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No Babri trial pause for poll

PEACE APPEAL: A supporter of the Nirmohi Akhara, one of the plaintiffs in the Ayodhya case, and a group that accompanied representatives of the All India Sunni Wakf Board wait outside the Supreme Court on Tuesday. On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition, the Union home ministry has issued an advisory to all states to ensure communal harmony. Picture by Prem Singh 

New Delhi: The Supreme Court has declined to entertain a Sunni board's plea to postpone beyond the July 2019 general election the hearing on appeals against a judgment that divided the disputed land in Ayodhya equally among three litigants.

The All India Sunni Wakf Board did not mention the general election but the tactical effort appeared to be aimed at blunting any inherent advantage the ruling BJP might try to garner if the court's verdict went in its favour.

The three-judge bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices Ashok Bhushan and Abdul Nazeer also declined to allow at this juncture the board's plea to refer the matter to a five-judge or seven-judge constitution bench.

After a two-hour hearing, the special bench adjourned the matter to February 8. By then, the Uttar Pradesh government and the litigants have been asked to finish the paperwork.

Senior advocates Kapil Sibal, Rajeev Dhawan and Dushayant Dave appeared for the Sunni Wakf Board and some individual Muslims.

They repeatedly pleaded that the matter should be adjourned and wondered why the apex court was in a tearing hurry. "It is perhaps the most important litigation in the history of India and will decide the country's future," Sibal said.

Senior advocates Harish Salve and C.S. Vaidyanathan, appearing for Hindu claimants, insisted that the arguments should be heard on Tuesday itself.

Sibal contended that since the documents in the case added up to 19,590 pages that included 781 earlier judicial citations, it would take more than four months for the advocates to prepare.

He questioned the urgency when a contempt petition filed against the then Uttar Pradesh chief minister Kalyan Singh and other BJP leaders had yet to be adjudicated.

The contempt petition was filed after December 6, 1992, following the demolition of the Babri Masjid despite an assurance by the Kalyan government to the court that only a peaceful foundation programme would be allowed.

"The request of someone (BJP MP Subramanian Swamy) who is not even a party to the case was entertained and the matter was listed for hearing in August this year. The contempt petition has not been adjudicated so far," Sibal said.

He read out a letter purportedly written by Swamy (without mentioning his name) to the Prime Minister, which featured a promise to resolve the dispute legally before the next general election.

It was on Swamy's request that the then Chief Justice, J.S. Khehar, had set up the bench to take up the appeals.

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