If the Ram Mandir is being rebuilt today, a significant part of the credit goes to the scores of lawyers (nearly 60-70) who fought the case in the courts for decades.
The struggle saw the best of legal acumen, innumerable hours of work, and not a little divine intervention.
In this journey, some of the most dramatic anecdotes involved a 'truckload of documents', a marathon hearing held by the five-judge bench of the apex court, and a very lucky incident at Bahrison's bookstore in New Delhi's Khan Market.
RJB case's history
The issue made headlines for the first time during December 1949. Around the midnight hour, on December 22, there was a 'manifestation' of Shri Ram at the site of the disputed structure.
In response, the then administration locked the doors of the structure citing law and order concerns.
In time, the administrative issue turned legal and the first suit related to the Ram Janmabhoomi was filed in January 1950 by one Gopal Singh Visharad, as Plaintiff against five Muslim residents of Ayodhya and the State of Uttar Pradesh.
Visharad claimed that he was stopped from doing his 'darshan-poojan'. The administration then appointed a receiver to manage the place. An identical suit was filed in the same year by Paramhans Ramchandra Das (Plaintiff) and was withdrawn in 1990.
In 1959 and 1961, two more suits were filed by the Nirmohi Akhada and the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Muslim Waqf Board, respectively. The latter demanded the structure be declared a public mosque. In 1964, all the above four suits were consolidated for joint hearing by the orders of the Court.
In 1989, a case was filed on behalf of Sri Ramlalla Virajman. It was pleaded that Sri Ramlalla Virajman and Asthan Sri Rama Janmabhoomi, both, were juridical persons and that one Deoki Nandan Agrawal sought to represent the deity as a friend.
In the same year, the four suits listed above were transferred from the lower court to the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court.
After the Allahabad High Court practically awarded 2/3 of the disputed land to Hindus in a 2010 judgment, appeals were filed with the Supreme Court of India. It was here that the matter was eventually settled.
Till 2017, the turn for the appeals to be heard did not come. Even in 2018, it was remarked (October 29, 2018) that this appeal was 'not in their priority'.
The trial got deferred till January 2019. At the same time, the court ordered that it would be heard by a five-judge bench.
The Bahrison's Anecdote
Shubhendu Anand started his legal career in 2012 with an internship at Senior Advocate Vikramjit Banerjee's office (now Additional Solicitor General of India).
One lazy afternoon in Delhi, while brushing through some files, Shubhendu stumbled upon the documents concerning the RJB case. Immediately, he was drawn into the whole issue and expressed his wish to be a part of the team. Mr. Banerjee gave his nod.
This was around 2013, around the time of Narendra Modi's nomination as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate.
A few years into Prime Minister Narendra Modi's tenure, the demand to build the Ram temple grew louder.
In 2019, it was the then Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, who headed the five-judge Constitution bench hearing the matter.
"That was an intense period, I remember. Those 40 days, most of us spent all our time in office. We rarely stepped out. Time or date did not matter to any of us. It also did not matter what we ate, whether we got some rest or a weekend off. This was a marathon hearing, and even the judicial system, at some point, wants closure on cases that have been ongoing for decades now", says Shubhendu, speaking to Swarajya.
"Soon enough, Bhagwan Ram intervened is what I believe", says Shubhendu, narrating a pleasant coincidence.
The team was trying to get their hands on historical land records of the Ayodhya, in an attempt to identify the khata and khasra details. The document needed to have an academic weightage, and it would be ideal if they came across a scholarly work that could propel their case further.
One afternoon in Khan Market, when Shubhendu was out for lunch with Mr. Banerjee and Mr. PV Yogeshwaran (Advocate on Record), they stumbled across a book at Bahrison's bookstore that contained old land records of Ayodhya.
This, according to Shubhendu, was one among many of the important pieces of evidence that helped them strengthen their case in the court.
