Fortune favours the prepared mind.
- Louis Pasteur
The Supreme Court has ordered a court-supervised mediation to resolve the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute in the next few weeks. A process that involves various parties in the conflict to talk with each other and find a solution is the best choice since the dispute has more to do with emotions and less with legal nuances. This gives a final chance to all to arrive at a mutually accepted solution. The dispute over the site at Ayodhya, where a 16th century mosque stood until it was torn down by Hindutva fanatics in December, 1992, has remained intractable since 1949. After the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the President referred to the Supreme Court the question whether there was a temple of Lord Ram before the mosque was built at the site. The mediation process will begin shortly and the three-member panel will submit its first progress report to the Supreme Court in four weeks. The mediation proceedings will take place at Faizabad, which adjoins Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. A five-judge constitution bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, appointed former Supreme Court judge justice (retd) F M I Kalifulla as the chairperson of the panel of mediators. The other two members are spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and senior advocate Sriram Panchu — the criteria for choosing these members are unclear and inclusion of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is debatable because of past statements on this mandir-masjid debate. The order pronounced by Chief Justice Gogoi did not pass any specific guidelines, leaving it to the mediators to take a call, and said that mediators could take any legal assistance that may be necessary.
Theoretically, the apex court’s decision to give mediation another chance to this contentious Ayodhya issue is a good one. There are two specific aspects as far as mediation order is concerned. At one level, the five-judge Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Gogoi may have believed that mediation holds out a hope of a finding a solution to this dispute. Secondly, the mediation might be an excuse for a breather in this case – so that the issue does not create much hurdle in the smooth conduct of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, scheduled from April 11. It would correct on the part of politicians if they do not include Ayodhya issue in their election discourse.
The process of mediation requires mutual give and take, something that has been missing with every side taking a tough stand on this vexed issue. So, the three-member committee will have to explore fresh avenues for resolution. The SC-order confidentiality of this exercise will help in thwarting any attempt to politicize it. For the court-mandated mediation to succeed, the panel will have to adopt an unbiased approach to the whole exercise.