The Narendra Modi government on Tuesday decided to petition the Supreme Court to release excess/superfluous land acquired under the Acquisition of Certain Areas of Ayodhya Act, 1993, near the Babri Masjid-Ram Mandir disputed site.
Haji Mehboob, a petitioner in the case, has already opposed the centre's move.
The centre had earlier acquired 67 acres, including the 2.77 acre disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site, and has now asked the top court's permission to return the excess land to its owners.
The Supreme Court had ordered status quo on the 67 acre land in 1993, a year after the Babri Masjid was razed.
The government now wants to hand over this land parcel to the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, a trust to promote and oversee construction of the Ram Temple which owns 42 acres of the 67 acres of land.
In 1994, Dr Ismail Faruqi had challenged the acquisition of 67.7 acres land around the disputed structure. While hearing the petition, a five-judge Supreme Court bench held that a mosque is not an essential part of the practice of Islam. It said that namaz could be offered anywhere and a mosque was not required for this.
A three-judge Supreme Court bench in 2018, headed by CJI Dipak Misra on September 27, ruled that the 1994 Ismail Faruqui judgment need not be referred to a larger bench since the earlier judgment was only with respect to immunity from acquisition and it would not impact the Ayodhya land title suit.
Having risen to power riding the coat-tails of the Ram Mandir movement though, the BJP seems to have bitten the bullet at last.
The BJP government has been facing heat from its right wing supporters ever since the SC refused an early hearing in the Ayodhya title case last year and posted the matter for January 2019.
Since then, the case has been delayed over the constitution of the bench, the latest being the cancellation of the January 29 hearing over the non-availability of Justice S A Bobde, one of the five judges of the Constitution bench.
Having risen to power on the coat-tails of the Ram Mandir movement, the BJP seems to have bitten the land bullet at last. (Photo: India Today)
While the construction of the Ram Mandir has been a part of the BJP's manifesto for long, the timing of the move now is being seen through a purely political prism.
Earlier, during an interview with ANI's Smita Prakash, PM Modi has said his government would wait for the judicial outcome before deciding on the next course of action.
So, what's prompted the sudden change in strategy?
With barely months to go before the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, the Modi government knows it will have to do much more than mere optics. Not being able to deliver on its core promise could dent the party's fortunes.
Faced with a united opposition, especially the alliance between erstwhile bitter enemies SP and BSP in Uttar Pradesh, has left the BJP with few options.
The party is also faced with a resurgent Rahul Gandhi-led Congress firing at it with all cylinders. Priyanka Gandhi's political entry has also thrown the game open to all.
While earlier, the BJP was smug in the knowledge of the Congress being left out of the UP alliance, and the possibility of a post-poll alliance with a few opposition parties, Priyanka's entry has thrown open the possibility of strategic understanding between opposition parties before the elections.
The move has also re energised the Congress cadres and is being seen as the party's serious attitude towards UP.
The Opposition had already put the Modi government on the mat for a lack of jobs, agrarian distress, a flailing economy, institutional damage, gigantic failures like demonetisation and GST, and alleged corruption charges.
The BJP is also staring at losing a chunk of its upper caste vote bank, especially in Uttar Pradesh. While the party has recently announced a 10 per cent quota for the economically weaker sections, even at the risk of antagonising its backward caste voters, Rahul Gandhi's recent temple run and Brahmin outreach may poach away some of those voters.
With the Kumbh Mela taking place in Prayagraj, the BJP can ill afford criticism from hundreds of religious seers and lakhs of devotees gathered in the city.
Most pollsters predicting a hung Parliament, the BJP is in serious need of some divine intervention.
The Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad's statement that the Ayodhya case must be heard without delay sounds more like a plea for help than a mere observation.
After all, the construction of the Ram Mandir may make or break political fortunes.