Ayodhya Settlement Offer Confirmed, But Who is Backing It?

Sunni Waqf Board lawyer confirms settlement after confusion over rift between Board and its Chairman.

6 min read
Ayodhya Settlement Offer Confirmed, But Who is Backing It?

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The Sunni Waqf Board on Thursday, 17 October, confirmed that a new settlement proposal regarding the Ayodhya title dispute had been submitted by the mediation panel to the Supreme Court – but other Muslim parties to the case are not on board.

The new proposal would see the UP Sunni Waqf Board give up its claim of title to the land where Babri Masjid was situated before its destruction by kar sevaks in 1992. However, according to sources, this is conditional upon:

  • Protection of all other mosques which have been claimed, at various points of time, to have been built on land that formerly had temples. This would be as a commitment to maintain the status quo of all places of worship as of 15 August 1947, specified in the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act 1991.
  • Renovation of mosques in Ayodhya by the government.
  • Opening up of mosques controlled by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) for offering of namaz (daily prayers).

This development has come to light after the conclusion of the 40-day hearings on the case in the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

The mediation panel, comprised of retired Supreme Court Justices FM Kalifulla, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and mediation expert Sriram Panchu, submitted its report in a sealed cover to the court on Wednesday. However, the settlement proposal was submitted by the panel two days ago.

Other Muslim Parties Not on Board

The Sunni Waqf Board appeared to have confirmed they were on board with the proposal to the media on 17 October. But on Friday, 18 October, a press release was issued by Ejaz Majbool, the advocate on record for the Muslim parties in the case, which said that the recent mediation proceedings were “not representative”, and that they do not accept the proposal.

According to the press release, only Dharma Das of the Nirvani Akhara, Zufar Ahmed Faruqui (chairman of the Sunni Waqf Board) and one Mr Chakrapani of the Hindu Maha Sabha attended these mediation proceedings. The press release also disapproves of the way in which the details of the proposal were leaked to the press, and the way in which the mediation took place.


Confirmation of Settlement Offer by Lawyer for Sunni Waqf Board

Advocate Shahid Rizvi, representing the Sunni Waqf Board, spoke to the media about this on the lawns of the Supreme Court, after reports of a potential settlement had started doing the rounds, including in The Times of India and The Indian Express.

Rizvi clarified that the new proposal came about as a result of the second bout of mediation, which had been going on in parallel with court proceedings, following a request by some of the parties.

Asked if it was not too late, given the arguments in the case had been completed, and with the judgment reserved by the five-judge bench, he said, “I don’t think it is too late. If you want to do things, you can do it at the last moment also.”

Rizvi, however, did not confirm the terms of the proposed settlement agreement, saying that he could not disclose the details of the same.

He expressed his hope that all the parties, including those who had not yet approved of the settlement, would review the proposal and sign it.

“I am very hopeful. Because that (proposal), I think, is best for the unity and integrity of India, for development of the country, for bringing a new change. Because it’s not an ordinary case when one party loses and the other party wins. It’s a case which is a turning point in history, which can change the course of history.”
Shahid Rizvi, Advocate

Sunni Waqf Board member Abrar Ahmed confirmed that the Board was behind their chairman’s proposals on settlement in a conversation with The Quint after Rizvi’s statement (see more on this below).


The Withdrawal That Wasn’t

There had been a significant amount of confusion over the Sunni Waqf Board’s stance on this issue, following reports on Wednesday morning that the Board was, in fact, going to withdraw its suit.

Hours before the final hearing was about to begin, it was reported by several media platforms that the chairman of the Sunni Waqf Board, Zufar Ahmed Farooqui, had agreed to withdraw the suit. He reportedly asked for this to be done through one of the mediators – senior advocate Sriram Panchu.

The Quint checked with the office of senior advocate Rajeev Dhavan – who was arguing the case for the Sunni Waqf Board in the Supreme Court – if they were withdrawing the case.

His office said no such instructions had been received from the Board. Zafaryab Jilani, another advocate for the Sunni Waqf Board, also confirmed that no application for withdrawal had been filed by them.

The Quint also accessed a statement by advocate MR Shamshad, representing another key Muslim litigant in the case, Iqbal Ansari, which stated that the Board has not made any such statement, and that in any case, the Board was only one of the Muslim parties in the case, and couldn’t withdraw the case on its own.

Farooqui then gave a statement to the Times of India on Thursday, saying there was no truth to reports that the Waqf Board had attempted to withdraw the case, in line with what the lawyers for the Board had said.


Are Sunni Waqf Board and Chairman on Same Page?

The statement by Ansari’s advocate, MR Shamshad, included an intriguing line that the “action of the chairman of UP Sunni Central Waqf Board in last two months has undergone a sea change”.

Reports then emerged that a number of cases had been filed against Faruqui, prompting speculation he was pursuing this withdrawal of the case at his own instance, rather than the Board’s.

That there were differences between the Waqf Board and its chairman seemed even clearer when The Quint was informed by Abrar Ahmed, another member of the UP Sunni Waqf Board, on the morning of 17 October – that the settlement offer was contingent on the Board winning the case in the Supreme Court, not otherwise.

In such a circumstance, they didn’t see the point of trying to rebuild a mosque there, but would offer it to be taken over by the government so that a Ram temple could be built, subject to the conditions of protection of other mosques, like the one in Mathura.

However, when Rizvi spoke to the media, he did not mention any such condition, that the settlement offer would apply if the Muslim parties won the case, and the reports in the media had also said no such thing.

And yet when The Quint reached out to Ahmed after Rizvi’s statement, Ahmed now said that the Board was behind any settlement offer proposed by the chairman of the Board, Faruqui, and that the chairman was responsible for negotiating this.

According to The Quint’s sources, Rizvi said that he was making his statement confirming the settlement offer on behalf of the Sunni Waqf Board – and, specifically, Faruqui.

News 18 Legal Editor Utkarsh Anand also reported that the settlement offer discussed by Rizvi had been submitted by Faruqui on behalf of the Waqf Board. 

It therefore looks like there is no rift between Faruqui and other members, or at the very least, that any differences between them have subsequently been resolved.


Could the Case Actually be Settled?

It was originally reported that the major parties who were not part of the settlement offer were the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas and the representatives of ‘Ram Lalla’ (the deity Ram).

The principal claims to title over the disputed land that have to be decided by the court are those of the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla. The Allahabad High Court in 2010 had divided the disputed land between all three.

The Quint has also learnt from sources that the Nirmohi Akhara has not, as an organisation, agreed to the settlement offer, and that only one of the mahants of the organisation has approved of it. The press release by the Muslim parties shows that even they aren’t involved in this process, and that the settlement offer seems to have been driven by Faruqui alone.

If all these parties do not agree to the settlement, it is difficult to see how it could be implemented. 

It is also unclear if the Supreme Court will be willing to accept this mediated settlement, given the time spent on the hearing, and the fact that the settlement offer was not discussed during the proceedings. As judgment has already been reserved, there could be procedural difficulties that prevent the settlement from being accepted.

The judges sat in chambers to discuss the case on Thursday, and are reported to have reviewed the mediation panel’s report.

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