Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
File photo of Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in Lucknow on November 15th to begin mediation talks in the Ram Janmbhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute | Photo by Subhankar Chakraborty/Hindustan Times
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Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has 3 proposals for Ayodhya dispute resolution, all of which involve “gifting” the land to Hindus. He visits Ayodhya Thursday.

The Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute is back in the public eye. The 2010 Allahabad High Court resolution dividing the land three ways is being challenged in the Supreme Court, which has recommended an out-of-court settlement. The case is due to be heard on 5 December.

Meanwhile, spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has volunteered to act as the latest in a long line of mediators between Hindus and Muslims. He met Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath Wednesday, and is set to visit Ayodhya Thursday.

Ravi Shankar has put forward three proposals for settlement in 2003 originally, all of which involve “gifting” the land where the makeshift temple currently stands to the Hindu community. If the Muslims are unwilling, he had said, legislation should be enacted to formalise this “gift”. In turn, the Hindus will help build a mosque in Faizabad. He believes that this will help maintain the status quo of the region.

Ravi Shankar’s plan hasn’t been met with acclaim – the Congress has called him a “government agent”, while the Vishwa Hindu Parishad is also suspicious. The only other person apart from the chief minister who is likely to meet him is Shia Waqf Board chief Wasim Rizvi.

However, there is no easy answer to the historically contentious issue, the apogee of which was the demolition of the Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992.

The High Court resolution

Throughout the dispute, Muslims have been represented by the Sunni Central Waqf Board of Uttar Pradesh. The representation of Hindus has been fragmented, with many internal squabbles between multiple claimants. The two original litigants in the case were the Sunni Central Waqf Board and the Nirmohi Akhara.

When the cases were transferred to the High Court in 1989, Triloki Nath Pandey also became part of the case, representing Ram Lalla, as the ‘next friend’ (in legal terms, an entity that cannot represent itself can be represented by somebody else – the ‘next friend’).

The 2010 resolution of the High Court, therefore, divided the 2.77 acres of disputed land three ways, giving one-third to the Muslims through the Sunni Central Waqf Board, and one-third each to the Nirmohi Akhara and Triloki Nath Pandey. However, the High Court’s resolution was met with general displeasure.

Attempts at compromise

The 18-year interlude between the Babri Masjid demolition and the High Court resolution witnessed several attempts to mediate a compromise between the opposing sides, all of which were unsuccessful.

Here’s a recap of some of the significant attempts

1. Chandra Shekhar tried to initiate negotiations when he was Prime Minister in 1990, when the Vishwa Hindu Parishad damaged parts of the Babri Masjid. However, the talks never materialised. Chandra Shekhar was also willing to be part of negotiations in 2003, after being consulted by the Vajpayee administration. This attempt too fell through.

2. P.V. Narasimha Rao was Prime Minister when the demolition occurred on 6 December 1992. He had considered bringing the situation under central control, and deploying paramilitary forces, but still failed to stop the demolition and the consequent riots. Ten days after the demolition, he set up an inquiry commission headed by retired judge M.S. Liberhan, which only submitted its report 17 years later to the Manmohan Singh government.

3. Atal Bihari Vajpayee made the next significant attempt at mediation, when he revived the ‘Ayodhya Cell’ during his term as Prime Minister, and appointed Shatrughan Sinha to head it. The cell had originally existed to find a peaceful solution to the dispute, but was disbanded after the demolition. The revived cell was instructed to negotiate between Hindus and Muslims, but quicklybecame defunct again.

4. Mohammad Hashim Ansari also made several bids to start a last dialogue. Ansari was the oldest litigant in the Babri Masjid case, having been involved since his arrest in 1949 for protestingagainst the installation of the idols in the mosque. He was one of the main plaintiffs in the 1961 Ayodhya Title Case. In 2015, he made two attempts to negotiate with the Hindu side. He met with the Akhara Parishad in February, and then with the All India Hindu Mahasabha in April 2015. Talks did not progress. He arranged to meet the new leader of the Akhara Parishad again in 2016, butdied at the age of 95 before the talks could happen.

5. Subramanian Swamy urged the resuscitation of the issue in March 2017, stressing the need to reach a favourable conclusion. The Supreme Court then suggested an out-of-court settlement, and in an unprecedented move, Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar himself offered to act as a mediator between the Hindu and Muslim sides. He called it a “sentimental” issue, and said that the best way to reach an amicable solution would be to hold negotiations outside the court.

Editor’s note: The article has been update to reflect the fact that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s suggestions were first made in 2003.

 

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