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Majoritarian Politics and Ayodhya Verdict: Lessons for India

On 9th of November, the Supreme Court of India has delivered the final judgement in the much awaited Ayodhya-Babri Masjid land dispute case. The order has wider implications on the culture, society, economy and polity. The citizens of the country by and large has welcomed and respected the top court’s verdict. The court’s judgement has succeeded in settling the inordinately delayed land dispute by providing the right of possession of land to one party over another. The judgement will become a reference document for the future generations to understand and reflect upon how the law intersects with the historicity, religion and crucially the political economy of the country.
Contrary to the general understanding, i.e., court judgements are beyond the purview of politics, the order of the highest judicial organisation gave an impression that it is amenable to the political circumstances and factors especially in dealing with sensitive land dispute cases. It is true that, constitutions provide a governing framework for the country. However, it is the politics which determine the form, shape and direction of the governance. Judiciary is a constituent part of the whole institutional arrangements of governance. Understanding the verdict from the perspective of politics in particular, the majoritarian regimes of contemporary times is essential to get a comprehensive picture of the interface between the law, polity and society.
Majoritarian politics is a process where the majority of the population belonging to one community having better access to the resources and power positions to take important decisions without heeding to the voices of minority population. The Ayodhya judgement is a case for understanding how the binary classification of majority and minority negates the natural principles of justice in adjudicating the land conflicts on the basis of settled principles of legal scrutiny. The decision of the court to give away the disputed site in favour of the Ram Lalla Virajman indicates that the courts are also amenable to the political factors.
The argument is the construction of Ram Mandir at the disputed site is a political project of Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The location of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya is a big hindrance to pursue the political project of cultural hegemony of these organisations and parties. The demand for the construction of temple at Ayodhya has emerged rigourously only in the late 1985 and reached its peak in the early 1990s. From then onwards, a systematic, institutional dominant narrative was created and established in the minds of people often democratised by the political parties.
This political discourse has succeeded in deriving a kind of social legitimacy to the project of temple construction thoroughly mediated by the religious organisations. The biggest gainer of this project is the BJP in terms of emergence in the arena national politics by reaping the electoral dividends. The court in its verdict has told that the judgement was arrived on the basis of evidences produced but not on the basis of faith and beliefs of the parties. However, the detailed reading of the verdict does not substantiate this assertion in particular the addendum section. To illustrate, the court has relied mostly on the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) report of 2003 to give the land right of possession to the Ram Lalla.
It is important to understand that, some of the eminent historians have refuted the findings of ASI in the “Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid: A Historians’ Report to the Nation”. It’s really sad that the court has not taken into cognisance of the historian’s report and sidelined it by saying the report is an “opinion”. The refusal of the professional and scientific findings of the historical experts is a significant factor wherein the political contentious issues have played a key role in arriving the court’s final decision. By recognising the primacy of worship rights over the historical facts and counter contemporary political religiosity of the site, the court has avoided the logical questions of analytical rigour, robustness of method of investigation, modalities of questioning, procedures for induction and deduction of knowledge production and the established norms and practices of evidence in the matters of immovable property.
The crucial yet unanswered question in this case is, on the basis of what evidences the court has awarded the land to the deity party wherein neither the Hindu nor Muslim parties have produced the necessary and satisfactory documentary evidence to prove their claims of exclusive rights over the disputed land. In this scenario, adducing the benefit of probabilities only to a party belonging to the majority population is nothing but abnegation of the justice. Through this verdict, it can be inferred that facts, reasons and objectivity does not find adequate focus in adjudicating the cases of political significance.
Way forward
The top court has answered negatively for the question of “Are courts that roughly follow public opinion capable of performing what is generally understood as their core counter-majoritarian function—protecting minority rights against majoritarian excesses?” raised by Aharon Barak (2002) in “Foreword: A Judge on Judging: The Role of a Supreme Court in a Democracy” and Michael C.Dorf (2010) in “The Majoritarian Difficulty and Theories of Constitutional Decision-Making”. The behaviour of the court in this case can be attributed to the political factors and the religious sensitivity of the disputed site.
We need to move ahead of the Supreme Court judgement on Ayodhya land dispute case. It can be done best by investing our energies on the substantive national issues such as poverty, hunger, malnutrition, unemployment and climate change. This is even more applicable to the Faizabad district where Ayodhya is located. As per the Human Development Report of Uttar Pradesh 2008, the Faizabad district is one of the most backward districts in the state and stands at 39th place among seventy districts in HDI with 49.22 percentage of the rural population are living in below poverty line.The verdict must be seen as a beginning step for pushing the development of the district and region through transformative politics of positive social change.