NEW DELHI (AP) — The Indian Supreme Court rejected Tuesday a plea to delay judgment on whether Hindus or Muslims should control a disputed holy site, clearing the way for a verdict in the explosive case later this week.
The fight over the compound in the central Indian town of Ayodhya has shaken the core of modern India and led to repeated outbreaks of communal violence that killed thousands of people.
A lower court had been scheduled to issue its ruling in the 60-year-old case last Friday on whether the site should be given to the Hindu community to build a temple to the god Rama or returned to the Muslim community to rebuild the 16th-century Babri Mosque.
But the Supreme Court deferred that ruling so it could hear arguments Tuesday on whether a decision on the dispute, which dates back more than 150 years, should be delayed further to allow the two communities a chance to settle it amicably.
“I told the court during arguments that there was no chance of a settlement. The High Court should be allowed to pronounce its judgment,” said Zaffaryab Jilani, a lawyer for the Sunni Waqf Board, a Muslim organization that was part of the original suit.
On Tuesday afternoon the court dismissed the motion without giving any reasons for its decision, said Mukul Rohatgi, a lawyer who argued for the delay.
The case has been stuck in India‘s famously sluggish court system for so long that most of the original petitioners have died awaiting a decision.
The Allahabad High Court will issue its verdict Thursday afternoon, said Hari Shankar Dubey, a court official. The court was in a rush to announce the decision before one of the judges on the panel is set to retire at the end of the week, which could force the court to put together a new panel and hear the case from the beginning.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealed to people to maintain peace and harmony.
“I think whatever be the nature of the judgment, everyone should make every effort to maintain peace, harmony and tranquility in the country,” the Press Trust of India quoted Mr. Singh as saying in New Delhi.
The government fears that any verdict could set off a repeat of the communal violence that killed 2,000 people in nationwide rioting in 1992 after a mob of Hindu extremists descended on Ayodhya and tore down the Babri Mosque.
Hindus protested that the mosque, built in 1528 by the Mughal emperor Babur, had been erected at the birthplace of Rama.
Ahead of the verdict, the government has sent thousands of extra police to Ayodhya and barred anyone from sending mass text messages to prevent agitators from mobilizing violent protests. Police and paramilitary soldiers patrolled the streets Tuesday and road barriers were erected across roads leading to the town.
Anil Kumar, superintendent of police, said vehicles entering the town were checked and police were keeping track of the movement of groups of people.
However, there appeared to be little tension in the town and all sides were counseling patience. The loser in the case will almost certainly appeal, meaning a final decision could still be years away.