SO, what does the media have to say about the Ayodhya verdict of the Lucknow Bench of Allahabad High Court? By and large the media has retained its sanity. The Telegraph (October 1) said that “the judgement provides a legal platform for peaceful resolution for the dispute”. The Court, said the paper, “is actually looking forward to the future and is also urging the litigants, as well the whole of Indian society to look forward instead of backwards.”
The judgement, said the paper, itself “harks back to the past to demand of the people to retrieve that harmony” and it added: “In its spirit and in its nuances, this verdict is a landmark judgement”. The paper asserted that “what the judges have said does not allow any party or any community to claim a facile victory or to condemn it as a betrayal”, considering that the “statements of the Court are not mere assertions but based on the findings of experts like archaeologists and historians”. The Asian Age (October 1) said that the Lucknow Bench “has perhaps delivered the only possible verdict” and in effect “has sought to reinstate the remarkable tradition of amity which prevailed in the area from the 19th century…” The country, said the paper “as a whole is likely to be pleased with the judges taking a browser national perspective on the issue rather than merely quoting the rule book”.
The Times of India (October 1) was cynical, saying that “the court appears to have used non-legal categories like faith to come to the conclusions about Ram’s exact birthplace” considering that “the reasoning and evidence used by the Court is hidden in 8,000 pages”. It provocatively reminded readers that ‘it must also be kept in mind that the HC ruling doesn’t condone the act of demolition of the Babri masjid carried out by the Sangh Parivar” claiming that “the demolition wreaked havoc on the country’s multi-religious fabric and divided communities”. The paper said that “a new resurgent India has emerged from the debris… and a new generation has come of age since then and it doesn’t want to be tied down by ancient hatreds” “People have had enough of pitting Ram against Rahim” said the paper adding eloquently that “we need to move on and the onus is on the state, political parties and community elders….”. It forgot to mention that the onus is also on the hate-driven media.
The Indian Express (October 1) noted that “what is most satisfying about the verdict is that it has, by and large, been well-received by all sections of the people, cutting across religious and political divides”. It recognised that there has been “no rancour and bitterness”, nor any ill-feeling which revealed “not just the maturity of the people but the fact that much water has flown down the Sarayu since 1992”. “Significantly” it added, “there is no visible gloating over the verdict by any party concerned” making the point that “after all, the test of India’s secular soul is not so much the judgement as in the reaction of the common people to it”. “Let us not” said the paper in conclusion “fail in that test in the days to come”.
Hindustan Times (October 1) said that “the feral giant creature of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute has finally been placed where it belongs: within the solid and safe confines of India’s legal system. That, it said “is no mean feat”. According to the paper, the verdict was “a product of its time” and “the India that dabbled in communal politics has given way to an India that finds such tremors to be obstacles”. Noting that “political parties across the spectrum have reacted in a mature manner to the verdict”, the paper said that “a bull has been caught by its horns and credit should be given where it is due”. “In the end” said the paper, “what is of prime importance and deserving both relief and applause is that the verdict, in no mean way, has been a touchstone moment for Indian secularism and a definitive step away from the pit of religious fundamentalism”.
The Hindu (October 1) started by saying that “the majority verdict…. is a compromise calculated to hold the religious peace rather than an exercise of profound legal reflection”. “At one level” said the paper, “from the standpoint of political morality, the verdict could be viewed as partially rewarding those who placed the idol overnight under the central dome of the mosque….”. “On balance” said the paper, “the nature… of the verdict should help the nation as a whole put up a longstanding dispute behind”. It said: “Secular India needs to move on and not be held hostage to grievances real or imaginary, from the distant past. A great deal or responsibility lies with political parties and religious groups to maintain harmony…. It is to be hoped that after this major, even if not final, step in the judicial process, it will cease to occupy the political stage”.
Deccan Herald (October 1) felt that “it would seem that the main position of the Hindu groups that claimed the disputed site has been accepted” and that “a judicial decision that has been eluding for decades is welcome, though there are disputable elements in it”. The paper warned that “there should not be any triumphalism on the matter” and that the absence of any defiant and unwholesome response to the judgement “may be taken as a measure of the maturity and respect for the law of the parties to the case and the people “. That, said the paper, “shows the people have become wiser on an issue that should be settled in the minds or the judicial fora”.
If the media, by and large, has been objective, some of our intellectuals have expressed their doubts like, for example historian Romila Thapar, according to whom “the verdict has annulled respect for history and seeks to replace history with religious faith”. According to her (The Hindu, October 2) “true reconciliation can only come when there is confidence that the law in this country bases itself not just on faith and belief but on evidence”. But, according to LK Advani, “the situation no longer is Faith Versus Law, it is Faith upheld by Law”. Romila Thapar has much to learn. Sadly, according to S Gurumurthy, the “sense of idealism without practical sense is that what seems to have led” judges into an “erroneous decision to divide the land” now has more potential to escalate the dispute than resolve it.