IIT WAS A decision that had been decades in the making, but was still a messy fudge. On November 9, the Supreme Court of India granted Hindus possession of a site in the city of Ayodhya which is claimed to be the birthplace of Rama, an embodiment of the god Vishnu. A 16th century mosque stood there until a fanatical crowd demolished it in 1992, sparking a decade of sporadic violence nationwide that claimed thousands of lives, mostly Muslims. The court called the demolition “a gross violation of the rule of law”. He also met the crowd’s goals by ordering the government to create a trust that could build a Hindu temple on the site. Muslims must be compensated with land nearby for the construction of a replacement mosque.
Fears that the verdict would spark renewed violence prompted schools and offices to close in parts of northern India amid security measures that included colossal deployments of police, instructions to the media to avoid incitement and suspension of the Internet in parts of the country. Politicians of all stripes, as well as spiritual leaders of both faiths, have called for calm and acceptance of the court’s verdict. But the mere exhaustion of the dispute, which has raged for almost as long as India has been independent, may have been the main reason for the generally dull public response.
It also helped the five judges of the Supreme Court to reach a unanimous decision. In addition to offering five acres (two hectares) of land as compensation for the 2.8 lost, their decision comforted Muslims through the indignant language he used to describe the destruction of Babri Masjid. This could inject energy into the separate criminal trial of Hindu nationalist leaders accused of provoking the attack on the mosque, which has persisted in lower courts for decades.
Zafaryab Jilani, a lawyer for the Muslim plaintiffs, said he would respect the decision but was “not satisfied” and noted “several contradictions” in the judges’ logic. It is difficult to understand why the Muslim charity that ran the mosque before its demolition would not be considered the owner of the land on which it stood. “The court appears to attach great importance to the lack of documentary evidence that prayers were held in the mosque before 1857, but it finds no problem with the lack of evidence that Hindu services were held there,” said one lawyer who prefers to remain anonymous, because of the sensitivity of the case. Comments on social media have been less circumspect. “Possession is nine-tenths of the property, but demolition is everything,” read a sarcastic tweet. “Realized today that” if you break it, you own it “also applies outside of retail!” another disgruntled surfer joked.
Most Indians, however, seem greatly relieved that the saga is finally over. Shekhar Gupta, an experienced and knowledgeable commentator, described the decision as “wonderfully nuanced” and predicted that it would end the controversy. The opposition party, Congress, welcomed the court ruling. This not only paves the way for building a temple, said party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala, but also prevents the ruling party Bharatiya Janata (BJP) and its chauvinist Hindu allies to no longer seek to capitalize on the issue.
Perhaps, but for now Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his party are basking in satisfaction. The promise to build a giant temple at the presumed birthplace of Lord Rama has been a rallying cry for Hindu nationalists since the 1980s and a BJPelectoral manifestos since 1996. Having won a second five-year term in May by a landslide, Mr. Modi has fulfilled a series of promises to his Hindu nationalist base, including the division of Jammu and Kashmir, the only state Muslim majority from India, in two parts, stripping it of both its special status under the constitution and the state.
This triumphant end BJPThe long crusade now allows the Prime Minister to focus on more urgent issues, such as a failing economy? And will this cool the fervor of Hindu extremists enough to ease community relations, which have become increasingly strained under Mr. Modi? Some Hindu extremists are already pushing further, claiming that other mosques, and perhaps even the Taj Mahal, the famous tomb of a Muslim emperor and his wife, are built on top of ancient temples. Fortunately, the probability of mobilizing a large part of Hindu opinion in favor of a new unrest is probably limited. The campaign to demolish and replace the Babri Masjid began 70 years ago with the clandestine planting of a Hindu idol in 1949. The ensuing conflict lifespan is not a price that many Indians will ready to pay again. ■
This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the title “Ram rod”