New Delhi: A quote from the French newspaper Le Monde says it all as far as the foreign media’s reaction to the Ayodhya verdict is concerned. “As often [seen] in India, this affair mixes religion and politics,” the French newspaper puts it pithily.
The “affair” here is the Supreme Court’s judgment Saturday on the long-standing Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute case. The Supreme Court, in a unanimous verdict, said a trust should be set up by the central government within three months to help build the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. The Muslim side, the court said, should be given 5 acres of land elsewhere in Ayodhya to construct a mosque.
International news coverage of the historic ruling is largely sympathetic to the Sunni Waqf Board and critical of the BJP’s Hindu nationalistic thrust.
The Archaeological Survey of India’s report on Ayodhya, cited by the five-judge bench, is briefly mentioned in international reports to suggest the verdict went beyond a land dispute.
Almost all papers say the judgment is in sync with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda and helps his party, the BJP, fulfill its key election promise.
Fulfills ‘goal of Hindu nationalists’
The Washington Post calls the ruling “a cherished goal of Hindu nationalists” ever since Hindu “extremists” demolished the mosque in 1992, which led to large-scale riots across India.
It also comments on the case’s unique legality. “…In Indian jurisprudence, a god [Lord Ram] can be considered a legal entity…,” it writes, referring to the Hindu litigant, representing lord Ram himself.
The Wall Street Journal writes that the highly anticipated verdict was viewed by Muslim groups as a “litmus test for how vigorously the court would enforce protections for minority religions in an era when Hindu nationalists are pressing for the government to more-prominently advocate for the interests of the country’s Hindu majority.”
The New York Times delves into the psyche of the “frenzied mob” that demolished the mosque in the first place. “The mosque was built in the 1500s during Mughal rule, a period that many right-wing Hindus believe serves as a reminder of their humiliation under Muslim occupation” and like symbols of British imperialism required an “exorcism”, it writes.
It also makes an important distinction on ownership of holy sites in India — “Hindu temples… are controlled by the government, while Christians and Muslims control their own churches and mosques and can partly be governed by their own religious laws.” It helped turn the dispute into “election fodder for political parties,” explains NYT.
Guardian highlights BJP role in mosque demolition
The Independent says something similar in a report from last month while the hearings were wrapping up — “Under Indian law, a Hindu deity has the right to sue and be sued”.
The Guardian comments on the atmosphere in Ayodhya since security forces had been deployed in the temple town as a precautionary measure. “The city was quiet in the immediate aftermath of the verdict,” it writes. Remarks from residents like a local tailor, Rajatram Maurya, who describes the situation as peaceful, were included in the article.
Guardian also highlights BJP’s role in the mosque’s demolition in 1992 and the subsequent riots, and for what it sees as ushering in anti-Muslim sentiments.
“Since Modi and the BJP took power in 2014, the rebuilding of a Ram temple at Ayodhya has been at the forefront of their Hindutva agenda, which has pushed India away from its secular roots and toward a strongly Hindu identity. This has led to growing hostility and violence toward the country’s Muslims, who number 200 million,” writes the newspaper.
Lack of response to mob lynchings and scrapping of the special status in Muslim-majority Kashmir have contributed to the problem, it adds.
The Global Times in China reports heightened security in other parts of India, in the aftermath of the verdict.
“Mumbai police has clamped prohibitory order that bars holding public meeting or assembly of five or more persons or processions effective 11 a.m. Saturday in the city for the next 24 hours,” it writes.
Pakistan newspapers question timing of verdict
Pakistan Today carried opinions of column writers, asking why the burden of proving possession belonged to the Muslim side alone and why the “logic [of the verdict] and the jurisprudence that links the findings of the court and its conclusions” don’t add up.
Spread across the paper’s first three pages are reports of Pakistan Foreign Office’s statement that “minorities in India are no longer safe” and the verdict’s “surprising” timing, which coincides with the opening of Kartarpur Corridor.
Dawn’s editorial also weighs in on the timing of the verdict. “It is also a tad ironic that the decision came on the day when the Kartarpur Corridor was opened for Sikh pilgrims, indicating Pakistan’s intentions to facilitate other religious communities.”
Dawn and Express Tribune’s headlines use the term “Babri Masjid site” while Western papers stuck to phrases like “disputed land” or “Ayodhya site”.
Sample this headline from Dawn — “Indian top court allows temple’s construction on Babri Masjid site” and this one from Tribune — “Indian SC gives Babri Masjid site to Hindus”.