[op-ed snap] A reward for ‘egregious’ violations


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Ayodhya verdict : what it shows about our constitutional leanings


  • The Supreme Court of India’s effort to resolve the Ayodhya dispute is commendable.

What the decision implies

  • It is a matter involving criminal trespass that should have been reversed by local administrative action. 
  • That the matter finally reached a Constitution Bench is a sign of democratic dysfunction.

What the judgment says

  • Not archaeological – SC pronounced that a finding of title cannot be based on archaeological findings. The matter must be decided on settled legal principles, applying evidentiary standards that govern a civil trial.
  • No proof to history – bench pleads its inability to entertain claims that stem from the actions of the Mughal rulers against Hindu places of worship. 
  • 4 legal regimes – the genesis of the dispute spanned “four distinct legal regimes — Vikramaditya, the Mughals, the British and Independent India.

Constitution as watershed

  • The court said that India’s history is replete with actions that have been judged to be morally incorrect and are liable to trigger an ideological debate. 
  • A moment of liberation from the torments of the past occurred at a “watershed moment” when India adopted its republican Constitution.
  • At that juncture, all Indian citizens “submitted to the rule of law”.

From the past

  • Certain continuities between republican India and the British Raj were retained.
  • Article 372 of the Constitution allowed the adjudication of title bequeathed from before. The court invoked an extraordinary power uniquely granted under Article 142 to ensure that justice is delivered to all.
  • It seeks to bridge “significant gaps in the positive law” by applying principles of “justice, equity and good conscience”.

Ayodhya dispute

  • On December 22, 1949, a number of idols were smuggled into a place of worship at Ayodhya. 
  • The court has declared that this was a “desecration of the mosque and the ouster of the Muslims otherwise than by due process of law”. 
  • The final act of destruction on December 6, 1992, was recognised in the court as “an egregious violation of the rule of law”.

What lies ahead

  • There is a mystery with the Supreme Court ruling on Ayodhya, on how to negotiate the complicated routine through which it seeks to reward the worst violations of the rule of law. 
  • After acknowledging all these historical wrongs, the court recognizes a body that has been the most serious offender against the rule of law and awards it undiluted title to the land. 
  • It seeks to placate the victims of this cycle of physical and rhetorical violence, through the award of five acres in the near vicinity of Ayodhya, for the 2.77 acres lost. 
  • The court has decreed that the injuries to an entire religious community’s sense of identity and belonging, can be easily redressed through seeming generosity in the quantitative sense.


  • Equal citizenship was a promise that India made to itself at the time of its transition to a modern republic. B.R. Ambedkar and other preceptors of the democratic order knew that it was a difficult transition, because of the deep chasm between the assurance of political equality and the reality of social and economic inequality.
  • Ideas of persons such as Govind Ballabh Pant have been likened by scholars to a “Jacobin” position, that insisted on the extinction of all intermediary loyalties between the citizen and the State. They believed that, in a republican order, none of these distinctions would have any reason to exist.

Equal citizenship

  • G.B. Pant had deprecated the tendency to disregard the “individual citizen who is the backbone of the State and whose happiness and satisfaction should be the goal of every social mechanism.
  • He regretted that the citizens had been lost in the “body known as the community because of the “degrading habit of always thinking in terms of communities and never in terms of citizens”.
  • The course of Indian democracy exposed its assurances of republican equality as a thin cover for the upper-caste privilege. 
  • From being an unstated premise, sectarianism was officially reintroduced into India’s electoral politics in the 1980s, as the foundations of upper caste hegemony began to falter. 


The Ayodhya dispute was one among many manifestations of this moment of crisis. The Supreme Court’s heroic and logic-defying effort to set right the problem may well be too little and too late.

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