A five-judge Constitution bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Ranjan Gogoi will begin hearing on the Babri Masjid case on January 10. The bench, comprising the CJI along with Justice Sharad Arvind Bobde, Justice N. V. Ramana, Justice Uday Lalit and Justice Dhananjaya Y. Chandrachud, has been constituted to hear a batch of as many as 14 petitions against the 2010 Allahabad High Court verdict in the title suit case.
On January 4, over two months after it deprioritised its hearing in the matter, the apex court listed the case to be heard on January 10 in front of an appropriate bench which the Chief Justice of India said would give further orders in the matter.
The fact that a Constitution Bench will hear the case may imply that the Supreme Court will not just be considering the case as a title suit, but as a constitutional issue -- which is likely to come as a setback to those who had called for an ordinance to facilitate the construction of a Ram Mandir at the Ram Janmabhoomi site by citing that the apex court was only hearing the matter as a dispute over land.
The government, for its part, has been clear that it will follow the Supreme Court's lead in the case. In his Jan 1 interview to ANI, the Prime Minister had said so in as many words and had reassured that his government would take whatever effort is required subsequent to the court's verdict in order to fulfill its 2014 election manifesto promise regarding building the Mandir.
The Prime Minister's statement was welcomed by the RSS, which only sought to put a deadline on the start of construction, holding that it should begin within the current government's tenure. Speaking at the Republic Summit, BJP party president Amit Shah had also endorsed the primacy of the top court's say in the matter and had opined that if heard day-to-day, a verdict could be forthcoming within ten days.
Non-committal on the topic has been the Congress party which hasn't yet taken an official position regarding the Mandir, though its senior leaders have repeatedly spoken out against the Mandir being built at the Ram Janmabhoomi site, with Shashi Tharoor holding that the people should "build the mandir in their hearts" and Mani Shankar Aiyar questioning the need to build the Mandir at the exact spot where the Babri Masjid once stood by saying, "Dashrath's palace was so big it is said to have had 10,000 rooms. How can you say where someone was born?" In December 2017, Kapil Sibal, while representing one of the petitioners in the Ayodhya case, had told the Supreme Court to hear the matter after the 2019 elections. This was criticised by the BJP as recently as the Prime Minister's recent interview.