Kapil Sibal, who is also a leading lawyer, was representing the Sunni Waqf Board in the top court today when he requested judges to defer hearing in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute till after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, arguing that the BJP has said "the Ram temple will be built before 2019 through legal means... They want to make it part of their election manifesto and the court should not fall into the trap."
The Supreme Court rejected the plea setting February 8 next year as the date when it will begin final hearing in the Ayodhya dispute.
"I appeal to the future Congress president -- please clear your stand on the issue," Amit Shah said while campaigning in Gujarat, also adding, "On the one hand, temples are being visited ahead of elections. On the other hand, they are trying to delay hearing of the Ram Janmabhoomi case. The Congress has double standards on the issue."
He said the BJP is clear it wants the dispute resolved at the soonest. "The BJP demands that the case should be heard as soon as possible. The Supreme Court should give a judgment and a grand Ram temple should be built in Ayodhya," Mr Shah said.
The Congress's Randeep Surjewala has hit back, saying his party's stand "has always been clear, that the Ayodhya case will be decided by Supreme Court." He accused the BJP of playing "mischief maker," but also distancing the party from Mr Sibal's comments in court.
The 16th century Babri mosque was demolished in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, 25 years ago on December 6, 1992, by Hindu karsevaks or volunteers who claimed that it was built where a temple marking the birthplace of Lord Ram had stood. About 2,000 people were killed in the deadly riots that followed the Babri masjid demolition.
A three-judge bench headed by the Chief Justice of India said today that it will start hearing on February 8, a batch of petitions which have challenged a 2010 Allahabad High Court verdict on the Ayodhya title suit, which divided the disputed site in three parts -- one each for Hindu group Nirmohi Akhara, the Ram Lalla or infant Lord Ram represented by Hindu Mahasabha, and the Sunni Waqf Board which handles properties owned by Sunni Muslims.
All the petitioners have moved the Supreme Court against the order.
The BJP, powered into a major political force by its Ram temple campaign in the 1990s, has in recent years relegated the issue to the back pages of its election manifestos. However, its choice of saffron-robed priest Yogi Adityanath as chief minister after sweeping Uttar Pradesh earlier this year, was seen to indicate that the party could again bring the Ram temple issue to the forefront of its agenda as it preps for the 2019 national election.
Yogi Adityanath has asserted that building a Ram temple is a key agenda, including in his campaign for the BJP in Gujarat, which votes for a new government this Saturday and next week in two phases.
The BJP has accused Rahul Gandhi of trying to woo the state's Hindu voters by visiting temples during his aggressive Gujarat campaign, alleging that he is unaccustomed to doing so. Yogi Adityanath said at a Gujarat rally that Mr Gandhi "sat as he would to offer namaz" at a temple in Varanasi.