India deployed more than 5,000 troops and police in the northern town of Ayodhya and Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for calm, ahead of an expected court ruling on Saturday (November 9) over control of a religious site violently disputed by Hindus and Muslims.
Authorities fear mass unrest when the Supreme Court issues its ruling over who controls the site where hardline Hindus tore down a mosque in 1992, triggering nationwide religious riots in which 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.
The Babri Mosque had stood for centuries at a site Hindus believe is the birthplace of Lord Ram, a physical incarnation of the god Vishnu. In the decades since it was razed, religious groups have fought in the courts over who should control it.
Modi’s Hindu nationalist party has campaigned on promises to build a Hindu temple there.
Thousands of Hindu monks and devotees have been arriving in Ayodhya in anticipation of the judgment of a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court, headed by the chief justice.
Police and home ministry officials said government agencies were making preparations to thwart any violence.
Hindu groups say a temple existed on the site before the mosque was built around 400 years ago by a Muslim ruler, and should rightfully be restored. Muslims and secularists say the destruction of the mosque was a dangerous step towards empowering a violent nationalist mob.
Ayodhya is in densely populated Uttar Pradesh state, home to more than 5% of India’s 200 million Muslims.
(Production: Jim Hatley)