Ayodhya: 18 hours to Judgement Day

Event: the Ayodhya judgement.
Time: 3.30 pm.
Location: Court No. 21 of the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court.
Judges: Justices S.U. Khan, Sudhir Agarwal and Dharam Veer Sharma
Affected parties: all Indians, across the world.

It is 9.30 pm when this post is being uploaded. Even as the dictation of the Ayodhya judgement begins in 18 hours from now, at 3.30 pm today, there is a palpable but invisible tension in the air.

Governments, central and states, are trying hard to underplay it but are also going about deploying troops to prevent violence.

First, the central government. A second appeal for calm by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in this morning’s newspapers beefed up his first such 288-word plea, while Congress President Sonia Gandhi reflected Singh’s words. Separately, Home Minister P. Chiadambaram, while assuring reporters that adequate security measures had been taken, said “the India story is much bigger a story and young people recognise that that bigger story should not be derailed over dispute over a piece of land”. Earlier, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had told me pretty much the same thing. “Those who are talking in those lines (peace) are behaving in the most responsible manner which a democratic polity can expect,” he told me in an interview.

Moving on to the states, it was a domino, across parties. The pre-lunch preparations saw Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir, West Bengal and Kerala go on high alert. By the evening Karnataka got into the security mode and banned protests or victory marches in the state. Earlier, senior BJP leaders L.K. Advani and Narendra Modi had pushed for peace.

On the third side are the religious leaders — to me they are not very different from political leaders, but let’s leave that gripe for another post — who have been preaching peace. Leaders of both the Vishva Hindu Parishad or the All India Muslim Personal Law Board pleaded for peace.

If all these worthies — governments, opposition, religious leaders — follow what they’re preaching, today might end up as a violence-free day worth remembering and citing.

That brings us to the people. My opinion: no individual, howsoever rabid s/he be in his ideology, wants destruction. It is only when leaders mislead them and the mind of the mob takes over reason that violence happens.

“Should I travel tomorrow,” my friend in the hills asked me. Sitting in Delhi, safe in and protected by the enormous security infrastructure that the Commonwealth Games has created right now, the question did not even strike me. But when he asked me, I said, “I don’t think there is going to be any big trouble, but if I were you and the travel is not urgent, give it a pass. Why invite trouble?”

The judgement will be available on a special page on the Allahabad High Court website. I’m told that the site —http://www.allahabadhighcourt.in/ayodhyabench.html — will carry the judgement. I visited it at least 10 times during the day but it just didn’t open. Either the link is wrong or it will get activated tomorrow.

Finally, how can such an important judgement go without a dash of speculation, masala? What I’m being told with deep conviction and great analysis — from both the Hindu and the Muslim leaders — is that the judgement will not go either way. It will give one community some benefits without taking anything away from the other. A Hindu activist told me that the title to the site is stronger with the Muslims, but that doesn’t mean the court will ignore Hindu sentiments.

My view: the judgement will be well thought through, with a clear legal logic behind it, with the underlying understanding that it will go into appeal at Supreme Court.

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