The recent high-profile initiatives to resolve the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute out of court, it appears, may not be aimed at finding a negotiated settlement. Instead, they seem designed to create an atmosphere in which Muslims feel compelled to relinquish their claim to the disputed land in Ayodhya even before the Supreme Court decides on the title suit.

Take Art of Living founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s much-hyped effort, which started with a 20-minute meeting with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath on November 15. The next day, the religious leader visited Ayodhya, where he declared that the only solution to the dispute is erecting a Ram temple where the Babri Masjid stood. “If this issue has to be resolved forever, the only solution is that a grand temple is constructed with cooperation of both communities,” he said.

Ravi Shankar’s initiative culminated in Nagpur, where he held a closed-door meeting with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat on November 18, strengthening the perception that he was working at the behest of the RSS.

The RSS has already floated a new affiliate to whip up support for a Ram temple to be constructed in Ayodhya even while the Supreme Court hears final arguments in the title suit from December 5. Launched nearly a month ago, the Shri Ram Mandir Nirman Sahayog Manch has organised a series of meetings in Ayodhya and Lucknow with Hindu and Muslim religious leaders, in addition to prominent Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and Christians. The affiliate functions under the supervision of the Muslim Rashtriya Manch, whose head, senior RSS leader Indresh Kumar, is its chief patron.

Buttressing Ravi Shankar’s initiative is the proposal of Syed Waseem Rizvi, chairman of the Uttar Pradesh Shia Waqf Board. A fixture at the Muslim Rashtriya Manch’s meetings, Rizvi had said earlier this year that a mosque could be built some distance away from the disputed site, which once comprised the courtyard of the Babri Masjid.

On Monday, however, Rizvi diluted his claim, saying the mosque should not be built in Ayodhya at all, mirroring the demand of the RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Rizvi asked for an acre of land in Lucknow for constructing the mosque in exchange for the Shia Board giving up its claim to the disputed land entirely. “The mosque built at this place would not be named after any Mughal emperor and would be known as Masjid-e-Aman [mosque of peace], so that it can give a message of peace and brotherhood to the country,” he said in a letter to the government.

Keeping to the script?

The letter was signed mainly by Hindu religious leaders who are members of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Marg Darshak Mandal – Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas chief Nritya Gopal Das, Hanumangarhi’s Mahant Dharam Das, Digambar Akhara chief Suresh Das, Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad chief Narendra Giri and former Bharatiya Janata Party MP Mahant Ram Vilas Das Vedanti. Ironically, Rizvi’s “settlement proposal” has not been signed by any of the Muslim litigants in the case. Neither the Shia Waqf Board nor Rizvi, an original litigant.

Indeed, even Rizvi’s proposal of the Shia Waqf Board giving up its claim to the disputed land is pointless because it does not have a claim in the first place. The Board’s demand for the Babri Masjid and the adjoining Idgah to be handed over to it from Sunni Waqf Board had been rejected as far back as March 30, 1946, by Faizabad Civil Judge SA Ahsan. That was nearly four years before Hindu fanatics surreptitiously placed an idol of Ram under the central dome of the mosque in December 1949, which led to the title suit.

Moreover, Rizvi’s proposal to trade the disputed land in Ayodhya for a plot in Lucknow goes against the Supreme Court’s judgement in Ismail Faruqui v Union of India, 1994, laying down that the party that eventually wins the title suit may be given the disputed land as well as part of the land around the site acquired by the government, while the rest of the acquired land may be given to the losing side. The court has thus already provided for both Hindus and Muslims to build their places of worship on the acquired land in Ayodhya. However, the RSS and its affiliates, including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, are now demanding – even before the Supreme Court decides the title suit – that only a grand Ram temple be built in Ayodhya and not a mosque.

Rizvi’s proposal is also possibly illegal because under the Central Waqf Act, Shia and Sunni waqf boards are only custodians of waqf properties, not their owners. The 1935 law, amended in 2013, even prohibits changing land use of specified waqf properties.