NEW DELHI:In dramatic fashion, the Supreme Court notified at 9pm on Friday that Saturday will be judgment day for the 70-year-old Ayodhya dispute involving cross-ownership claims by Hindu and Muslim parties over an area of 1,487 square yards in the UP town. A bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices S A Bobde, D Y Chandrachud, Ashok Bhushan and S Abdul Nazeer decided to deliver the verdict on Saturday, a holiday for the court, hours after the CJI and Justices Bobde and Bhushan met the UP chief secretary and the DGP to take stock of security arrangements in Ayodhya and the state. Delhi Police too beefed up security at the houses of the judges. News of the forthcoming judgment sharpened the suspense on the verdict, keenly awaited by both sides of the dispute. The Ayodhya dispute has been central to national politics, marking a sharp ideological cleavage between BJP and its “secular” opponents. However, several Hindu and Muslim organisations have called for calm ahead of the ruling while the Centre and state governments are on alert. The notification merely said the five-judge constitution bench would deliver judgment at 10.30am on Saturday in two cases, Shia Central Board of Waqf, UP vs Sunni Central Board of Waqf, UP; and the Ayodhya land dispute case involving four suits — filed by Gopal Singh Visharad in 1950, by Nirmohi Akhara in 1959, Sunni Waqf Board in 1961 and deity Ram Lalla Virajman through next friend in 1989. The deity and Sunni Waqf Board are locked in litigation over complete ownership over the disputed land, while Nirmohi Akhara seeks priestly rights. The claim of Gopal Singh Visharad is to continue worshipping the deity at the place where it sits at present.The SC notification did not indicate if the judgment will be unanimous, or by three to two, or four to one majority. However, sources told TOI that there will be more than one judgment in the case. The centre stage on Saturday will be taken by the SC’s decision on the four suits, which were decided by the Allahabad High Court on September 30, 2010.An interesting facet will be whether the SC takes into account the mediation panel’s October 16 report informing the court about a settlement reached between parties through negotiation. The settlement’s main point was that the Sunni Waqf Board had agreed to give up its claim over the disputed site if certain other conditions, including restoration of two dozen mosques in Ayodhya and opening up of several other mosques under ASI control for offering of prayers.The HC had divided the 1,487 square yards of disputed land into three equal parts, allotting the area under the central dome of the now demolished Babri Masjid to Ram Lalla, the Kaushalya (Sita) Rasoi and Bhandara area in the outer courtyard of the demolished mosque to Nirmohi Akhara and the rest to Sunni Waqf Board.Interestingly, the SC has also listed the 2017 appeal of Shia Waqf Board, which has challenged a 1940s judgment of the Faizabad district court dismissing its suit seeking ownership of the disputed Babri Masjid. In its arguments before the SC, Shia Waqf Board had pledged to give the disputed site to Hindus for construction of Ram temple.On October 16, the five-judge bench had concluded arguments in the case after a marathon 40-day-long hearing which commenced on August 6. The SC had to deliver its verdict on or before November 17 as CJI Gogoi retires on that day. With Monday and Tuesday being holidays in the court, sources had speculated that the judgment would come between November 13 and 15. However, the sudden issuance of the notification late on Friday evening, announcing Saturday to be the judgment day, caught most by surprise.After promising each party on August 6 that “no party’s arguments would be curtailed”, the bench lived up to the promise and patiently heard submissions of counsel for Hindu parties — K Parasaran, C S Vaidyanathan, P N Mishra, Ranjit Kumar, Sushil Jain, P S Narasimha, Vikas Singh, Joydeep Gupta and P V Yogeswaran. Muslim parties were represented by Rajeev Dhavan, Zafaryab Jilani, Ejaz Maqbool, Akriti Chaubey and Mohd Nizam Pasha.The common thread of arguments by Hindu parties was the community’s faith and belief since time immemorial that the place under the central dome of the mosque, demolished by kar sevaks on December 6, 1992, was Lord Ram’s birthplace and that Hindus worshipped it and continued to do so despite Babur demolishing the Ram temple at the birthplace and constructing a mosque over it.The Hindu parties also relied heavily on Archaeological Survey of India’s excavation report which opined that a huge structure resembling temples of north India was buried beneath the disputed structure. They also relied on events since 1934, when a rioting mob had damaged the domes of the mosque, to argue that Muslims had abandoned it and no prayer was offered there since 1934.Muslim parties argued that what stood at the disputed site till 1992 was a mosque, which was built by Mughal emperor Babur in 1528. They relied on British documents to claim that Babur had fixed grants for upkeep of the mosque, which was continued by nawabs of Awadh and by the British government.They argued that Hindus surreptitiously placed idols under the central dome on the night of December 22, 1949, to desecrate the mosque and thereafter prevented Muslims from offering Friday namaz there, which was last offered on December 16, 1949. They trashed the ASI’s excavation report saying it was a mere opinion which had little expertise and argued that the court should consider it with a pinch of salt.Nirmohi Akhara appeared to break ranks with Hindu parties to claim management rights over the disputed land. It claimed to be the undisputed sole “sevait” of Ram Lalla since yore. It said only the “sevait” could represent the deity and not the next friend to lodge right over management of the disputed land. Nirvani Akhara joined issue with Nirmohi Akhara and claimed “sevait” rights over the idol.Arguments on the emotive issue saw tempers run high off and on, but the five-judge bench managed to keep the proceedings under control by holding on to their patience and not interrupting repeated reiteration of arguments by parties.