Ayodhya / New Delhi: With the Supreme Court sidestepping a challenge to the high court’s refusal to defer its judgement on the Babri Masjid land dispute in Ayodhya, authorities are bracing for the judgement on the six-decade case due on Friday.
Also See Chronology of an Epic Dispute (PDF)
While home minister P. Chidambaram appealed for calm, the telecom ministry in consultation with the home ministry banned all bulk SMS/MMS messages in all service areas for the next 72 hours. Separately, the Uttar Pradesh government has banned any celebrations following the verdict on Friday.
The Supreme Court bench, comprising justices Altamas Kabir and A.K. Patnaik, on Wednesday deferred hearing a petition, saying it did not have the administrative mandate to take up civil suits. Ramesh Chandra Tripati, a defendant in the suit, filed a special leave petition on the grounds that there were security concerns in the wake of trouble in Jammu and Kashmir, the upcoming Commonwealth Games and unabated Maoist threats. He also pointed out that one of the three judges delivering the judgement was not consulted last week when the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court ruled that a deferral to allow the parties to mediate was not possible.
The Union government on Wednesday reiterated that neither party in the dispute should reach any “hasty conclusion that one side has won or that the other side has lost” and to remain calm. It appealed to all the parties to “reserve their opinions on the judgement”.
“While the parties to the suits study the judgement or judgements and ponder over the next steps, I would appeal to the general public to receive the verdict of the court as culmination of the legal process that deserves our respect and acceptance,” Chidambaram said in a statement.
Meanwhile, in Ayodhya, the epicentre of the dispute, the atmosphere is tense.
Security personnel belonging to the Central paramilitary forces have been placed at close proximity to each other even as they are also conducting an outreach to people in the city to pre-empt any mobilization after the verdict.
The Uttar Pradesh government has deployed at least 50,000 men from the state police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in and around Ayodhya in an area of 5-6 sq. km. It has divided Ayodhya into five zones—isolated, red, yellow, blue and green—depending on the sensitivity of the area. The CRPF, which was earlier present only in the isolated zone, has now been asked to take charge of the red zone, a 66-acre plot surrounding the disputed land.
Police officials are busy holding meetings with people from all walks of life in temples and other religious places not only to gauge the mood, but also provide assurance.
“We have made full arrangements and nothing will happen here,” superintendent of police (city) A.K. Ray told a gathering of nearly 200 men at a temple in Ayodhya.
R.K. Pandey, a police officer, said at least 30 such meetings have been held in the past two weeks. “We’ve requested traders to keep their shops open on 24 September so that life remains normal. If shops are open, people will be busy with work. Over 100 special police officers are holding meetings in all blocks to appeal for calm and peace,” he said.
The local population is outwardly calm, although there is a sense that tension is growing.
“Things are normal here, but there is tension among devotees. We had 2,000-3,000 visitors daily, it has now come down to a mere 150-200,” said Satish Kumar, a sweet shop owner near the disputed land.
Autorickshaw driver Ram Bahadur said the authorities and the media have served to raise the pitch. “It has come down heavily on business. People are stocking food and other materials, leading to a price rice. Prices of vegetables have doubled in the last three days,” he said.
Kamalakant, a journalist with a local Hindi newspaper, said, “On judgement day, security forces will not allow anyone to enter the city from outside.”
“I’m tensed, but won’t go anywhere. Hindu brothers have assured that they would protect me in case of any communal tension,” said Mohammad Shahid, who lost his father in 1992.
Various organizations of both communities have appealed for calm. Ashok Pathak of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad said: “In 1992, this place was full of people, but today no one is here. We’re not protesting the judgement, whatever it may be. We will ask the Centre to make a law that will enable us to construct Ram Mandir.”
Shauvik Ghosh in New Delhi also contributed to this story.