India’s top court cleared the way on Saturday for a Hindu temple to be constructed at a hotly disputed holy site in a huge victory for Hindu nationalists under Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
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 handed over to a trust to oversee the construction of a Hindu temple, subject to conditions.
A separate piece of land in Ayodhya would be given over to Muslim groups to build a new mosque, the court ruled in a historic judgement aimed at ending a bitter and decades-old legal and sectarian battle.
The destruction of the 16th century mosque in 1992 by Hindi hardliners sparked massive Hindu-Muslim violence that left 2,000 people dead.
Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was in power in the the state of Uttar Pradesh in 1992 when thousands of Hindus attacked the mosque.
The BJP government faces accusations that it didn’t do enough to stop the mob from tearing down the mosque.
Hindu hardliners say they want to build a new temple to Hindu god Ram on the site, which they revere as his birthplace.
They say the mosque was built after a temple dedicated to the Hindu god was destroyed by Muslim rulers.
After the demolition of the mosque, Hindus and Muslims took the issue to a lower court, which in 2010 ruled that the disputed land should be divided into three parts – two for Hindus and one for Muslims.
That was challenged in the Supreme Court by the two communities represented by the Hindu orthodox Hindu Maha Sabha, the Muslim Sunni Waqf Board and Hindu religious group Nirmohi Akhara.
The judges started daily proceedings in August after mediation failed to find a compromise.
Modi had promised to build the temple in 2014 elections that brought him to power.
But he later decided to wait for the court verdict despite pressure from millions of Hindu hardliners who asked his government to bring legislation to build the temple. (Courtesy TRT World)