A day after Congress leader Kapil Sibal's pitch for deferment of hearing of the Ayodhya title suit till after the 2019 general elections, Uttar Pradesh Sunni Waqf Board, a party to the case, said it was against such a move and wanted the matter to be disposed of 'promptly'.
Sibal, an eminent lawyer, also came under stinging attack from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was on campaign trail in Gujarat, for his attempt to link the legal tangle to the next general elections, wondering if such an issue should be kept unresolved for political gains and losses.
Under attack, Sibal claimed he did not represent the Sunni Waqf Board in the Ayodhya case in the Supreme Court, and mounted a counteroffensive against Modi, saying he should have checked the facts before criticising him.
The Waqf Board said it wanted speedy justice in the case and was not in favour of deferment. It said it had not issued any instruction to Sibal to seek shifting of hearing till after the general elections.
"The board is of the view that hearing in the case be held and the matter be disposed of promptly... I do not know on whose behalf the counsel for the Muslims appearing in the apex court Kapil Sibal stated this... No such directive had been given by the board," Chairman of the Sunni Waqf Board Zafar Farooqui said.
"Apparently, Sibal had appeared on behalf of one of the appellants in the Ayodhya case Hashim Ansari's son Iqbal Ansari... There was no directive from the board. We want that the case is solved at the earliest," he said in Lucknow.
Another party to the case, Haji Mehboob said he also wanted early disposal of the matter and did not approve of Sibal's stand.
"Everyone is involved in politics, be it the Congress or the BJP. I do not want get involved in their politics. I just want the issue be solved soon," Mehboob said.
Modi unleashed a tirade against Sibal and the Congress on the issue, while congratulating the Waqf Board for saying that Sibal's argument in court was wrong and it wants speedy resolution of the issue.
"Yesterday (Tuesday), Sibal advocated the cause of the Muslim community. He has the right to do it and we do not have any problem with it. You can present your argument quoting all facts and laws to save Babri Masjid.
"But you dare say that the case should not be heard till 2019 elections. You want to stop the hearing of Ram Temple (issue) in the name of elections," Modi told a well-attended election rally at Dhandhuka in Ahmedabad district.
Modi said his government took a clear stand on the contentious issue of 'triple talaq' during the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls despite the risk of a backlash.
"Everybody was saying that if we take a stand against it, we will face a backlash in the UP elections, but we took a stand and the Supreme Court asked us to form a law in six months," he said.
"Does the Waqf Board fight elections? Are these thoughts of delaying the hearing for elections that of the Waqf Board? The elections in the country are being fought by the Congress party. You want to keep the issue unresolved for political gains and losses in the elections?" Modi said.
Sibal, however, said the prime minister should be more concerned about priorities before the country rather than focusing on who represents whom in court, and claimed he never represented the Sunni Waqf Board in the Ayodhya case.
"I learnt that the prime minister and Amit Shah have said that I represented the Sunni Waqf Board in the Supreme Court, but I was never representing the Sunni Waqf Board in the Ayodhya issue.
"It would have been better had the prime minister been more careful and checked the facts before saying so in public. What I said in court on his divisive agenda, he has proved that right in a single day," he told PTI.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected the submission of the Sunni Waqf Board and some other Muslim organisations party to the case that the hearing of appeals in the sensitive Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title dispute be conducted in July 2019 after the general elections and fixed February 8 to hear them.
In the Supreme Court order, Sibal's name featured as a lawyer for the Uttar Pradesh Sunni Waqf Board.