In a unanimous and landmark judgment on a century-old religious row, India’s Supreme Court on Saturday cleared the way for the construction of a Ram temple at the disputed land in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh.
The court allotted the plot to a Hindu outfit and ordered allotment of an alternative site of five acres of land to Muslims to build a mosque.
In the most politically sensitive and anticipated judgements in India's history, a bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, has sought to put an end to the dispute that has often torn the secular and social fabric of the nation.
A five-judge Constitution bench of the apex court gave the disputed Ayodhya land to Hindu entity Ramjanmabhoomi Trust and ordered that an alternative piece of land, which lies in a "suitable" and "prominent" place in Ayodhya be given to Muslims to build a mosque.
The judgment was read by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi who headed the bench this morning. The bench also comprised Justices S A Bobde, D Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer.
It said the possession of the disputed 2.77 acre land rights will handed over to the deity Ram Lalla, who is one of the three litigants in the case. The possession however will remain with the Indian government.
The bench said Hindu litigants were able to establish their case that they were in possession of the outer courtyard at the site in Ayodhya. It added that the Muslim side was unable to prove their exclusive possession of the inner courtyard.
The apex court said the mosque should be constructed at a "prominent site" and a trust should be formed within three months for the construction of the temple at the site many Hindus believe Lord Ram was born.
Under Indian law, the ruling by the Constitution cannot be appealed against but a review and curative petition can be filed with the top judiciary.
Hindu groups say the Babri mosque at the disputed land in Ayodhay was built atop Lord Ram’s birthplace.
The Babri mosque was destroyed by Hindu activists on December 6, 1992, sparking riots across India that left at least 2,000 people dead.
The top court ruling on Saturday is likely to impact the course of Indian politics given that Ram temple construction at the disputed site in Ayodhya has been one of three ideological pillars of Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party, the other two being abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir and uniform civil code for all religious communities.
Article 370 was scrapped by the Modi government on August 5 this year.
The BJP and its spiritual mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh promptly welcomed the apex court ruling with its President Amit Shah and chief Mohan Bhagwat respectively saying it resolves a long-standing problem by giving it a touch of finality and expressed the hope that all sides would react to it with equanimity and magnanimity.
Expressing its dissatisfaction with the Supreme Court verdict that cleared the way for the construction of a Ram Temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya, the Sunni Waqf Board said it will seek a review of the judgment.
"The Ayodhya verdict has a lot of contradictions. We will seek a review as we are not satisfied with the verdict," the board's lawyer Zafaryab Jilani said . But he appealed to all people to maintain peace and not protest.
On the other hand, expressing satisfaction with the Supreme Court judgment in the Ayodhya case, Iqbal Ansari, one of the litigants, on Saturday said "we welcome the Supreme Court decision and the biggest happiness is that it is finally curtains down on this long pending issue."
Ansari said it was always being said that whatever the court will say will be correct. "We respect the decision. Now this is the responsibility of the government where it provides land for the mosque. This is a sort of victory of the Muslims," he said.
Ahead of the Supreme Court ruling today on an emotive issue, security across India was heightened with deployment of thousands of police, paramilitary and anti-riot personnel and schools and colleges in several states shut till Monday as a precautionary measure to guard against communal violence that could break out following the verdict.
Although law and order is a state executive subject, Justice Gogoi himself had held a meeting with Uttar Pradesh’s top officials yesterday possible to prevent a repeat of the violence that had followed the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992.
A host of senior BJP leaders and leaders of other entities are facing trial in Uttar Pradesh in connection with the Babri mosque demolition.
Hours before the apex court ruling, Modi called for calm in a Twitter post on Friday night and underlined that the judgement “will not be anyone’s loss or victory.”
The Supreme Court gave the ruling after a 40-day day-to-day hearing on the dispute starting in August this year.
The apex court judgement came on a batch of petitions that had challenged the Allahabad High Court in 2010 when the disputed land on which the now-demolished Babri mosque once stood divided the plot among Hindu and Muslim entities in 2:1 ratio.
The apex court ruling said the extensive nature of Hindus worshipping at the outer courtyard at the disputed site has been there and the evidence suggests the Muslims offered Friday prayers at mosque which indicates that they had not lost possession of the site.
It said that despite obstruction caused in offering prayers at the mosque, the evidences suggest that there was no abandonment in offering prayers.
The apex court further said that the underlying structure below the disputed site at Ayodhya was not an Islamic structure but the Archaeological Survey of India has not established whether a temple was demolished to build a mosque.
It said that terming the archeological evidence as merely an opinion would be a great disservice to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
The court also said that Hindus consider the disputed site as the birthplace of Lord Ram and even Muslims say this about that place. The faith of the Hindus that Lord Ram was born at the demolished structure is undisputed, it said.
The bench also said the existence of Sita Rasoi, Ram Chabutra and Bhandar grih are the testimony of the religious fact of the place.
The apex court said however that the title of the land cannot be established on the ground of faith and belief and they are only indicators for deciding the dispute.