South Asia

Indian media's cautious welcome for Ayodhya ruling

Muslim man reading newspaper with Ayodhya headlines
Image caption The judgement has made front page news in all papers

Indian newspapers have cautiously welcomed Thursday's court ruling that a disputed holy site in Ayodhya should be shared between Hindus and Muslims.

In a majority verdict, judges gave control of the main disputed section, where a mosque was torn down in 1992, to Hindus. Other parts of the site will be controlled by Muslims and a Hindu sect.

The destruction of the mosque by Hindu extremists led to widespread rioting in which some 2,000 people died.

It was some of the worst religious violence since the partition of India in 1947.

"2 Parts To Hindus, 1 Part To Muslims," headlined The Times of India.

"All must respect the verdict and due process must be followed in seeking redress," it said in an editorial. "It's welcome that political parties and religious groups have stressed the need to maintain peace and have appealed to cadres not to take to the streets."

'Partially rewarding'

The Hindu newspaper said that the judgement was a "compromise calculated to hold the religious peace rather an exercise of profound legal reflection". But it said it was a compromise that would work.

"At one level, from the standpoint of political morality, the verdict could be viewed as partially rewarding those who placed the idol overnight under the central dome of the mosque and those who in 1992 razed it to the ground," the newspaper wrote.

"Nevertheless, the confusing mass of findings, the reasons for which are not entirely clear, and the compromise nature of the verdict, along with the substantive outcome of dividing the disputed land, have restrained any party from claiming outright victory or sulking in total defeat."

The newspaper said that secular India needed to "move on and not be held hostage to grievances, real or imaginary, from the distant past".

Writing in The Indian Express, leading analyst Pratap Bhanu Mehta said that the court had "perhaps delivered a judgment befitting India".

"On God: there should be no dispute. On property: compromise. On history: move on," he wrote.

"This verdict is not unassailable, but it seems like a workable compromise. Some may object to the fact that it seems too much like a compromise, a set of brokered deals rather than neat first principles.

"But the blunt truth is that most of our jurisprudence on the deepest issues that have divided us have this character... The question to ask is not whether it is a compromise. The question to ask is whether the compromise takes us forward in the direction of the constitutional values we cherish," Mr Mehta wrote.

'No losers'

"Land Divided, India United," headlined The Economic Times.

However, the paper's editorial struck a different note, saying the "split verdict neither brings legal clarity to the dispute nor paves the way for an an amicable settlement".

"It is difficult to accept such a jumble as a reasoned judicial verdict. The Supreme Court needs to redeem the law from its deformation into a plea for pragmatic give and take."

Image caption India remained calm after the verdict

The Hindustan Times said there "are no losers in the Ayodhya ruling".

"[The] Ayodhya issue has been contained within the frames of the law. A bull has been and credit should be given where its due: the law overwhelming what had always seemed - and had, during a dangerous period of our political history, become - a matter of extra-judicial misadventures and posturings," the paper wrote.

Writing in the same paper, Ramachandra Guha, author of India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy, criticised "the pusillanimity of successive central governments [who] passed the buck to the courts".

Fortunately, he said, the case would now be argued before the Supreme Court as both sides were likely to contest the verdict.

"In the meantime, one must hope that India moves on even further, such that the ordinary citizen places greater - far greater - emphasis on demanding decent education, affordable healthcare and [above all] a dignified means of livelihood rather than living or re-living the sectarian religious disputes of the recent or ancient past."