By taking the Gyanvapi mosque case away from the trial court and assigning it to a district judge in Varanasi, the Supreme Court is apparently trying to put the genie back into the bottle. Instead of placing the cork on the bottle, it delegated the task to the district judge so as to follow due process. It, however, held the subordinate court on a leash as it kept a special leave petition filed by the mosque committee on the matter alive. The SC specifically instructed it to prioritise the question of maintainability and the resultant survey, which was challenged by the Muslim side citing the Places of Worship Act, 1991.
The Act was brought in a year before the demolition of the Babri structure in Ayodhya to retain the religious character of shrines with Independence as the reference point. The SC said it did not want to go into interpreting the 1991 law at this stage but indicated a couple of its sections could have left the door ajar for allowing survey of contested places of worship.
In other words, what was thought to be a watertight Act might not be so after all. This is like the GST council’s decisions that the SC last week ruled to be only recommendatory. But the Gyanvapi case is an individual initiative and a title suit against Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s demolition of the shrine. It is not the product of any mass movement or supported by any political outfit though it is under the benign shadow of a friendly party in power in Uttar Pradesh. Till the time it does not disturb law and order and threaten the secular fabric, the SC reckons such forays can be managed locally without breaking a sweat.
That said, another challenge came from a Mathura district court, which ruled that a case by the Krishna Janmabhoomi deity against an abutting mosque was maintainable. Anyway, the Sangh Parivar is on record as having said that it was not interested in reclaiming any disputed site other than Ayodhya. If anything, claims of finding a Shivalinga in the Gyanvapi complex, if validated, would ultimately serve to strengthen attacks of right-wing academics against historians like Dr. Audrey Truschke who argue Aurangzeb was benevolent, not barbaric.