India waits for mosque verdict

Security tightened before court ruling on dispute between Hindus and Muslims over Babri mosque in Ayodhya.

    The mosque's demolition in December 1992 triggered the worst communal riots since India's independence [AFP]

    Authorities in India have tightened security across the country in advance of a court ruling that will decide whether Hindus or Muslims own land around a disputed mosque.

    The demolition of the mosque in the 1990s led to one of the country's worst riots since independence.

    The verdict, aiming to resolve the dispute over the Babri mosque in the northern Indian town of Ayodhya, was due to be announced on Thursday by the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

    India's supreme court cleared the way on Tuesday for the lower court to decide on the ownership of the Babri mosque, over which the Hindus and Muslims have quarrelled for more than centuries.

    Hindus say the mosque stood on the birthplace of their god-king Rama and was built only after the destruction of the longstanding Hindu temple by Muslim invaders in the 16th century.

    The dispute flared up in 1992 after a Hindu mob destroyed the mosque and nearly 2,000 were killed in rioting between Hindus and Muslims across the country.

    Security challenge

    Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister, has described the 60-year-old Babri mosque-Ram temple case as one of the biggest security challenges in India - in addition to the Maoist campaign and the Kashmiri separatist uprising.

    In the western state of Gujarat, police have stepped up security at railway stations, bus terminals, shopping centres and were frisking all vehicles entering into the state.

    Shabbir Hussain Shekhadam Khandwawala, Gujarat's police chief, said more than 70,000 security personnel have been deployed to ensure there is no violence in the state which witnessed nearly 2,000 deaths in 2002 violence between Hindus and Muslims.

    Any verdict will present the ruling Congress party with a difficult decision.

    Endorsing a pro-Hindu verdict will damage the secular party's links with the Muslim population, while a pro-Muslim verdict could lead to the political nightmare of ordering the eviction of Hindu groups from the site.

    A decision against Hindus, who make up 80 per cent of India's population, would give political capital to the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.

    But any verdict will almost certainly be challenged in the supreme court, and a final decision could take years to emerge.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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