New Delhi: Never before in India’s judicial history has a judge begun a hearing by setting a deadline for its conclusion. But this was not just any case, and Wednesday not any other day.
As a five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court convened to wrap up hearings in the decades-old Ram Janmabhoomi case, the air was tense enough to be cut with a knife.
The court had been hearing the case for 40 days, daily, since a mediation effort failed to bring a consensus solution between Hindus and Muslims on who owns the 2.77-acre disputed plot in Ayodhya.
The site is sacred to Muslims as it is here that the Babri Masjid stood until its demolition in 1992, and to Hindus because they believe the deity Ram was born here.
“Enough is enough,” CJI Ranjan Gogoi said as the hearing started at 10.15 am, 15 minutes before the scheduled hour. The case should be wrapped up by 5 pm, he added.
Also Read: How Sunni Waqf Board ‘gave up claim’ on Ayodhya land on last day of Supreme Court hearing
‘Not two minutes today’
As the bench assembled, senior advocate C.S. Vaidyanathan, representing one of the Hindu parties, said Muslims never had any evidence of possessing the site in question.
Speaking next, advocate Ranjit Kumar, representing the late Gopal Singh Visharad, the first litigant in the title suit, asserted that as Muslims claimed to have the right to pray at the disputed site, his client, as a Hindu, did too.
As Kumar sought to continue, CJI Gogoi interrupted him. “You said you will take two minutes yesterday.” To this, Kumar replied, “I said so [for] if I argued yesterday. But today is a new day and thus I will argue a little more.”
All of the parties made their case one by one as the hearing was mostly about replying to questions raised by one another.
The situation turned heated when senior advocate Vikas Singh, representing the Hindu Mahasabha, sought to place a book before the court — ‘Ayodhya Revisited’ by former IPS officer Kishore Kunal Kishore claims that a Ram temple once stood at the disputed site.
Rajeev Dhavan, senior advocate and counsel for the Sunni Waqf Board, raised strong objection to this.
When Singh handed over some pages depicting maps and purportedly showing the exact spot where Ram was born, Dhavan started tearing them up.
Watching the scenes unfold, Gogoi said, “You can shred it further, Mr Dhavan.”
When Singh said he wanted to corroborate the map with other evidence presented in the case, the CJI threatened to wrap up arguments midway.
“These shouting matches are useless. As per us, the arguments have concluded. We can just leave,” said the bench. This helped calm the atmosphere.
After lunch, it was discussed in court how Dhavan’s page-tearing was being widely talked about. “The incident is going viral. But the fact is that I wanted to throw the pages away and the CJI said I may tear them. And I tore them so I’d say it was with the permission of the court,” said Dhavan.
Murmurs in the courtroom
CJI Gogoi agreed, and clarified that he indeed said Dhavan may tear the pages. Justice Abdul Nazeer chipped in too, saying, “It has been widely reported now.”
Dhavan continued his attack on the Mahasabha and questioned why several parties were filing replies for one.
“There are eight factions and now four distinct submissions in the Supreme Court. Have they been honest enough to bring honest facts before the court?” he asked.
Murmurs in the courtroom hinted that a settlement had been arrived at after the Sunni Waqf Board gave up its claim to the disputed site.
But the board’s lawyers denied having filed any such application.
The court ended the hearings around 4 pm, an hour before it was slated to get over. Soon afterwards, a court notice was issued that said the five judges would sit in chambers Thursday.
For what could it be? Will the judges meet to take a call on the mediation committee report (after the failed first bid, a mediation effort was underway alongside the Supreme Court hearings) that was produced before the court Wednesday? For now, the second-longest hearing in the history of Indian judiciary stands wrapped up. The verdict is likely in November, before CJI Gogoi’s retirement.
Also Read: Memory, travelogues & faith — how Ram Lalla, waqf board & seers claimed Ayodhya land in SC
Felt relieved after watching Cut the Clutter. Not going to be a maximalist solution. One which leaves a community feeling abandoned, defenceless.
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