Deepak Mehta

This paper analyses the Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhumi controversy by focusing on the legal and administrative literature through which the ‘Ayodhya dispute’ (by which the controversy is named) acquires a life in law. Specifically I wish to argue that the law in relation to the dispute is concerned more with the restoration of the status quo, and less with issues related to justice, restitution and rehabilitation. Through the status quo the Ayodhya dispute enters into the official public domain in such a way that it affects the legal case material and colours the legal vocabulary. Since its initial elaboration in 1885, the status quo has highlighted a residue of temporal change, in the absence of which the dispute cannot be recognized. The status quo becomes a title of legitimation open to occupation from all sides so much so that specific legal and administrative strategies would no longer be possible without it. The questions that this paper asks are both empirical and normative: From what does the status quo emerge and which choices does it bring into being? What are the limits within which change is possible? Normatively, to what extent is the status quo privileged and how can change from the status quo be legitimized? In dealing with these questions I will argue that the status quo addresses not only transformations in the long history of the Ayodhya dispute, but also constitutes its temporality.