Ayodhya judgment – has allowed for the construction of the temple at the disputed site, vacated the Muslims and has allowed the Sunni Wakf Board land of 5 acres to build another mosque. To put it mildly, this was the most polarizing, controversial and impactful judgment in independent India.
But the sheer scale and impact of this case have led to the theatre and spectacle, around the pronouncement of the judgment in Court Room 1 of the Supreme Court, being overlooked.
So here’s a first-hand account from a reporter’s perspective.
“Ayodhya is tmrw” – this curt WhatsApp message by a lawyer friend at 09.03 pm on the night of November 8th was the beginning of a complex, tense and nerve-wracking series of events that constitute the reportage of the #AyodhyaVerdict.
Less than 12 hours later, with the news cycle in motion, I arrived at the Supreme Court at 08.00 am, just as the Supreme Court doors were thrown open to journalists.
Within minutes almost 200 journalists, rushed into the lawns of the Supreme Court to get the ideal shot of the dome atop Court Room 1, in the background. The number of journalists continued to grow by the minute. This after showing up two and a half hours prior to when the judgment was due to be pronounced. Judgment was due at 10.30 am.
With wave upon wave of reporters and camerapersons hitting the SC lawns, to avoid being crowded out of the courtroom, I rushed at 09.00 am to mark myself outside Court Room 1. Even with 90 minutes to spare, a battery of lawyers, easily numbering around 100, had beaten me to the gates of Court Room 1.
By 09.30 am, the crowd had swelled into something like what one experiences in a 6-coach-metro train during peak office hours. The number of people which at 09.00 am was at about 100, more than doubled in the next 30 minutes. The guards told us that the doors would open only at 10.00 am.
All this while, the air was thick with speculation and apprehension about what the judgment could hold. Humour and tense laughter was a constant feature, as journalists tried to mask tension and maintain composure while counting down the seconds to the judgment.
A fellow journalist remarked that that last he had experienced the palpable tension, was in the moments before his board exams. As the clock hit 10, tense laughter and jokes gave way to angry calls and cried to the guards to open the doors.
With the crowd of lawyers and journalists, angrily pushing against the doors, the gates opened at 10.17 am. And the angry crowd pushed me inside, bruising my ribs on the edges of the door. We all rushed inside to find the perfect spot to hear the judges.
What was an empty courtroom, within seconds turned into a crowded pool, with barely any air to breathe. With about 250-300 managing to enter, the air was occasionally pierced with angry cries of those in the gates, struggling to enter due to the sheer number of people. I have seen many judgments being passed, but never with such a large and excited crowd. A crowd that, some female journalists found to their horror, couldn’t care less about propriety.
But all eyes looked ahead, stares were focused on the bench that would seat the 5 judges. As many as 20 court staff members, hurriedly, put all the paperwork in place to gear the courtroom for the 5 judges.
Like clockwork, at 10.29 am, the
5 judges entered. The rants of an angry crowd, catcalls, tense laughter, coughs due to the changing weather all turned to silence. I think I managed to hear a pin drop – most unusual for a room with over 250 excited and tense people.
With the judgment being read out, for about 30 minutes, journalists got busy working their phones, while many lawyers sent updates on WhatsApp to their offices. Lawyers who were nothing more than excited onlookers, muttered commentary on the judgment, much to the annoyance of those around.
As soon as the judges departed, post the judgment, the chaos and the theatre ensued. Silence gave way to many lawyers congratulating each other. Journalists still occupied with their phones, navigated their way hurriedly to lawyers to get reactions, while a few others ran to the busy Supreme Court lawns.
The lawyers for the Sunni Wakf Board, unimpressed with the judgment, steered clear of comments and maintained a poker face. On being surrounded by journalists, the lawyers agreed for public comment to the sea of cameras in the SC lawns. And even as this conversation was being concluded, loud chants of “Jai Shree Ram” pierced the air. Bedlam ensued. Over 350-400 lawyers and journalists crowded the lawns. The excitement was palpable and was only amplified by scores of cameras looking for reactions.
Reporters and lawyers, inadvertently, ended up forming pockets or groups – where a section of lawyers would share comments. In many instances, I could not even identify the lawyer as having argued in the case and could barely recognise the channel doing the interview. These interviews would see loud and excited lawyers with clear political leanings, crowd around the camera and chant – “Among the crowd of lawyers and journalists, a few self-professed babas also decided to make hay. With unprecedented media coverage, and news cameras hungry for content, many of these babas got unbridled access to free publicity. Chants of “Jai Shree Ram” grew even louder. I left the court premises at 12.30 pm. The chants and the excitement were as loud if not louder than the ones immediately post the judgment.
Ram Lalla hum aayenge, Mandir wahin baneyenge”. At any given time, there were at least half a dozen of such groupings.