Senior lawyers spar in Supreme Court during Ayodhya case hearing

The hearing in the sensitive Babri Masjid-Ram temple land dispute case on Friday saw a heated exchange of words in the Supreme Court between senior lawyer Rajeev Dhavan and two additional solicitors general (ASGs) — Maninder Singh and Tushar Mehta.

As soon as the special bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra assembled at 2pm to hear the case, the spat began apparently on a trivial issue after ASG Singh asked Dhavan, who was standing to start advancing arguments, to move a bit.

“Sit down, Mr Maninder Singh. Sit down,” Dhavan said at top of his voice, leading the ASG to retort by saying “behave yourself, Mr Dhavan”.

“Don’t talk nonsense,” Dhavan said.

“You are talking nonsense,” ASG Singh retorted, adding that he was extending regard to him (Dhavan) due to his seniority.

ASG Mehta then came in support of his colleague and said, “There are people who are arrogant. With due respect to the learned senior counsel (Dhavan), he seems to have undergone a course in it.”

“Why are they sitting next to me and murmuring away and murmuring away”, Dhavan told the bench, apparently complaining about the law officers.

“Why are you standing near us? There is enough space there,” Mehta told Dhavan.

They (ASGs) came and said that they are the law officers, he said and then referred to his past experience when noted jurist Nani Palkhivala had vacated the chair for the counsel to argue the case.

The bench, also comprising justices Ashok Bhushan and SA Nazeer, said that lawyers are supposed to vacate seats for the counsel for litigants.

As the hearing progressed, Dhavan made some uncharitable comments against former attorney general and senior advocate K Parasaran, appearing for a Hindu group, who opposed his (Dhavan’s) submission that the Ayodhya case be referred to the larger bench.

“I am not indulging in theatrics and drama like Mr Parasaran. He suddenly gets up and says things,” Dhavan said and also used the word ‘rubbish’.

Senior Counsel CS Vaidyanathan and ASG Mehta took strong objection to the language used by Dhavan against Parasaran and said now a tendency has emerged among some lawyers to browbeat the institution and they are trying to “vitiate the atmosphere”.

“What kind of language is being used,” Vaidyanathan asked and added that it seemed that Dhavan did not want to argue the case.

The bench also reminded Dhavan that Parasaran was the former attorney general of India.

The law officers and some other lawyers took strong note of Dhavan’s other submission that the nation wanted to know as to why the apex court referred the polygamy issue to the larger bench and not doing the same with the Ayodhya case.

“What kind of argument is this? How can he make such an argument? That (polygamy) was the separate case,” Vaidyanathan said.

Dhavan would resume advancing arguments in the case on April 27.