Win for Congress: Supreme Court postpones Ram Mandir hearing indefinitely

The Supreme Court bench led by CJI Rajan Gogoi today adjourned the Ram Janmabhoomi (RJB) case till January to decide ‘which court and when’ the case will be heard. Justice Gogoi said that it can be heard in ‘January or February or May whenever..’, LiveLaw reported.

“It will come up in the first week of January not for hearing but for deciding the date of the hearing. Hearing may be in January, February, March, whenever….also the bench by which it shall be heard will be constituted”, clarified the Chief Justice.

Both UP and Central Governments had requested the land title case to be fast-tracked and judgment be pronounced as soon as possible. Despite the centre’s plea to take up the case after the Supreme Court’s Diwali vacation, the apex court bench of CJI Ranjan Gogoi, Justice S K Kaul and Justice K M Joseph stated that no urgent date can be given as of now due to other priorities, as per Republic TV.

A bunch of appeals in Supreme Court have been undergoing litigation ever since the 2010 judgment of Allahabad High Court pertaining to division of Ayodhya-RJB land.

On September 27, a three judges bench of the then CJI Dipak Misra, Justice Ashok Bhushan and Justice Abdul Nazeer had decided by 2:1 majority that there was no need to refer the matter to larger bench. After declining the plea for reference to larger bench, the majority had fixed the next date of hearing as October 29.

Congress & Lutyens spin a web

On 5 December 2017, when SC began the final hearing in the case, a plea for postponing the hearing after 2019 Lok Sabha polls was made by Senior Advocates Kapil Sibal, Rajeev Dhavan and Dushyant Dave, on the ground that the ‘political climate was not conducive for hearing the dispute.’ However, the bench of the then CJI Misra turned down the plea, after a dramatic hearing session in which the agitated high-profile lawyers threatened a walkout from the courtroom.

In January 2018, four senior SC judges – Jasti Chelameswar, Ranjan Gogoi, Madan Lokur and Kurian Joseph – held an extraordinary press conference criticizing Misra’s style of administration and claiming ‘independence of the judiciary was in peril’ as they were being bypassed while assigning benches for crucial cases. The ostensible trigger for this move was the benches constituted to hear the medical college scam (controversial activist-lawyer Prashant Bhushan leveled direct corruption charges against CJI Misra in this case, soon after the 4 judges presser), and the PIL over judge BH Loya’s death.

Many subsequent hearings of the Ayodhya-RJB case were held from Feb to Sept with the CJI Misra led bench refusing to entertain any further third party interventions and rejecting an intervention application of 32 ’eminent’ persons (Shyam Benegal, Aparna Sen, Anil Dharkar, Teesta Setalvad etc).

On 20 April 2018, Congress-led opposition parties submitted a petition seeking impeachment of CJI Dipak Misra, which was rejected by Vice President Venkaiah Naidu. One of the charges against Misra in the impeachment notice was that he “abused his administrative authority as master of roster to arbitrarily assign individual cases of particular advocates in important politically sensitive cases, to select judges in order to achieve a predetermined outcome”

Was this impeachment notice just a means to an end for the Congress ecosystem, a signal to a recalcitrant judge who, although a true-blue liberal (as seen in his judgements on Sabarimala, adultery etc), had not toed their line on the RJB case? Subsequent developments in Delhi’s racy legal-political scene would suggest so:

  • In April, leading Lutyens’ lawyer Rajeev Dhawan (he once used the term’Hindu Taliban’ in SC) introduced a new angle in the title suit by demanding a larger Constitutional bench to review an earlier SC judgement about a mosque not being integral to Islam. The arguments on this new issue kept SC busy till 27 Sept, before it finally ruled that there was no need to refer the matter to larger bench. CJI Dipal Misra retired on Oct 1, and the RJB case was passed on to CJI Gogoi.
  • On Aug 28, while addressing some University students, CJI Misra quoted Thomas Jefferson to say “When people fear government, there is tyranny”, which many saw as a veiled jibe at the Modi Government in keeping with the ‘dissent is being quashed’ narrative of Opposition parties & left-liberal intelligentsia.
  • On 5 Sept, an SC bench led by CJI Misra agreed to hear a PIL filed by  advocate M L Sharma seeking stay on the Rafale fighter jet deal. Opposition to this deal is one of the main planks of Congress for the upcoming elections. ML Sharma is a serial PIL litigator who was once hauled up by SC for “irresponsible and scandalous allegations”, and he has also defended the accused in the Nirbhaya rape case. This PIL was assigned by CJI Misra to a bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi, Navin Sinha and KM Joseph.

  • On 7 Sept, while speaking at the launch of Kapil Sibal’s book ‘Shades of Truth’, staunch Modi critic Sharad Yadav claimed “there is visible impact of the impeachment process initiated against CJI Dipak Mishra, as demonstrated by recent verdicts of judiciary.”
  • On 19 Sept, a SC Bench headed by J. Bobde (next in line to become CJI after Rajan Gogoi) appointed Nandan Nilekani to examine the affiliation process of Medical Council of India – interestingly, Kapil Sibal was appointed as amicus curaie (‘friend of the court’ – a supposed impartial adviser to the court in a particular case). Remember, ex-CJI Misra still has a cloud over his head with regards to his alleged complicity in the medical admission scam.
  • On Oct 8, a bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, Justices SK Kaul and KM Joseph agreed to hear a second PIL on the Rafale deal – this one filed by Pune-based lawyer Vineet Dhanda seeking a direction to the Centre to reveal details of the deal and the comparative prices during the UPA and NDA rule in a sealed cover to the apex court.  Both petitions were heard together on Oct 10 and SC directed the Central government to apprise it of the decision-making process related to the Rafale Deal in a sealed cover. The information was provided last Saturday, and next hearing of this case is also scheduled for today. Incidentally, Dhanda was rebuked in Feb by SC for ‘filing fashionable PILs after seeing headlines’ for a PIL he had filed on the PNB-Nirav Modi scam. (what is more, ML Sharma had also filed a PIL in the PNB case!)

Conclusion

Yet another indefinite postponement of the RJB case, which has been dragging on for 133 years in the courts – the first suit goes back to 1885, the year the Indian National Congress was born, and the case was later revived after independence in 1950 – has elicited varied reactions on social media, all reflecting the anguish & helplessness of a Hindu society which has waited patiently for judicial resolution of this civilizational issue –


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