'Enough Is Enough'
Between 6 August to 16 October that year, for a period of 40 days, the legal team led by veterans like Keshav Parasaran, left no stone unturned to find anything that would make their case stronger. After the popular Kesavanand Bharti versus the Union of India case (1973), the Ram Janmabhoomi one was the longest — with respect to the proceedings in the Supreme Court.
The last days of the hearing saw dramatic scenes involving senior counsel for the Muslim side, Rajeev Dhavan. If reports are to be believed, Dhavan tore a pictorial map depicting the birth place of Lord Ram in Ayodhya provided by the Hindu Mahasabha.
"Enough is enough", the bench had observed, on the final day of the marathon hearing.
"I could not believe my eyes", Shubhendu says, recalling the day when Dhavan tore the papers. He says that the people present in the courtroom were shellshocked. To everyone, that behaviour did not just display a lack of respect to the parties involved in the case, but it also dealt an insult to the court.
Following the incident, Dhavan, in his signature style, tore the papers because he said "the CJI said I can". This all started when the pictorial map, also a part of former IPS officer Kishore Kunal's book 'Ayodhya Revisited' was used on record by the parties involved in the matter.
When Dhavan vigorously raised objections to the reliance on the pictorial map, the legal team on the Hindus' side said they would not press for it to be taken on record.
After Dhavan's incident, an exasperated CJI said "if these are the kind of arguments going on, then, we can just get up and walk out".
This would not be the first or the last time Dhavan would get involved in a controversy of such nature.
Leading The Legal Fight For Ram Mandir
Parasaran's most important engagement at the time was to serve as the lead counsel for the Hindu side in the Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid case.
As reported, his dedication to the case can be inferred by the fact that every day he worked on every aspect of the case before the hearing began and well into the evening after it concluded.
He was assisted by a capable team of advocates namely, PV Yogeshwaran, Anirudh Sharma, Sridhar Pottaraju, Aditi Dani, Ashwin Kumar D S and Bhakti Vardhan Singh.
Parasaran’s legal associates were awed by his energy and extensive memory, which was backed by his comprehensive but easy-to-understand research. Unlike Dhavan who rampaged in the court on the last day of the hearing, not once did Parasaran lose his cool.
One of the most notable arguments by Parasaran in this case was, “Muslims can pray in any other mosque in Ayodhya. There are 55-60 mosques in Ayodhya alone. But, for Hindus this is the birth place of Lord Ram, which we cannot change”.
Another notable exchange during the proceedings was Parasaran asserting, “I will say once a temple always a temple”, in response to the Muslim side’s argument of “once a mosque, always a mosque”.
Despite intense rivalries in the courtroom, Parasaran did not shy away from being gracious with his opponents. After the conclusion of the hearing, he waited for 15 minutes for Rajeev Dhavan so that he could greet him.
Champat Rai, the international vice president of the VHP, told the media that Parasaran used to stand in court for four hours at a single stretch during those last 40 days of hearing. Rai had also mentioned Parasaran, out of respect to the deity and the case, removing his footwear and keeping it aside during the hearings.
When the legal team was invited to Ayodhya for felicitation by the VHP, Parasaran and his family members took a holy dip in the Saryu, before leaving for the temple.
Apart from Senior Advocates like K Parasaran and CS Vaidyanathan, other members of the team included names such as Madan Mohan Pandey, Vikramjit Banerjee, PV Yogeshwaran, retired Justice Kamleshwar Nath, Advocate Sridhar Pota Raju, Bhakti Vardhan Singh, Swaroopama Chaturvedi, Mukul Singh, Santosh Kumar, Amit Sharma, Praveen, Shubhendu Anand, Ayush Anand, Anirudh Sharma, Vaibhav Chaddha were some of the people feliciated by the VHP.
Finally, on a weekend in the third week of October, the apex court reserved its verdict on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid issue and delivered it on 9 November 2019. A unanimous verdict, the bench made way for the Hindus to construct the Ram Mandir at the site, and allotted five acres, away from the site, to the Sunni Waqf Board.
Sharan Setty (Sharan K A) is an Associate Editor at Swarajya. He tweets at @sharansetty2.
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