The Ram Janmabhoomi issue has been flaring up since Rajiv Gandhi opened it up to the Hindu community in 1986.
Thirty-three years on, this Friday, the Supreme Court announced a three-member panel to “mediate” the dispute. A multitude of opinions surfaced even before the day ended. Asaduddin Owaisi questioned the “neutrality” of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on the panel (despite his successful attempts at brokering reconciliation in Colombia, Iraq and various disputes domestically). Dr Subramanian Swamy welcomed the mediation, hyphenating it with the caveat, “Hence only solution is Ram Temple in Ayodhya…” On one hand Nirmohi Akhara and All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) welcomed the decision. On the other Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) stated, “We are experiencing that Hindus are constantly being neglected.”
In short, the reaction to the (non) verdict is expectedly split.
So what does this mean? What options do you and I, as ordinary Indian citizens, have? What should we expect, perhaps even demand?
I argue we are left with three legally tenable options.
OPTION 1: MEDITATE
Lord Ram’s idols were installed inside the central dome in 1949. Both sides file court cases almost immediately and the site was locked down.
The first option entails all Indians collectively going into silent meditation, and hoping that this issue would resolve by itself. Which has pretty much been our collective approach for the last 70 years; except for one-off vighnas (breaks) in that meditation in 1986, 1992 and a couple of instances since.
The first is the simplest, “do nothing approach”. Meditate and wait for either side to miraculously give up their claim; or for the issue to magically resolve itself.
OPTION 2: MEDIATE
While mediation has already been recommended, let us not forget to view it in the context of a few factors:
- Till the dispute really flared up in the 1990s, multiple parties have tried back-channel negotiations. Mediation, as a model has not worked historically.
- Some parties have unequivocally and publicly announced their mistrust in the mediators and the process.
- Other parties have established that only one single predetermined outcome is acceptable to them.
- Civil society at large is at the end of their patience with “law taking its own course” (and own sweet time).
Let us not forget the most important fact. Arbitrations are legally enforceable. Mediations are not. This means, the parties could go back and simply reject the mediators’ collective point-of-view, if it doesn’t match theirs.
OPTION 3: MEDICATE
Over the last 70 years, the Executive has stayed away from this issue with a bargepole; the Judiciary has just “outsourced” the process to mediators; and the Legislature watches in stoic silence from the sidelines. Political leaders have been the most silent of audiences in the Ram Janmabhoomi fiasco, finding their voice only at political rallies.
A quote, often misattributed to Albert Einstein says, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” Some cancers are beyond pills and chemotherapy. They need surgical intervention. Many have started looking at Ram Janmabhoomi as a dispute that is unlikely to get resolved by “doing the same thing over and over again”.
Doesn’t this leave us with only one choice—the Good Ol’ Ordinance?
While there are a dozen reasons not to, an ordinance is indeed a “big bang” approach for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to launch the electoral campaign. From an electoral perspective, the opportunity to remind traditional BJP voters, to vote as a bloc. From a game theory perspective, an interesting spot to force opposition parties into. The legislative validation anyway is pushed onto the next Lok Sabha.
Without this, we are staring at an abyss.
Moreover, India won’t be unique in having done something like this.
In 1993 US President Bill Clinton signed the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”, thus overturning a Supreme Court ruling from 1990. Clinton said, “The power of God is such that even in the legislative process miracles can happen.”
Let’s hope we don’t wait for divine intervention to resolve this dispute.
Anuraag Saxena is based in Singapore and leads India Pride Project. He has been featured/published in BBC, Washington Post, Economic Times, Times of India, The Sunday Guardian, Doordarshan, Man’s World, Swarajya, DailyO, and SPAN. He tweets at @anuraag_saxena