INDIA’S top court handed a huge victory to prime minister Narendra Modi’s party on Saturday (9) by awarding Hindus control of a bitterly disputed holy site that has sparked deadly sectarian violence in the past.
Authorities stepped up security nationwide ahead of the decision and Modi called for calm, fearing the final ruling on an issue that has been a focal point of Hindu-Muslim tensions for decades could again trigger unrest.
The Supreme Court ruled that the site in Ayodhya in northern India, where Hindu mobs destroyed a 460-year-old mosque in 1992, must be managed by a trust to oversee the construction of a Hindu temple.
A separate piece of land in Ayodhya would be given over to a Muslim group to build a “prominent” new mosque, the court ruled in its hotly awaited 1,045-page verdict.
As delighted Hindu activists chanted outside the Delhi court, Ayodhya itself was barricaded with thousands of extra security personnel including riot police deployed and all gatherings banned.
Police were on alert across India while officials and volunteers scoured social media for inflammatory posts. Internet access was suspended in the city of Aligarh, home to a large Muslim minority.
Devout Hindus believe that Lord Ram, the warrior god, was born in Ayodhya some 7,000 years ago but a mosque was constructed on top of his birthplace in the 16th century.
In the 1980s, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) began to strengthen, pressure grew for the mosque to be replaced by a glorious new Hindu temple at the 2.8-acre (1.1-hectare) site.
The verdict, it is hoped, will put an end to an angry and at times arcane legal wrangle that British colonial rulers and even the Dalai Lama tried to mediate.
Zafaryab Jilani, a lawyer representing one of the Muslim litigants, said however that it was “unjust” and that he was considering filing a review.
Varun Kumar Sinha, a lawyer representing one of the Hindu groups, called it a “historic judgement”.
One resident of Ayodhya told Indian TV: “I have lived here all my life and I’m glad it’s finally over.”
Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has campaigned for years for a temple at Ayodhya, and the verdict will delight the prime minister’s supporters just months into his second term.
“The halls of justice have amicably concluded a matter going on for decades,” Modi tweeted. “This verdict shouldn’t be seen as a win or loss for anybody.”