Proving their critics wrong, the Supreme Court-appointed mediation panel’s success in persuading the UP Sunni Waqf Board to give up its claim to the 2.77 acre disputed Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid complex heralds the possibility of an amicable settlement irrespective of the impending SC verdict. A stumbling block in implementing the 2010 Allahabad high court judgment was the three-way partition of the land between three claimants and none of them willing to cede any claim to the others. Even if the Supreme Court judgment restores the land to the Sunni Waqf Board as reparation for the demolition of Babri Masjid, the board’s amenability to give away the land to pro-Mandir groups holds the promise of peace.
The compensation sought by the Sunni Waqf Board for yielding ground is also entirely reasonable. It wants the Places of Worship (Special Provision) Act, 1991, that forbade the conversion of any place of worship as it existed on August 15, 1947, upheld so that all other mandir-masjid disputes end. The board also sought permission to construct a mosque at an alternate site, repair and restoration of old Ayodhya mosques, and opening up of select ASI-managed mosques for prayers. This is an opportunity to reset Hindu-Muslim ties, heal old wounds and achieve a fresh beginning at Ayodhya.
The mediation, which involved two of these parties – Nirmohi Akhara and Sunni Waqf Board – must cross one more hurdle. The third side with a major say – the VHP-backed Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas which advocates the cause of the deity Ram Lalla – had stayed away. Even the Sunni Waqf Board is facing pushback from the influential Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind. But given the generous terms on offer and the larger good that can be achieved, it is inconceivable that those taking the name of God would baulk at this once in a lifetime opportunity for regaining peace.
The actions of the Nirvani Akhara and Aurobindo Ashram offering land in Ayodhya – to set up a national institute for social harmony – give a glimpse of the redemptive possibilities in store for the ancient temple town. Ayodhya’s enormous potential on India’s pilgrimage tourism circuit has been overshadowed by the unsettled disputes and communal wrangling. The Supreme Court deserves credit for persisting with its idea of mediation amid raucous courtroom scenes. Its judgment, slated for pronouncement next month, must seal one of independent India’s most unhappy disputes.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.