Ayodhya Case: Appointing Sri Sri Undermines Meaningful Resolution
Sri Sri’s past utterances are unlikely to inspire confidence in the parties involved in the Ayodhya land dispute.
Justice (Retd) Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla, Senior Advocate Sriram Panchu and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar have been nominated by the Supreme Court to be on a panel to mediate between parties to the title suit over the Babri Masjid site in Ayodhya. Are they the right people for the task at hand? (It is quite ironic that the Supreme Court, on International Women’s Day, did not think any woman was fit for this important task).
By Appointing Kalifulla, SC Preempts Accusations of ‘Tokenism’
Of the mediators, Panchu, a prominent face of the Madras High Court bar and as a leading expert in mediation over the last three decades, is more than eminently qualified to be a mediator.
He has been roped in, in the past by the Supreme Court to mediate disputes, and is by far one of the leading proponents of mediation in India. Of his credentials and expertise to be on this panel, there can be no doubt.
Justice Kalifulla has been a judge of the Madras High Court (like his father), the Chief Justice of Jammu & Kashmir, and of the Supreme Court of India, across a sixteen-year judicial career.
Before that, he was an advocate practicing in Tamil Nadu for twenty-five years. While practice of law (even across four decades) does not per se make one an expert in mediation, he is one who is aware of its benefits and use in other cases.
His experience with the mediation process notwithstanding, his presence is also supposed to assure the parties that the Supreme Court intends for this to be taken seriously by all concerned.
The purpose of the panel (as in any mediation process) is not to adjudicate claims or determine the rights and wrongs of parties – it is to help parties arrive at an agreement, guiding them along the way. Justice Kalifulla is not intended to be an authority on the law, but more of a chief facilitator who will be taken seriously because of his past standing.
By making him the chairperson of the committee, the Supreme Court has also preempted any accusation of tokenism on the panel.
Sri Sri’s Past Record & Why He Doesn’t Fit ‘Mediator’ Bill
Which brings us to the third and most controversial member of the panel: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Exactly what his qualifications to be on this panel are, one cannot immediately discern. His previous involvement with the law has usually been at the wrong end – through a land grabbing dispute in Bangalore or the wanton destruction of the Yamuna floodplains by the Art of Living Foundation.
His past utterances about the dispute are also unlikely to inspire confidence – while calling for mediation, he’s made it clear that he’s of the view that the site “belongs” to Hindus. This is of course in addition to his infamous letter to the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (one of the parties to the case) proposing a “settlement” which wanted them to accede to the illegal demolition of Babri Masjid in return for five acres of land.
For a mediation process to be effective, the mediator should be a person who can inspire confidence in the parties about their neutrality, fairness and competence to resolve the dispute. It has to be someone who is willing to step back when needed to put the parties’ interests at hand. With Sri Sri’s previous record of trying to insert himself into the mediation process much to the distaste of certain parties to the case, he is hardly like to inspire any confidence among the parties.
Furthermore, his clearly stated position on what he would like the “settlement” to be, suggests that he’s approaching the matter with a preconceived set of notions – disastrous for any fruitful conclusion in a mediation.
What a Fair Mediation Requires
On the Constitution Bench, the judges of the Supreme Court are quite aware that with the Babri Masjid case, they are not dealing with just another property dispute, but one which raises deeper questions about the nature of Indian society and state.
A mediation is not just a group of people talking things through over a cup of tea. It is a process which needs to be facilitated and carried forward by mediators, who have expertise and competence to inspire confidence in the parties that their interests are being protected. Whatever hopes that the Supreme Court had of mediation, offering a meaningful resolution to the Babri Masjid dispute is belied by the appointment of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to the panel.
(Alok Prasanna Kumar is an advocate based in Bengaluru. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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