, AYODHYA, Sep 29 – Thousands of paramilitary police have been deployed around the Indian town of Ayodhya — the focus of a court ruling Thursday on a religious dispute with a history of deadly communal violence.
The High Court in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh will rule on who owns the site of the 16th century Babri mosque in Ayodhya, which was razed by Hindu fanatics in 1992.
The timing of the verdict is a major security headache for the government as it struggles with the the Commonwealth Games that open in New Delhi on Sunday.
Hindus and Muslims both claim the site and the destruction of the mosque 18 years ago triggered some of the worst inter-religious violence in India since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, leaving 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, dead.
The government is extremely anxious about the potential for fresh violence after Thursday\’s verdict and has issued public appeals for calm, as well as placing advertisements in newspapers urging respect for the rule of law.
The High Court was to have ruled last Friday but the Supreme Court deferred the decision, saying it wanted to give Hindus and Muslims more time to resolve the dispute amicably.
"Security men, who were sent back to the barracks last week, have been recalled and deployed," a senior police official told AFP.
"There are around 40,000 security personnel deployed at strategic Ayodhya locations," said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Home Minister P. Chidambaram took stock of security arrangements on Tuesday, with 32 sensitive locations identified across the country — four of them in Uttar Pradesh, India\’s most populous state.
Security has also been stepped up in India\’s financial hub Mumbai where religious tensions have led to violence in the past.
Hindus say the Babri mosque was built by the Moghul emperor Babur on the site of a temple marking the birthplace of the Hindu warrior god Ram.
The High Court verdict will focus on three key questions: whether the disputed spot was Ram\’s birthplace, whether the mosque was built after the demolition of a temple and if the mosque had been built in accordance with the tenets of Islam.
Any ruling is likely to be challenged in the Supreme Court.
Hindus want to build a Ram temple on the site, and some say a ruling that bars them from proceeding would be greeted with violence.
"We will build our temple and if the verdict is against us Hindus, then no force on Earth will be able to contain the reaction," warned Ayodhya shopkeeper Shivan Gupta.
"There will be bloody riots again," Gupta warned.
V.N. Arora, who heads the department of strategic studies in Ayodhya\’s Saket College, tried to allay fears of a repeat of the 1992 carnage.
"But there is a possibility that a splinter Muslim group could try and offer prayers at the site if the verdict goes in their favour," Arora told AFP.
Since 1992, the site has been cordoned off and guarded by troops.
Off-site construction of sections of the proposed Ram temple have, however, gone ahead, including hundreds of painstakingly carved red-stone pillars.
"These will support one floor of the two-storey temple that we will raise", said Hanuman Yadav, who has been guarding the pillars for more than a decade in Ayodhya.
"They\’ve just been gathering moss and we still do not know if our dream will ever come true," said Yadav.
A Home Ministry advisory has requested all states to remain on high alert for Thursday\’s ruling, which could trigger "sharp reactions and communal passions among both Hindus and Muslims depending on what way the judgement goes."
Given the potential for violence, the pressure on the court is enormous.
India has avoided any major outbreak of Hindu-Muslim clashes since riots in the western state of Gujarat in 2002.
"Perhaps the most fitting tribute Ayodhya could pay to both Ram and Islam would be to have a non-denominational shrine to all the countless victims of religious violence, in all places and of all times," said Times of India columnist Jug Suraiya.