Hours after the Supreme Court referred the temple-mosque dispute in Ayodhya to a three-member panel of mediators today, AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi questioned the neutrality of one of the individuals chosen for the purpose.
He was referring to spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who had told NDTV a year ago that it would be difficult to implement a decision that's unfavourable to the majority Hindu community "without bloodshed".
Mr Owaisi said that while the decision for mediation is to be welcomed, he has problems with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar being a member of the panel. "His statements are in the public domain, and there is no way he can be called a neutral mediator. He has threatened violence, and clearly stated that this is a matter of faith for him," the Hyderabad parliamentarian claimed.
The other members of the mediation panel are former Supreme Court judge FM Ibrahim Kalifulla and senior advocate Sriram Panchu. The five-judge constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi asked the panel to carry out its task confidentially, without making the media privy to the mediation process. The in-camera sessions will be held in Faizabad, located near Ayodhya.
Mr Owaisi told NDTV that he expects a mediator to be neutral in his view. "He should not be connected to the subject that he is going to mediate on, and he should not be close to the parties that are coming to him. But that is not the case here," he said.
In his interview with NDTV last year, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar had spoken of a hypothetical situation in which the Supreme Court rules in favour of Muslim litigants. "Do you think this country will take that judgment easily or happily? It will be a bitter pill for the majority community to feel defeated after 500 years of conflict over that place. And there's already a makeshift temple on the site. Would it be easy to implement such a Supreme Court order without bloodshed? Shifting Ram Lalla will make the majority community feel defeated," he said.
The spiritual leader struck a more conciliatory tone on social media today, after the Supreme Court announced its decision. "Respecting everyone, turning dreams to reality, ending long-standing conflicts happily and maintaining harmony in society - we must all move together towards these goals," he tweeted with the hashtag #ayodhyamediation.