AYODHYA: At the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas workshop in Ayodhya, we are told that half the carving work is complete on the 1.75 lakh blocks of stone required for a grand Ram temple at the site where the Babri mosque was razed 25 years ago.
In the last three months, 24 fresh truckloads of stones have arrived at the workshop located 2 km from the disputed site – the first time since 2015, when previous Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav banned the movement of stones in Ayodhya.
The workshop was started by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other Hindu organisations just after the 16th-century mosque was demolished on December 6, 1992, by right-wing activists who believed the site is the birthplace of Lord Ram. It has been in the headlines often, but what has made news in the last few months are efforts at an out-of-court settlement for the temple-mosque dispute, with all stakeholders on board.
The Supreme Court will, on February 8, begin its final hearing on the site that is claimed by both Hindus and Muslims, judges said on Tuesday. The Sunni Waqf Board had argued in court that the hearing should be deferred to after the national election in 2019. The court turned down the request, saying it was “shocked”.
With the Supreme Court set to begin daily hearings, many are questioning whether the backroom negotiations can work.
The most recent attempt was led by Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who says he is a self-appointed mediator.
Last month, Sri Sri made a high-profile visit to Ayodhya, meeting with stakeholders like the Nirmohi Akhara – a group of Hindu saints awarded a third of the disputed site in 2010 by the Allahabad High Court, and also Muslim litigants.
But in the temple town, organisations like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad – not a litigant in the case but an influential party nevertheless – say they don’t accept this mediation. “Who should we have a settlement with and why? It has been established in court that Ram Lalla (infant Ram) is present at the disputed site. People can keep coming but there is no meaning of any out-of-court settlement,” says Sharad Sharma, a spokesperson of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad.
The other settlement proposal making headlines has come, curiously, from the Shia Waqf board and its chairman Wasim Rizvi. Mr Rizvi’s mediation in the case has coincided with him facing corruption charges over land grab in Uttar Pradesh. He recently petitioned the Supreme Court staking claim to ownership of the Babri mosque and has even submitted a proposal to the top court saying that the temple can be built at the disputed site while a “grand mosque” should be built in state capital Lucknow.
Mr Rizvi claims this formula has the support of Hindu organisations in Ayodhya.
Far from it, says a key player in the case.
“Shia organisations are nowhere in this dispute… they are like zero. The Nirmohi Akhara is willing to accept what the court says and so is the Sunni Waqf board. It’s not right to go against the court,” says Mahant Dinendra Das, who heads the Nirmohi Akhara.
On this, Haji Mehboob, a petitioner in the case, agrees. “Since 1950, there are only two parties – the Muslims and the Nirmohi Akhara. They are the only ones who can sit across the table and the government of India can make that happen,” he says.