Throwing the issue out of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, the Supreme Court has referred the 70 year old Ayodhya litigation to a secret meditation process by a three-member panel which will submit a report in eight weeks. The dispute for ownership of the 2.77 acre land in Ayodhya has defied previous efforts for a negotiated settlement but the court said a panel headed by former SC Judge FMI Kalifulla and comprising spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and well-known mediator Sriram Panchu could conduct a dialogue with contending parties.
The court said there should not be any reporting on the matter. While specifying Faizabad as the venue for in-camera mediation, a bench of CJI Ranjan Gogoi and Justices SA Bobde, DY Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer said, “Mediation proceedings should be conducted with utmost confidentiality so as to ensure its success which can only be safeguarded by directing that proceedings of mediation and the views expressed therein by any of the parties, including the mediators, shall be kept confidential and not revealed to any other person.”
The eight-week deadline for the panel comes as a blow to the hopes of Hindu parties that the SC would expeditiously take up the appeal against the Allahabad High Court order dividing the plot equally among all three parties- deity Ram Lalla, Sunni Waqf Board and Nirmohi Akhara. By the time the mediation process concludes in early May, Lok Sabha elections would be going on in full force and the court is unlikely to reach any conclusion before the next government is sworn in. While the ruling BJP did not react officially, individual leaders from the party expressed disappointment even as they steered clear of criticising the court. Hindu parties opposed the court's suggestion during the hearings on February 26 and March 6 to refer the dispute for mediation.
However, Muslim parties welcomed the SC's move to attempt to resolve the dispute through mediation, although All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen objected to the choice of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar as one of the mediators by pointing out that the spiritual guru favoured construction of the Ram Temple. Meanwhile, Hindu parties held that such attempts were made in the past and this too would prove futile.
In 1992, Babri Masjid, a 16th century mosque was razed by Hindu activists as they believed Lord Rama took human form at the exact spot. After the demolition, riots broke out across the country killing thousands. In 2010, the Allahabad High Court gave its verdict in the case, equally dividing the land among deity Ram Lalla, Sunni Waqf Board, and Nirmohi Akhara.