An OR analysis of the Ayodhya Temple-Mosque Verdict in India

Q. What happened in India earlier today when three judges delivered a judgment on a 60-year old court case associated with the mother of all controversial religious property disputes, with roughly a billion people anxiously waiting to see if justice was going to be done?
A. Nothing.

It doesn't sound like a big deal to folks outside India, but roughly 20 years ago, 2000+ people died in riots related to this very dispute when one group tried to take matters into their own hands. This dispute probably goes back to around 1528 when Babur, a chieftain from Uzbekistan won a battle at Panipat in Northern India a couple of years earlier to found the well-known Mughal dynasty. It is probable that one of his generals destroyed a Hindu temple and built a mosque. We can't be 100% sure, but there is several anecdotal and archaeological evidences that indicates this. If you disregard these evidences, there is a chance that a mosque was built on the pre-existing ruins of a temple. And the contention is that this is not just any Hindu temple - it is the sacred birth place of the legendary Hindu God Rama in Ayodhya, the hero of the Indian epic, the Ramayana. There is also a possibility that the mosque like structure could have been built at any point in time until around 1776, when a clear written description of this mosque shows up in records.

Modern day litigation started around 1885 and continue to this day!
For quite some time (decades) in the 19th century, both Hindus and Muslims offered prayers in the same complex without much issue, but a riot in 1934 (trust the Brits to screw things up all over the world!) put paid to this and since that point its been a contentious issue. The biggest democracy in the world saw a new political party come to power in the 1990s partly based on this issue, and to this day has a major political presence in the Indian electoral map.

So what did the judges do today? Well, they awarded 1/3rd the land to each of the three parties (A 'mainstream' Hindu group, a Sunni-Muslim group, and an ascetic Hindu religious sect called the Nirmohis). Nobody had any legal documents to prove ownership obviously. On average, nobody was truly happy, nobody was truly sad, and most importantly, nobody died in India today because of this.

This Solomon-esque verdict looks good from a practical OR perspective. If the objective is to minimize the expected value of the maximum discomfort for any religious group in India, and given that there is some finite probability that each group can lay claim to the property over a substantial amount of time during the last few hundred years (!), then this fractional solution of x = 1/n to this stochastic 3-SAT-like problem appears to be a sound compromise. Besides, it also reminds me of the initial interior solution used in Karmarkar's algorithm!. It allows each group to build their place of worship and exercise their right to religious freedom in democratic India. Rather than being totally indifferent to religious aspirations (i.e. bluntly secular), the judges have tried to reasonably accommodate it (i.e. multi-religious), and this made a huge difference. An all-or-nothing binary solution would imply that certain (reasonable) probabilities that favor one group are being completely disregarded, which in turn would probably result in riots at some point in time, with a little bit of encouragement from India's famously left-wing English language media, or a right-wing group that back any of the defendants.

A bit of history here.

The judges consisted of two Hindus and one Muslim, and I personally believe that they did an amazing job in arriving at a practical solution to a confounding, ill-defined decision problem that directly impacts a billion or more people, and indirectly, many more. It's not a perfect legal job; it's not bullet-proof; it can be contested in India's supreme court, but from an OR perspective, it's a stable solution that can work on the ground. Any substantial change to this 1/n formula may make the solution look more legal or technically more 'jurisprudentially' polished, but it is also going to cause havoc in real life.

In 1946, three Indian patriots - A Hindu, a Sikh, and a Muslim who waged a honorable military campaign for India's independence against the Brits as part of the gallant Subhash Chandra Bose's Indian National Army, (a la George Washington) were charged with treason (well of course it had to be!). However, the public outcry against that trial was so overwhelming that they eventually were freed. That heroic INA was formed against Mahatma Gandhi's wishes of a non-violent struggle, but nevertheless, that incident did unite the people of India and Bose is a much revered figure in India to this day (not to be confused with the one who makes cool speakers or the one who shows up among subatomic particles - Bosons).

Hopefully, the three Indians in today's trial have managed to do something similar. Time will tell.