(A view of Ayodhya beside the Sarayu River in Uttar Pradesh)
The Supreme Court gave three south Indians—senior lawyer Sriram Panchu, I Kalifulla and spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravishankar—8 weeks to mediate the temple-mosque dispute in Ayodhya
The Supreme Court on March 8, 2019 announced a committee to mediate the long-pending Ayodhya dispute, naming senior lawyer and mediation and arbitration expert Sriram Panchu, retired Judge of the Madras High Court FM Ibrahim Kalifulla and spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravishankar as the mediators.
All three are based in south India – Panchu and the retired judge are from Chennai and Ravishankar from Karnataka.
Sriram Panchu: Ace Mediation & Arbitration Expert
Senior lawyer Sriram Panchu is seen amongst legal circles as a pioneer of the mediation and arbitration movement in India.
He played a key role in establishing a Mediation Centre within the premises of the Madras High Court in 2005, the country’s first. He has also authored several books on mediation and arbitration.
Panchu is also part of a mediation committee called the Border Peace Coordination Committee that has been working on settling the border dispute between Assam and Nagaland since 2013. The border dispute goes back to 1962 when Nagaland was given statehood. In 1988 the state of Assam filed a suit against the Union of India over the disputed border.
“It is a very serious responsibility given to me by the Hon’ble Supreme Court. I will do my best,” Panchu told The Lede
“He is a very, very good person and an ideal choice,” said senior lawyer Arvinth Pandian, who is also an expert on mediation. “Coincidentally two days back I wished Mr Panchu at an event and said at the podium that I won’t be surprised if he is called in to mediate the Ayodhya issue,” he said. “He is the obvious choice. He is very balanced and has great knowledge about mediation,” said Pandian.
The difference between arbitration and mediation, according to Pandian, is that arbitrators have the power of decision while mediators have to convince the parties concerned to arrive at a consensus.
“It is a non-binding consultative process,” said Pandian. “It is conducted in a more informal, confidential and conducive atmosphere—not through a disputing, charged, litigation kind of atmosphere. Cool down all the emotions and then ask them to focus more on the issue rather than on the emotions. Mediation is a concept where people try to understand the other side more and narrow down the differences further. Instead of calling it a large Ayodhya dispute, personal discussion between representatives could make it come down to a few points of difference which can then be resolved easily,” he said.
FM Ibrahim Kalifulla: A Balanced Judge
Retired Justice Fakkir Mohamed Ibrahim Kalifulla was appointed as judge in the Madras High Court in 2000 and later elevated to the Supreme Court in 2012. In 2011, he served briefly as the Chief Justice of the High Court of Jammu & Kashmir.
“He is a very good man and a good balanced judge,” said his brother retired judge ARL Lakshmanan. “He will definitely try to settle the matter in a balanced way.”
Lakshmanan also pointed out that since this is a sensitive and religious issue, the committee will have to tread cautiously.
Retired justice Mohan too agreed that Justice Kalifulla was a good choice for the Committee. He is, though, sceptical about the outcome of the mediation.
“It is very, very difficult,” he told The Lede. “What is it that you are going to mediate? Is it about land? But it is not a question of land. It is a question of whether there was a Ram temple and Babar built on it. This is a dispute over two versions of history. How will you settle it? I do not think there is any solution to this dispute,” he said.
Sri Sri Ravishankar: A Spiritual Godman
The third and possibly best known amongst the committee is Sri Sri Ravishankar, who founded the famous Art of Living foundation. He has always held the view that an out-of-court settlement was the best way to deal with the Ayodhya dispute.
It was with this intention that he had been meeting leaders of the movement for the establishment of the Ram temple as well leaders of the Muslim community.
Just a year ago on March 6, he had written to the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) to consider an out-of-court settlement as he felt that it would, otherwise, led to a communal flare-up.
“I urge leaders the leaders of both faiths to take this action seriously. Otherwise, we are pushing our country to the brink of a civil war,’’ he had said in the letter.
An out-of-court settlement of the dispute would also be a “win-win’’ situation for both the communities, he felt.
Guruji, as he is popularly called, did not speak to the media but tweeted.
But his nomination to the panel has already led to criticism. It has come from a member of the AIMPLB and MP from Hyderabad, Asaduddin Owaisi.
“It would have been better if the Supreme Court had appointed a neutral person,’’ Owaisi was quoted in the media as saying.
(Photo credit: Ashish Bhatnagar/Wikimedia Commons)