The Supreme Court giving finality to the Ayodhya dispute could provide an opportunity to the Congress, which was quick to endorse early construction of a Ram temple, to win back the confidence of the majority population and shrug off the charge of "minority appeasement". A section of party leaders feel that despite having initiated the process of starting prayers at the disputed site way back in 1986, the Congress has suffered electoral losses in the Hindi heartland, particularly Uttar Pradesh, since the demolition of the Babri mosque under its regime in 1992.
As the Congress's fortunes dipped, its arch rival BJP emerged as the clear gainer, riding on the Ram Janmabhoomi movement to national limelight and subsequent electoral victories.
"After 26 years, the Supreme Court has done exactly the same thing that the Congress party had sought to do through an Act of Parliament," Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala told PTI.
The leaders claimed that though the Narasimha Rao government was blamed for failing to stall its demolition, it was the Congress which initiated the mediation 26 years ago and wanted the construction of a Ram temple through consensus or through court order.
But the BJP, which used the matter to polarise people and reap electoral gains, did not support the party's proposals, the leaders said.
They said it was then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi who on February 1, 1986 got the permission for starting prayers at the disputed site and got the locks opened. Thereafter, the 'shilanyas puja' was held in 1989, they say.
They also claimed that the then Congress government at the Centre also brought the Ayodhya Act in January 1993 "to acquire the site of the disputed structure (2.77 acres) and suitable adjacent land (64 acres) for setting up a complex" that would have a temple dedicated to Lord Ram. This was stated by then Home Minister S B Chavan in Parliament.
They said the party-led government planned to build "a Ram temple, a mosque, amenities for pilgrims, a library, museum and other suitable facilities" at the site, but the BJP opposed it then.
"After 26 years, the Supreme Court has done exactly the same thing that the Congress party had sought to do through an Act of Parliament - The Ayodhya Act in 1993, vis-a-vis construction of the Ram temple, a mosque and a museum, but the BJP had vehemently opposed the construction of the temple by Government of India, with its Vice President S S Bhandari calling the Act as 'partisan, petty and perverse'," Surjewala said.
Former Law minister Ashwani Kumar, who was additional solicitor general during Rajiv Gandhi's tenure as prime minister, said no political party or side should now reopen or seek to find fault with today's Supreme Court decision, even if it is not seen as perfect.
"This is particularly so since the Congress has paid a huge price in terms of polarisation, social and religious divides generated by the controversy. Political parties will be doing a great disservice to seek political gains from this judgement," Kumar said.
He said matters of faith and religious sensitivity are best addressed in a non-partisan judicial forum which has now happened. He added that the SC verdict on the sensitive and contentious issue must now receive a final closure, considering a detailed and credible analysis of the contentions of respective parties.
Former Union Minister of State for Home Subodh Kant Sahai claims that the Congress always wanted the issue to be resolved through consensus, but the BJP never allowed so and wanted to make it an emotive and ideological issue to gain political dividend.
The steps taken by the Congress in resolving the issue through consensus came to nought after the demolition of the mosque on December 6, 1992 and all discussion in this regard proved futile, he said.
"I am happy that the Supreme Court did not talk about rights and considered the issue of faith and centered around temple construction...everyone should maintain peace and calm. But the question remains on whether those associated with the government will be supportive in maintaining peace or will continue to treat it as an issue of victory or loss," Sahai told PTI.
"The Supreme Court verdict should be limited to temple construction and should bring an end to politics by those who vitiated the atmosphere," he said.
Congress leader and former Uttar Pradesh minister Pramod Tiwari said, "The BJP has always said that this is an issue of faith and it cannot be resolved in the court.... But the Congress has stood by what it always said. The BJP has been befooling the people by taking advantage of Ayodhya issue, but the court decision has brought an end to the issue and everyone will have to follow it now."
Another minister in the Rajiv Gandhi government, K K Tewary, said the BJP owes its rise to the Ayodhya movement. "The BJP cannot make much out of it now as the matter now rests after the SC verdict," he said.
Settling a fractious issue that goes back more than a century, the Supreme Court in a historic verdict on Saturday backed the construction of a Ram temple by a government trust at the disputed site in Ayodhya, and ruled that an alternative five-acre plot must be found for a mosque in the Hindu holy town.