On an early summer morning in June 2019, my drive to the Delhi airport was breezy and comfortable. The pre-dawn flight made a perfect setting to see the sunrise from the skies. Upon touching down at the Chaudhary Charan Singh Airport at Lucknow, I was greeted by Mahant Dharamdas of the Nirwani Akhada, the successor of Mahant Abhiram Das, who placed the idols of Ram Lalla in the central dome on the night of December 22-23, 1949, and a person at the heart of the developments in times to come.
The Mahant’s warmth and attention were touching as was his offer of fruits en-route Ayodhya. The two hours drive had a foreboding of history.
As we veered from the highway to drive into the state government guest house on the outskirts of Ayodhya, the heavy security bandobast betrayed the presence of very eminent persons who together formed the mediation panel.
As counsel for Mahant Dharam Das and Mahant Rajendra Das, head of the parent body of the Nirmohi Akhada, this was a mediation that meant the world for the sadhu samaj who have always stood for sanathan, peace and well being of all mankind.
The responsibility on me was to navigate through the legalese and to try and be a bridge between the holy souls and the mediation process. The contrasting worlds of the sadhus and those of us in material being, wasn’t unknown to me. Yet, this was a first-hand view of a parallel back channel committed to respect the SC’s orders not to share mediation details.
Additionally, I looked forward to seeing Sri Sri Ravishankar, former Justice F.M. Ibrahim Kalifulla and Sriram Panchu work in tandem. I remained unsure how an amicable settlement of a dispute as complex as this one could come about. That said, I was struck by the smiles and cool headedness of the SC-appointed mediators. Sri Sri’s conduct remains one of my most special moments.
This dispute which related to the efforts of Mahant Abhiram Das to gain access to the birthplace of Lord Rama on the piece of 2.77 acres land in the holy town of Ayodhya, had seen many claimants and followers stepping forward on both sides, for various reasons.
While the place of worship reflected the belief of all Hindus, some claimed to title of some portions of the said land others claimed a right to possession and development of the said birth place into a temple. How does therefore one unlock this dispute to find a middle ground, I kept asking myself.
Our determination and resolve to settle the disputes amicable came across from the mediators in their handling of the issues. The:
*Need to see both sides feeling recognised and satisfies,
*Need to ensure that the issue be not allowed to be dealt with without the involvement of the entire sadhu samaj as against individual claimants to the exclusion of the sadhu samaj,
*Need to have an inclusive end to the dispute,
*Need to ensure that such disputes don’t reoccur in other places of worship, and much more on a sense of equity.
If there was anything I was certain from my interactions, it was the fact that the dispute is nearing its end and we’re headed for a moment of reckoning. I could see an end that would go into history epitomising our constitutional values.
Of course, this was not the end. Many fire-side meetings led to our report of a failed mediation thus paving way for a 5-Judge SC Bench of the Supreme Court commencing day-to -day hearing on 6th August 2019 and concluding it after 40 days.
While the Supreme Court heard all the parties in the appeals on both issues of title as well as right to worship, it also permitted parties to resume mediation with affecting the ongoing day to day hearing.
The possibility to achieve the ends of equity once again came as a windfall opportunity to redeem the mediation. I was privileged to see the three noble souls back on the white board.
Their efforts, as those of Mahant Dharamdas, amongst others, made the closure of the dispute closer and clearer. The principles were:
*Both sides felt recognised and satisfied,
*The issue wasn’t allowed to be dealt without the entire sadhu samaj as against individual claimants,
*An inclusive end to the dispute,
*Ensuring that such disputes don’t reoccur in other places of worship.
Today, in a crowded Courtroom No.1, the Supreme Court has:
*Upheld constitutional values and equity over legalities and religious interpretations;
*Entrusted Central and State government with the responsibility to set up a body to develop and manage affairs of the birthplace of Ram Lalla instead of individual parties or private trusts;
*Ensured an inclusive end of the dispute by recognising the beliefs of both Hindus and Muslims;
*Ensured that such disputes don’t reoccur in view of the 1992 law protecting the places of worship.
The five judges have created a moment of reckoning for our nation. To the fact that there are no losers, we do owe thanks to the mediator process.