Ram Mandir judgment: “There was some divine power which..” Former CJI Ranjan Gogoi’s autobiography talks about Ram Mandir judgment, and the hurdles he faced during it.
The inauguration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya is set to take place in January 2024. After 40 days of hearings, the 5-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court had delivered its verdict on 8th November 2019, ordering the transfer of 2.77 acres of land to the Hindu side.
This landmark judgement marked the end of a 450-year-old dispute and brought a fruitful conclusion to the longstanding struggle of Hindus. At that time, Ranjan Gogoi served as the Chief Justice of India (CJI), and it was under his chairmanship that the bench delivered this landmark ruling.
What was going on in his mind at that time? What was happening inside the Supreme Court? Former CJI and now Rajya Sabha MP Ranjan Gogoi has provided a detailed account of the Ayodhya Judgment in the 12th chapter of his autobiography, ‘Justice for the Judge.’
Ex-CJI Ranjan Gogoi starts this chapter by stating that faith and religious beliefs are matters of conviction and not proof. Nevertheless, they bind humans and human communities together.
Gogoi writes that, despite leaders’ claims, homogeneity and oneness remain elusive, and many nations have been entangled in centuries-old disputes revolving around religious faith and beliefs.
In the same sequence, Ranjan Gogoi addressed the Ayodhya dispute, noting that despite several transformations in civilisation, this dispute on the structure has survived through the centuries.
In his autobiography, Gogoi emphasises that the impact of this dispute extends to millions of Hindus and Muslims, and governments have, at times, added layers of uncertainty to the dispute with their decisions.
He also delves into the challenges surrounding this Ram Mandir judgment and discusses how it can serve as inspiration for resolving disputes between different communities worldwide, making it a significant contribution to humanity.
Ram Mandir judgment
Giving a brief overview of the claims of both litigants, Ranjan Gogoi notes that the Hindu side claimed that Lord Shri Ram was born in the sanctum sanctorum (‘garbh-grih’) of the temple, while the opposing side argued that Babar built the mosque there without demolishing any temple.
The land below the central dome was 1500 square yards, which is less than 1 acre. He recalled that riots occurred in 1856-57, a statue was installed in December 1949, and in December 1992, the Karsevaks demolished the entire disputed structure.
The hearing was based on four suits filed between 1950 and 1989. In 1989, the Allahabad High Court transferred the case to a bench of 33 judges. On 30th December 2010, the High Court delivered its 4000-page judgment, consisting of three separate decisions.
In the final judgment, the land was divided into three parts. Nirmohi Akhara, Ramlala Virajman, and the Muslim side. Justice Dharamveer Sharma ruled to hand over the entire land to Hindus, while Justice Sudhir Aggarwal delivered the verdict on the sharing of all parties except for the Central Dome.
On the other hand, Justice SU Khan decided to allocate the Central Dome to Hindus and distribute the remaining land among the three parties. In protest, 21 petitions were filed in the Supreme Court, collectively known as the Ayodhya case.
The matter was brought before the then Chief Justice of India Deepak Misra on 5th December 2017. However, advocate, and then Congress leader, Kapil Sibal wanted the matter to be heard after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Rajeev Dhawan from the Muslim side argued that the case should be given to a larger constitutional bench.
Further in his autobiography, Ranjan Gogoi writes that the then CJI Deepak Misra did not want to postpone this case till 2019. However, in April-May 2018, an impeachment motion was brought against him and an uproar broke out.
“Many believed that the impeachment move was calculated to prevent CJI Misra from hearing the Ayodhya case. Whether there is any substance in this is not within my knowledge. However, I find some commonality between such thoughts and the views expressed in certain quarters that the events narrated in an earlier chapter could have been similarly calculated with not only the Ayodhya hearing that was due shortly but also the ongoing hearings in sensitive cases like Rafale and NRC in mind. The only difference was that while the first move (involving CJI Misra) succeeded, the second (involving myself) did not,” Former CJI Ranjan Gogoi writes while referring to the impeachment move against his predecessor Deepak Misra.
Notably, when the impeachment motion was brought against CJI Misra, a hearing on seminal matters like a case against the Rafale aircraft deal was going on in the apex court.
Pertinent to note that 7 opposition parties, including Congress, SP, BSP, NCP, CPI, IUML/Muslim League, and JMM had submitted signatures of 71 MPs to the then Vice President and Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkaiah Naidu for initiating an impeachment motion against Justice Deepak Misra.
Kapil Sibal was spearheading the charge. Arun Jaitley, who was then Union Minister, had pointed out how the impeachment motion was being used as a political weapon.
Nonetheless, Gogoi writes that the hearing of the Ayodhya case had already started during the tenure of his predecessor, he simply took it forward.
Former CJI Ranjan Gogoi then notes that the case was listed on 4th January 2019, without his permission at that time. As the then CJI, Ranjan Gogoi had decided to transfer the case to a bench of 5 judges, which, besides him, included Justices SA Bobde, NV Ramana, UU Lalit, and DY Chandrachud.
