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Ayodhya legal option back on Atal table

New Delhi, Feb. 4: Three weeks before the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s dharam sansad, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee started afresh religious negotiations to see if a solution — political or legal — could be found to the Ayodhya dispute.

The process was kicked off with an hour-long one-to-one meeting with Swami Jayendra Saraswati, the sankaracharya of the Kanchi Kamakotipeetam, this evening.

Saraswati told reporters that Vajpayee had asked him to continue holding talks with “everybody”. He also indicated that the legal options available with the Centre would be explored and the court verdict respected.

The key players in the dispute — the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board and the VHP — made it clear that neither would budge from their stated positions, which stalled similar endeavours in the past. The board had allowed itself to be persuaded by the Kanchi seer to talk to the VHP in March last year when things came to a boil in Ayodhya, but this time it would deal directly with the PMO.

With the political option appearing dim — though Vajpayee had stressed on the need for a dialogue in the morning — the seer as well as sources in the government signalled that the legal course was the most tenable.

Speaking to The Telegraph from his base in the Kamakshi temple here, the seer repeated his view that the “undisputed” land should be handed over to the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas. But he added that the March 2002 Supreme Court order had tied the government’s hands.

The court had directed the Centre to maintain status quo ante on not only the “disputed” but also the “undisputed” land just when the government was considering handing over a part of the latter through an Ordinance.

The VHP’s case was that it had “rightful claim” to 46 acres of the “undisputed” land which, it argued, was “unfairly” acquired by the Centre. According to the VHP’s blueprint for the temple, construction would begin from this portion.

Saraswati said: “The land, if it is deemed to be undisputed, should be legally handed over to its original owner. But, for this, the Supreme Court will have to lift the ban, at least partially.”

That the Centre was more serious about the legal, rather than the political, option this time was evident from the involvement of law minister Arun Jaitley and the absence of NDA convener George Fernandes. Jaitley met the seer tonight.

Although he described it as a “courtesy call”, BJP sources said the Centre was considering seeking a clarification from the apex court on whether its March order was still operative since the “objective” conditions had “changed”.

Jaitley, they said, probably apprised the seer of the legalities of the issue. “Ayodhya is peaceful, the VHP has not threatened to go on an agitation and there is no threat to law and order. The court should consider these factors,” a source said. He added that if the court modified its directive, it would pave the way for the next step: bringing an Ordinance to enable the government to hand over part of the “undisputed” land to the Nyas.

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