The Supreme Court asked both ‘Hindu and Muslim parties, to specify the time-frame for completing arguments in the politically sensitive Ram Janmabhomi – Babri Masjid land dispute case and said there will not be any extra day for hearing after October 18. It will be miraculous if we deliver the judgement in four weeks in the matter,” said Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi, on Aug,6, 2019, when the hearings commenced, who is set to retire on November 17,
True to his form and style ,Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, to his everlasting credit, literally browbeat and disciplined the contesting sides and their attorneys to ensure conclusion of oral arguments on 16th Oct,2019. The 5 Judges Bench has permitted ‘all contesting parties to file their written submissions confining it to the moulding of reliefs as prayed for in the suits, as granted by the Allahabad High Court, as contested in the first appeals before the Supreme Court”.
It is an unbelievable development of epic proportions. By Nov,17,2019, we may yet have the miracle that Chief Justice wondered aloud, Ram/Rahim willing. On the concluding day of Supreme Court hearing, on 16th Oct,2019, the News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA) issued an advisory – “do not speculate on court proceedings; ascertain facts of hearing; do not use mosque demolition footage; do not broadcast any celebrations; and ensure no extreme views are aired in debates.”.
Falling in line, with this advisory, as a contributor to a responsible media house, let us confine ourselves to where it all began and why it may be possibly be THE epochal and seminal verdict in India’s judicial, political, societal firmament. Keshavanand Bharati, by which a 13 Judge’s Bench read ‘Basic Structure doctrine into the Constitution, to restrain Parliament from exercising unimpeded powers to amend the mother of laws’ of 24th Aoril,1973 vintage, may come close, but still nowhere near this verdict. That was a verdict ‘That Saved India as a Constitutional Democracy” as Nani Palkhivala, the courtroom genius who argued the proposition into history books said. Ramjanbhabhoomi verdict and its universal acceptance by us, would let India become a ‘nation of laws not men’ as Sardar Patel dreamt.
India had its eyes and ears to the 40 days hearings’ before the top court. It was a fascinating journey. The upsides and downsides based on the ‘posers from the bench’,were a rollercoaster ride. A battery of lawyers on both sides of the aisle, were arrayed to argue. The “Hindu Side’ (not my name calling but what has been freely used in media) was led by the Pithamaha of Bar- Mr. K. Parasaran, all of 92 years, well into retirement, but ‘came back to argue for his respect and reverence for Lord Ram of Ayodhya’, as he put it. Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi made an unusual offer to Parasaran representing Ramlalla, the infant deity, “Do you want to sit and argue?” it asked.
“It’s okay. Your Lordships are too kind. The tradition of the Bar has been to stand and argue, and I am concerned about the tradition,” he replied. That exchange captured the man.In the course of hearing Mr. Parasaran expressed a desire, “Milords I have seen it all from India’s Independence, Republic, birth of the Constitution, its growth and assertion. Now, it is my sincere hope to have a verdict in Ramajanmabhoomi case in my lifetime”. Those who heard him that day vouch, his eyes were moist and voice choked with emotion, even as he held himself back, with all his experience.
The “Muslim Side’ (again borrowed usage please) was led by Rajeev Dhavan, the stormy petrel, all of 73 years, with all the emotion, conviction and passion at his command. He always brings to the table his ‘involvement in the cause of his dear client’- as he once put it. The exchanges in court were enlivened by his ‘hot and disdainful responses’ as his colleague was quoted in the Media. Prof, N. Shanmugham from Tamil Nadu, ‘apologised to Supreme Court after threatening Rajeev Dhavan for appearing for Muslim Parties’ in a contempt proceeding.
In his typical and abrasive style, Rajeev Dhavan asked the court, “I have noticed something very interesting during this hearing. All your questions have been directed towards me and not them. Perhaps your Lordships could have asked them some questions too,” The Court however ignored the remark, and said that he will have to answer all questions that are directed at him .Senior advocate C.S. Vaidyanathan, who appeared for deity Ram Lalla, objected to the comment and said it was an “unwarranted statement”. Dhavan shot back saying, “It is not unwarranted. I’m bound to answer all questions but why are all questions directed at us?”.There was no dearth of drama.
It was not finished yet. It continued to the last and 40th day as well. When a Senior Advocate representing the “Hindu Side” submitted a map showing the Ram Janmasthan, not part of the record, and offered a copy to Rajeev Dhavan, the response was instant and electric. “May I have your Lordhships’ permission to tear this document…this is Supreme Court and not a joke.” And he tore the document into pieces.CJI Ranjan Gogoi was not amused and expressed anguish at the state of affairs inside the courtroom and said: “As far as we are concerned the arguments are over. We cannot continue like this in the hearing. People are getting up and speaking out of turn. We can also get up right now and finish the proceedings in the matter,” he said .It was a virtual cauldron of extreme emotions. The pregnant proceedings wound up on 16th Oct,2019, at 17.00 hrs as- ‘Orders Reserved”.
Contemporaneously, reports have emerged that the 3 member Mediation Committee has indicated on a possible ‘Settlement”- with the Sunni Waqf Board giving up on the Janmasthan in lieu of no further forays as over Kashi Vishwanathar and Mathura Krishna shrines. Interesting development ( to be fair, denied as true by 5 SC Advocates’ who argued for the Muslim Side) , yet unlikely to find favour with the “Hindu side”, considering the ‘direction of wind revealed in the exchanges during the proceedings’ as Justice Antonin Scalia euphemistically put it.
Twitter led the social media platforms with reports on the culmination of the hearings and sported a photograph of nonagenarian Parasaran and Rajeev Dhavan, in a friendly embrace outside the precincts of the imposing Supreme Court of India. A lasting image for posterity, as we wait with bated breath.
One is reminded of the opening lines in the judgment of Justice S.U; Khan, Allahabad High Court, now under challenge. “Here is a small piece of land (1500 square yards) where angels fear to tread. It is full of innumerable land mines. We are required to clear it…. We have succeeded or failed? No one can be a judge in his own cause.”
Chief Justice Gogoi, took a page out of Justice Khan’s book, for gumption and courage of conviction, as India awaits. It was his call as the Master of Roster. No matter what the verdict is , let us all pray to Ram/Rahim, for a ‘miracle’ – everlasting peace, harmony in ‘sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic India’, as in our Constitution’s Preamble.
(Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan -Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)