New Delhi, Aug 4 (efe-epa).- Preparations were underway on Tuesday for the construction of a gigantic Hindu temple at a contested site in the northern Indian city of Ayodhya where a mosque was razed by fanatic Hindu mobs in 1992.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to lay the foundation stone of the temple on Wednesday in honor of god-king Ram at a place that a large section of Hindus considers to be the birthplace of the Hindu lord.
Modi is attending the ceremony even though his top lieutenant Home Minister Amit Shah has contracted Covid-19 and is admitted to a private hospital near New Delhi.
The city has turned into a fortress amid heavy deployment of security forces to prevent any protests and follow strict health protocols in the wake of the rising number of coronavirus cases in the country.
Modi will preside over the celebrations in the city of Uttar Pradesh state and launch the construction of the temple at a site which for decades had been contested by the majority Hindus – who form around 80 percent of the Indian population – and minority Muslims, numbering around 14.2 percent.
In November, the Supreme Court of India decided the title of the site in favor of the Hindus and granted the land to a central government trust, established to oversee the building of the temple.
According to local media reports, a group of 175 people, mainly consisting of religious and political leaders and prominent local citizens, is expected to attend the ceremony.
Authorities have restricted access to the site as well as to the city of Ayodhya. The government has deployed around 4,000 security personnel and established 75 checkpoints blocking the roads leading to the area.
The security measures are also aimed at preventing large gatherings of devotees from attending the ceremony amid social distancing measures enforced to curb the spread of Covid-19.
The disease has infected nearly 1.9 million people in India, the third-worst affected country worldwide in terms of the number of cases.
A priest and 15 police officers in the area tested positive for the disease barely a week ago, while on Sunday a cabinet minister of the Uttar Pradesh government, Kamal Rani Varun, died due to the virus.
The celebrations will be immersed in religious symbolism.
Different scenes from the tales of Hindu epic Ramayana have been printed on the walls and other structures of the city along the path that Modi will take to reach the site.
Priest Satyendra Das told reporters that more than 100,000 oil lamps would be lit across the city during the celebration, and the same number of laddoos – round-shaped Indian sweets – will be distributed to mark the ceremony.
The prime minister is expected to arrive at the site at midday and lay a silver brick weighing 40 kilograms (88 pounds) as the symbolic foundation stone of the temple amid chanting of religious hymns.
The ceremony will kick off the construction of the temple at the controversial site, the exact spot where the 16th-century Babri Mosque had existed until it was destroyed by Hindu mobs in 1992, an act which triggered violent clashes in which some 2,000 people died.
In its decision last year, the top court refused to acknowledge the place as the “birthplace of Ram”, as sought by the Hindu litigants – based on the premise that Indian law allows recognizing deities or their idols as persons.
The court also denied the ownership rights of Muslims, saying they could not produce evidence in this regard.
As a solution ostensibly aimed at preserving religious harmony, the court ordered the construction of a temple of Ram and instructed the provincial and central government to grant a two-hectare plot of land elsewhere in the city to the Muslim community for building a new mosque. EFE-EPA