Ayodhya crosses its fingers before court verdict

The dispute that dates back to the 19th century is scheduled to come to some kind of fruition with the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court's verdict Sep 24. Eighteen years after the demolition of the Babri Masjid by Hindu radicals who believed that it was built on the site of the birth place of Lord Ram, the security blanket is back.

Gun-wielding Rapid Action Force (RAF) and  Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel march down the narrow streets and police around the disputed site are on the alert, disallowing visitors from even carrying combs, pen and paper.

Residents fear that the situation could quickly get as volatile as it did on Dec 6, 1992, when the Babri Masjid was demolished, triggering nationwide riots.

The debate is slowly building up, but the hope is that this time around, the reaction would be more subdued.

"The prevailing silence is very scary; you can see normal life is already disrupted and I would not be surpised at all if mischief mongers are already on the job to incite trouble," said Suphal Chandra who runs a sweetmeats shop in Ayodhya's main market.

Hindus in the town say they see no reason why the verdict would not go in their favour while Muslims are hoping that the judiciary would entitle them to their claim to the land so that the mosque could be rebuilt.

Mohammed Hashim Ansari, 90, the oldest Muslim litigant in the case, is worried about the politicking in the name of Ayodhya.

Without naming the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies, he said: "I have never collected any funds in the name of the Babri Masjid but it is no secret how many political outfits have minted money by keeping the Ayodhya issue alive for decades. We must guard against the designs of such elements."

Ansari moved the local court in 1961 seeking the right to offer namaz in the mosque, where idols of Lord Ram were introduced in 1949. It was Ansari's plea that led the court to order shutting of the gates to the disputed shrine that were unlocked more than three decades later in 1986.

Though Ansari believes that the Muslim claim was based on far stronger evidence, he is quite emphatic about abiding by the court order.

"What we need to profess and promote is that either party must abide by the order of the court," he stressed. 

"And though I see no reason why the verdict should go against our claim, especially since we have such strong evidence in our favour, we will knock the doors of the Supreme Court if need be."

He recalls the spirit of goodwill between him and rival Hindu litigant Mahant Ram Chandra Paramhans, who spearheaded the Ram temple movement for decades before passing away a few years back. "Paramhans and I would sometimes even travel together to attend the court hearings in Lucknow and my son used to drive his car."

Swami Ram Vilas Vedanti, a former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP and a key member of the Ramjanmbhoomi Nyas (Trust) entrusted with the task of building a Ram temple, is confident that the verdict will go in their favour.

"How can the judgment go against us? How can we be denied the right to build a grand Ram temple in this Ram nagri, which is his birthplace?" 

However, Vedanti, 67, is also categorical about not taking the issue to the streets as in the 1980s and early 1990s.

"In case the verdict goes against our claim, we will  make an appeal to the union government to bring about legislation for building a grand Ram temple at the site," Vedanti told IANS.

"Unless that is done, this legal battle will go on endlessly as the matter is bound to be taken to the country's apex court by the losing party."

He, however, does not rule out an aggressive reaction in any adverse situation.
"We are against any kind of violence but let me tell you Hindus will not remain quiet if there is any attack by terrorists who have struck here in the past," he said.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) is also low key.

"Currently, we are only concentrating  on our mission to inculcate the habit for reciting the Hanuman chalisa among 11 crore Hindus. It came into effect Aug 16 and will go on till Dec 17," said VHP spokesperson Sharad Sharma. He was sitting at the almost empty Karsewakpuram that was for years a vibrant camp of Hindu hardliners.

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