However, the counsel of the Muslim side, Rajeev Dhawan objected to the inclusion of UU Lalit, stating that, as a lawyer, he was once associated with a case related to it. Additionally, NV Ramana also recused himself from the matter.
Consequently, Justices Abdul Nazeer and Ashok Bhushan were added to the bench hearing the Ayodhya case. The Uttar Pradesh government submitted 13,000 pages of translated oral evidence.
To obtain no objection to this, both parties were given a 2-month period to review. Subsequently, a committee was formed for an agreement, but it proved unsuccessful. Therefore, on 6th August 2019, at 10:30 am, the Supreme Court commenced the hearing in this case.
Justice Ranjan Gogoi writes in his autobiography that as the hearing progressed, the crowd in the court kept increasing, with many lawyers in attendance. Initially, Rajeev Dhawan asked for more time and even resorted to commenting on the judges themselves.
Mentioning that, apart from Chandrachud, no one had thoroughly studied all the documents. Such incidents kept occurring, and the judges responded on several occasions. It was decided to hold hearings 5 days a week. As Ranjan Gogoi’s retirement was approaching, the proceedings continued until 5 pm.
From then onwards, the hearing continued until 16th October. Ranjan Gogoi mentions a very interesting incident during that time. A person wished to enter the Supreme Court hearing, and he sent a message through the Secretary-General.
However, Ranjan Gogoi found his intentions suspicious and instructed the Secretary-General not to allow the person’s entry at any cost. At 2 pm, the person requested permission again but was asked to wait for 2 hours.
Ranjan Gogoi writes that if he had entered during the proceedings, an adjournment would have been necessary, leading to the scheduling of a new date.
Ultimately, Gogoi declared, ‘enough is enough,’ and announced that the ‘judgment is reserved.’ The incident pertains to the last day of the hearing. Ranjan Gogoi mentions that his training as a judge was such that his stress did not reflect in his work.
But he needed to conclude the case before his retirement on 17th November. Many times, he would return home with similar feelings. He shared his inner turmoil with his wife, who could sense his distress even when walking behind a seemingly calm posture in court.
One day, Gogoi even refused to go to court, but his wife Rupanjali encouraged him to attend the court. He lived at 5, Krishna Menon Marg at that time. On another day, he contemplated skipping court, but his wife insisted, and he went.
On that particular day, he remained seated in his chamber, prompting Justice Bobde to adjourn the hearing, citing his illness. Ranjan Gogoi mentioned that in different cases, negative comments started coming from activists and lawyers so the hearing did not proceed quickly.
Retired judge and currently a Rajya Sabha MP Ranjan Gogoi writes that he was not able to sleep more than 3-4 hours on any day during the entire hearing. Justice Ranjan Gogoi reflects on how his fellow judges used to discuss among themselves why they were so determined to resolve this case.
He faced accusations of putting the reputation of the Supreme Court at stake. However, he believes that there was some divine force that was prompting him to end the case.
During that 3-month hearing period, none of the judges on the bench took even a single day’s leave. No judge experienced fever or a cold. One judge mentioned that, at that time, a relative was in the ICU and expressed the possibility of taking a few days off in case of a relative’s death.
However, Ranjan Gogoi assured him that everything would be fine. Fortunately, the situation did not deteriorate, and perhaps the relative had already recovered by that time. After the hearing, the five judges would gather for tea in the Chief Justice’s chamber.
During that time, they used to discuss the details of the case, but in the final days, the conversation shifted towards the suggestion that the disputed land should be granted to the Hindu side and Muslims should get 5 acres of land separately for the mosque.
In the Ayodhya case, only one judgment was written and who wrote it was not even made public; all five judges signed it. Justice Ranjan Gogoi believed that this case was one in which the judgment should not remain pending, even for a minute.
After the verdict was pronounced, a photo session was organised under the Ashok Chakra in the Judges Gallery in Court Number One. In the evening, Ranjan Gogoi invited his fellow judges to celebrate at the Taj Mansingh Hotel. There, they enjoyed Chinese food and wine.
The next day, he left for Dibrugarh in Assam with his mother and wife for the release of a book published by the Supreme Court. Upon returning to Delhi, he resumed work and remained at the office until the last day of his retirement. He considered this case a challenge and even canceled his foreign tour for it.
Justice Ranjan Gogoi did not entertain petitions filed against Kashmir and the abrogation of Article 370 because he was determined to conclude the Ayodhya case. In his writings, Ranjan Gogoi mentions that he chose to confront the challenge and did not allow negative comments personally directed at him to impede the process.
Today, as the Ram Mandir takes shape, we should also express gratitude to then CJI Ranjan Gogoi and the five-judge constitution bench for their courage and for resolving this legal dispute lingering for centuries.
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Ram Mandir judgment: featured image credit, opindia.com, Former CJI Ranjan Gogoi highlights impediments and hurdles during the Ayodhya Ram mandir hearing (Image Source – News18 Hindi and OpIndia Hindi).