On 8 March, a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court constituted a panel, to mediate the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute, headed by retired SC judge FM Khalifullah. It gave the panel eight weeks to arrive at an agreeable solution. This month, the apex court extended the deadline to 15 August.
Even before the mediation committee has submitted its final report, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has criticised the panel. The attack came during a meeting of the VHP’s highest decision making body, the Kendriya Margdarshak Mandal—central governing council—in Haridwar, in Uttar Pradesh, on 20 June. At the meeting, Champat Rai, the VHP vice president and an RSS pracharak, accused the SC-formed three-member panel of “not working in the interest” of Hindus.
“In his speech, Champat Rai described the SC panel as part of a conspiracy hatched to deprive Hindus of their rights in Ayodhya,” a member of the KMM who attended the meeting told me, on the condition of anonymity. “Rai also said that Hindus have won whenever they have fought for their rights but lost in every negotiated settlement.”
While confirming Rai’s remarks, another KMM member, who also requested not to be identified, added that the VHP vice president, who has been representing the outfit before the mediation committee, referred to the panel as a “conspiracy hatched by three Tamilians.” Rai was referring to the fact that the three members of the panel—Khalifullah, the senior advocate Sriram Panchu and the spiritual leader Ravi Shankar—all originally hail from Tamil Nadu.
While setting up the committee, the court directed that the mediation would be held at Faizabad, in Uttar Pradesh. It said that “utmost confidentiality” should be maintained to ensure a successful mediation process and also barred the media from reporting the committee’s proceedings.