Lucknow: With the Supreme Court set to deliver the crucial Ayodhya verdict in less than two hours, Uttar Pradesh is awaiting the judgment with bated breath, 27 years after the demolition of the Babri Masjid changed its socio-political structure.
Fearing a backlash from fringe groups, security has been beefed up across the state, with the Union home ministry deploying 4000 central paramilitary troops, and police personnel also upping the ante.
In the capital city of Lucknow, however, sentiment remained more tempered with the people hoping for a balanced, fair verdict.
"It has been close to three decades now. What has happened, has happened. We hope the Supreme Court decides on something that is fair to all parties so that there is no violence," said Birendra Kumar, a local taxi driver in Lucknow.
The day Babri Masjid was brought down, 6 December 1992, will forever remain a turning point in India's history.
"I was six when the Masjid was broken down. I remember my father had come back and said something 'terrible' has happened in Ayodhya and before we knew it, Hindus and Muslims were out to kill each other. Nothing like that should happen again — there was bloodshed and that should not be repeated today or in future," said Deepak Singh, a businessman now based in New Delhi.
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While the tension is palpable from Lucknow to Ayodhya, security forces have left no stone unturned to ensure that no communal episodes break out in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's decision, later today.
While authorities have suspended mobile internet services across Aligarh, Meerut and Saharanpur in the state, Section 144 (that prohibits the assembly of four or more people) of the Criminal Procedure Code has also been enforced.
While it is business as usual in Lucknow, all roads leading to Ayodhya, just 135 kilometres away from the capital city, are dotted with police pickets with only very few people moving around.
"We will be closing our shops soon. We had opened it so people can quickly buy any essentials they need. But UP is very explosive. Anything can happen here. So we will not be taking any chances," said Babulal, a grocery store owner at Amausi in Lucknow.
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People are following suit and scrambling to wrap up businesses early as the time of the verdict nears.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi had appealed for calm in the wake of the verdict, on Friday evening, state police has set up blockades all through the passageway leading to Ayodhya.
The verdict in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land title case will be delivered on Saturday morning by Supreme Court Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, bringing to an end one of modern India’s longest-running Hindu-Muslim disputes.