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  February 2003

Special Report
The Ayodhya game, again
By By Purnima S. Tripathi, New Delhi

Another round of elections is due, and the Sangh Parivar queers the pitch on Ayodhya yet again. Will the BJP’s allies in government keep quiet again, too?

Having realised the efficacy of the Hindutva card yet again in Gujarat, the Bharatiya Janata Party has shed all its inhibitions on the contentious Ram temple issue in Ayodhya. Obviously with an eye on the coming elections in several States this year, possibly followed by early Lok Sabha polls, the party is all set to revive the issue in league with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Despite the fact that it had vowed to keep the issue on the backburner till a solution emerged either through the judicial process or through mutual discussion as per the rational Democratic Alliance’s agreed National Agenda for Governance, the BJP-led NDA government went ahead and petitioned the Supreme Court on February 5, seeking to vacate its March l3, 2002 interim order banning all religious activity on the acquired 67.703 acres of land around the disputed site in Ayodhya.

The fact that the government is in favour of handing over this piece of land to the VHP-controlled Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas is obvious because the application in the court was filed immediately after Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee held a meeting with the Kanchi Shankaracharya, who in recent times would seem to have taken upon himself the saffron cause with respect to Ayodhya. The Kanchi seer had already met with VHP leaders in New Delhi and expressed the opinion that the “undisputed” part of the land in question, about 43 acres, could be handed over to its owner, the Nyas. Immediately after meeting the Prime Minister, he had met Law Minister Arun Jaitley.

The Centre said in its application that the “continued state of uncertainty (regarding the undisputed land) is not in public interest”. It pointed out that the court’s interim order was meant ro be for a period of 10 weeks, after which the issue had to be referred to a larger Bench. Besides, the situation that prevailed when the interim order was passed was very different rrom that prevailing today. As different from March last year there was no apprehension of a breach of law and order or violation of earlier court orders. “The state or uncertainty with regard to approximately 67 acres of land is likely to generate problems even in future and it is therefore necessary that the position becomes clear by a final decision of the court,” the application said.

The Supreme Court had in its interim order on March 13, on the eve of a shila daan programme that had been announced by the VHP, banned any form of religious activity on the acquired land. In giving this order the court stayed its own order of 1994 in which it had said that the undisputed part of the land could be handed over to its owners in the future. Of this undisputed part, over 43 acres is vested with the Nyas both in its capacity as a “permanent lessee” and as owner. The Nyas owns only one acre of land, and the rest of the land was given to it on lease by the Kalyan Singh government in 1992 to develop a Ram Katha Kunj (park). But the Centre acquired the entire stretch of land in 1993, in the wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. The issue of handing over the undisputed area to the Nyas came to a head in March 2002 when it demanded that the 43 acres be returned to it for performing shila daan. That programme was to have marked the start of temple construction. The VHP’s aggressive posture had threatened communal harmony, and a certain Mohammad Aslam Bhure along with others petitioned the Supreme Court seeking a ban on any religious activity on any part of the acquired land.

The Centre was then seen to be buckling under the VHP’s pressure tactics - as it is doing now again. The Prime Minister had at that point asked Jaitley to look into the question of how the case relating to the disputed land could be expedited and into the legal and constitutional aspects of handing over the undisputed extent of the land to the Nyas. Jaitley had apparently told the government that it would not be advisable to hand over the land because it could create communal tension. But when the time for shila daan approached, and the matter came up in the Supreme Court, the government was seen to be buckling under the VHP’s pressure again.

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