Muslims pray in Ayodhya
© REUTERS/Amit Dave
Muslims pray for peace ahead of verdict on a disputed religious site in Ayodhya
India will be on edge for days after the country's Supreme Court announces its verdict on Ayodhya temple, which could lead to a violent backlash between contesting Hindus and Muslims.

India's Supreme Court would make a call if over a billion Hindus could have a temple for Lord Rama over lands in Ayodhya. It's disputed by millions of Muslims. Though the dispute has lasted for over a century, it turned combustible in 1992 when a clutch of Hindus brought down a mosque, Babri Masjid, they believed was built in the 16th century over the site where Lord Rama was born.

India witnessed its worst communal riots in the wake of that incident, which left over 2,000 people killed.

So high ran the emotions on either side that when a lower court equally divided the land among the Hindu and Muslim litigants in 2010, they promptly went to the apex Supreme Court claiming complete, and not partial, control over the land.

Hindu devotees sing
© REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
Hindu devotees sing religious songs inside a temple in Ayodhya
Days, months and years have passed since then, petition after petition after petition, forcing a cagey Supreme Court to finally bell the cat, after it tried and failed to see the light through a mediation process initiated between the opposing parties.

Now the verdict is at hand and everyone is jittery. Religious leaders are asking for calm and peace among their followers, irrespective of who wins in the end.

Between two poles

Muslims in India have grown to over 200 million who are constitutionally allowed to propagate their religion and are allowed a fair bit of liberty to follow Sharia or Islamic law as prescribed in their holy book the Quran. It has allowed them to resist the imposition of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) which is desired-by but never implemented by the Indian state.
Proposed Ram Temple Model
© REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
A model of the proposed Ram temple that Hindu groups want to build
They have the freedom to run their own educational institutions and mosques, and to retain complete control over lands gifted to them through charity. But Indian Muslims are now face-to-face with a resurgent Hindu majority, and their fears have amplified with the abrogation of Triple Talaq and of Article 370 in Kashmir. An unfavorable verdict on Ayodhya temple could be a flashpoint which India's liberal brigade would try their best to inflame and set the country ablaze.

New challenge for Modi

In other words, nobody is underestimating the fallout from the verdict. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has already made a public appeal for calm to the citizens of his country. The verdict could still open up the deep communal fault lines in the country, evoking the image of partition at the time of independence in 1947, which created Pakistan and cost at least two million lives.

Comment: Modi's government is not taking any chances. It deployed large troops to the the sensitive areas, closed schools in Uttar Pradesh, asked all state governments to be on alert, deployed bomb disposal units and imposed Section 144 in a few areas (meaning it's illegal to have more than 3 people together in public areas). Modi addressed people across the nation and advised them not to listen to rumors or take any aggressive actions and asked his party men and ministers to refrain from making any aggressive statements.

The evidence in the aftermath of the demolition of Babri Masjid is already known. Widespread attacks against Hindu temples were reported from Pakistan. Hundreds of shops, homes and temples of Hindus were destroyed in Bangladesh. The issue of Kashmir is already simmering. The pluralistic character of Indian society could come under more, serious stress.

It could have deep political implications too: the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), after all, rode in on the sentiment in favor of the temple to be where it is today. In 1984, BJP had just two seats. Currently, it occupies 303 seats in the 543-seat parliament. India could see one of its most momentous events since independence in the coming days.

By Ashish Shukla, a senior journalist and geopolitical analyst based in India, author of 'How United States Shot Humanity'. He runs a website, NewsBred.