have justified the fact that they allot to the Hindus the site where a makeshift temple was built after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992, thereby claiming the location as the Ramjanmabhoomi and that it was originally the site of a Ram temple.
Both things are factually disputable. We know, thanks to travellers’ testimonies, including that of a Jesuit priest, Tieffenthaler, that in the 18th century the place that Hindu devotees regarded as the Ramjanmabhoomi—and where the pilgrims worshipped Lord Ram—was not in the masjid, but outside, on a platform called the Ram chabootra. Justice Khan suggests that later on the Hindus started to believe that the Ramjanmabhoomi was under the central dome, but this is an invented tradition and one may wonder how far one must go by the changing terms of reference of a belief system. In fact, the central dome only became the bone of contention in 1949, after Hindu nationalists installed murtis of Ram and Sita there. If the judges wanted to get back to the rather harmonious arrangement of the 18th century, why shouldn’t they give the land where the central dome used to be to the Sunni Waqf and the Ram chabootra to the Hindus?