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NEW DELHI: The stage is set for the construction of Ram Mandir at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh to begin, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi scheduled to attend the foundation stone laying ceremony on 5 August.

The Mandir will be built on a 2.77-acre site where the 16th century Babri Masjid stood before it was razed by Hindu activists who believed it was built on the ruins of a temple marking the birthplace of Lord Ram.

In November, after years of litigation, the Supreme Court had directed that the disputed site be handed over for the building of a temple and ordered that an alternative 5-acre site be given to Muslims.

Apart from Modi, there will be 175 people present at the grand ceremony being planned, including 135 religious leaders of various holy sites across the country and from Nepal.

Members of the Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra, a trust formed by Centre on the directions of Supreme Court, had consulted senior leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)--LK Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi--along lawyer K Parasaran to finalise the list of invitees for the event.

The presence of Modi at the ceremony is significant because BJP had been promising the construction of a grand temple at Ayodhya in its election manifesto for the past three decades.

"Construction of Ram temple has never been an issue of politics for BJP. The party has always supported the construction of temple in Ayodhya, it is matter of faith of all Indians and we are confident that construction of temple will lead to peace and harmony in the country," said a senior BJP leader and cabinet minister in the Uttar Pradesh government.

The Ram Janmabhoomi movement, of which the BJP, along with Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was a part of, started in 1984 and shaped into a nationwide campaign in 1989 under Advani's leadership. The Babri Masjid was demolished on 6 December, 1992.

The construction of the temple is expected to help the BJP with its pollcampaign for the various upcoming assembly elections. Bihar is expected to go to polls in October while elections are scheduled in West Bengal which in May 2021. Uttar Pradesh will see assembly elections in 2022.

Significantly, the Congress had so far refrained from issuing a statement on the ceremony. On Tuesday, however, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, senior leader and general secretary, Uttar Pradesh, said, "An event of Bhoomipujan (ground breaking) of the temple of Ramlalla has been organized on 5 August, 2020. By the grace of Lord Ram, this event will become one of spreading his message about national unity, fraternity and cultural gathering."

The ceremony is expected to commence at noon and will see Prime Minister Modi plant a jasmine tree at the temple premises. Soon after the ceremony, the Uttar Pradesh government will release a postal stamp based on the temple design.

"5 August is a big milestone because of two main reasons - legal backing by none less than a Supreme Court judgment and a sense of euphoria which has come due to social support to the movement. One would have expected some political parties to talk about the timing, the pandemic in a forceful manner but almost all of them, including Congress, today have openly supported it," said Sanjay Kumar, director at New Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies.

Kumar, however, added that the event is unlikely to help the party expand much in north India, particularly Uttar Pradesh, but will make its core support base "more durable."

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