Indian Supreme Court defers flashpoint court ruling
Published on 23 September 2010 - 11:36am
India's Supreme Court deferred Thursday a high court ruling on a bitter religious dispute that had posed a major security headache ahead of the crisis-hit Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.
The high court in Allahabad in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh had been due to rule Friday on a long-standing ownership struggle over a religious site in Ayodhya, where Hindu zealots destroyed a mosque in 1992.
But the verdict was postponed for at least a week after the Supreme Court said it would hear a private petition requesting more time for mediation.
"The Supreme Court has deferred the Ayodhya verdict. The order states that the high court in Allahabad cannot pass the judgement tomorrow," said an official in the registrar office.
The next hearing on the petition was set for September 28.
"We will try and tell the court the matter should be deferred further and that parties involved in the dispute -- the religious leaders -- should be asked to sit and solve the matter amicably," said Mukul Rohatgi, a lawyer for the petitioner.
"This issue is not about 10 or 100 people. It involves millions of people and there should be representation from all the concerned parties," Rohatgi said.
The razing of the Babri mosque in 1992 triggered some of the worst communal violence since the partition of the Indian sub-continent in 1947.
More than 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the rioting.
Since then, the 47-acre (19-hectare) site has been cordoned off with barbed wire and steel fencing and guarded by troops.
Hindus say the mosque had been built by the Moghul emperor Babur on the site of a temple marking the birthplace of the Hindu warrior God Ram.
There had been deep concerns that Friday's scheduled high court ruling could spark widespread unrest, and 200,000 police, paramilitary and other security personnel had been deployed across Uttar Pradesh as a preventative measure.
The petition before the Supreme Court had argued that the Allahabad verdict posed a particular security risk at a time when India's security concerns are focused on the October 3-14 Commonwealth Games being held in New Delhi.
Fears for the safety of athletes and spectators were heightened after a home-grown Islamist group shot at a tourist bus outside New Delhi's main mosque last Sunday, injuring two Taiwanese nationals.
The Supreme Court decision was greeted with dismay by some involved in the Ayodhya dispute who argued that the time for mediation was over.
"It's really unfortunate. People were waiting for the verdict," said S.Q.R. Ilyas, convenor of a committee representing Muslim interests in the dispute.
"All efforts at reaching an amicable solution have been made without result," he said. "The court verdict... is the need of the hour."
The drive to build a Ram temple on the ruins of the razed mosque remains a key political aim of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which first came to national prominence over the Ayodhya issue.
BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad, who was appearing as a senior counsel arguing against the petition in the Supreme Court, said he was disappointed.
"I respect the court decision, but I can tell you that there is no possibility of an amicable solution," Prasad said.
Despite appeals for calm from all sides, there are serious concerns about a violent, knee-jerk reaction once the Allahabad High Court eventually delivers its ruling.
"The way the country handles this -- the aftermath -- will have a profound impact on the evolution of our country," Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said earlier in the month.
India has avoided any major outbreak of Hindu-Muslim violence since riots in Gujarat in 2002 and is especially keen to keep a lid on any unrest during the Commonwealth Games.
The Games are already in chaos, with some national delegations threatening to withdraw their teams amid complaints over the "filthy" athletes village and safety concerns after a footbridge leading to one of the main venues collapsed on Tuesday.
For background on Ayodhya please refer to the following links: