A sense of anxiety prevails in Ayodhya as it awaits the Supreme Court verdict in the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute case. And this can be felt at the Tedhi Bazaar intersection close to the outer precincts of the disputed area, which is barricaded by yellow grille.
Haji Mehboob, one of the litigants in the case, lives opposite the Ram Janmabhoomi police station, barely 100 metres from the intersection, where two-wheelers and pedestrians are being checked before entry. There is a similar quiet inside the compound of his house, where he is seated on a chair conversing with two associates as two armed police guards look on attentively.
“What Allah will do is for the best,” says Mr. Mehboob, 73, the second generation of his family involved in the case that first came about after idols of Ram Lalla were placed “surreptitiously” in 1949.
Mr. Mehboob appeals to all residents, especially Muslims, to maintain calm and not give in to any kind of provocation, and entrust faith in the court. “The administration has promised us nothing will happen, the security is tight and no Muslim need to migrate out of fear,” he says.
Several Muslims in the area say that even if the verdict comes in their favour, any discussion on a mosque can wait and it is peace first.
While opinion on the issue is divided along communal and political lines, on the outside, almost every resident says the court verdict will be accepted. The most common opinion among the majority community is the belief that the disputed site will be awarded to them.
Boost for business
Amar Singh, who runs a ration shop, is confident the verdict will come “in favour of Lord Ram” and transform the town. “If a Ram Temple won’t be built in Ram ki Nagri, where else will it be built,” he asks.
However, as long as the land is not handed over to the Muslim side, he is willing even to accept status quo. “Even if the court says, let the site remain unused or build a hostel or a hospital, I am fine with that,” he says.
Like several other traders and shopkeepers, Suphal Chand Maurya, who migrated from Purulia district of West Bengal 45 years ago, feels the construction of a Ram temple will usher in a new wave of business.
Mr. Maurya runs a Bengali sweets shop near the famous Hanuman Garhi Temple.
Mahendra, a doctor who runs a clinic a few paces away, says that over time the local people have started “falling for dreams” that the town will transform into a tourist hub if a temple is built. “Let us hope the Constitution wins,” Dr. Mahendra says.
One of the most prominent faces of the legal case was Hashim Ansari, who was known as a propagator of a peaceful solution and one of the last persons to have personal knowledge of the case from the early years of Independence.
But after he died in 2016, aged 95, the mantle was passed on to the junior Ansari. Iqbal Ansari propagates the same argument in favour of peace.
“In 70 years, we did whatever we could,” says Iqbal, whose room has photographs of his father and the Babri Masjid framed on the wall. “Those who believe in the Constitution will obey the court”.
Like most Ayodhya residents, irrespective of their religious identity, he blames “outsiders” for vitiating the atmosphere in Ayodhya in the past and believes the “Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb” or pluralistic culture of its people will not be affected by the verdict if such elements are kept out. Shahid Ali, president of the Ayodhya Urs committee, says both Hindus and Muslims are anxious because curfews affect them both. “If there are no pilgrims, then it is a crisis for livelihood for both communities,” he notes.
While many see an opportunity in the construction of a temple, some shopkeepers sense it could be a double-edged sword. Raj Bahadur Yadav, who sells pan at Tedhi Bazar, while hoping for a permanent end to the dispute, fears that if a temple is constructed, his kiosk could be demolished in the name of beautification of the vicinity. “…our problems might increase,” he says.
Nanku Yadav, who runs a popular tea shop nearby, is concerned that a split or indecisive verdict could reignite the issue politically at the local level.
As prohibitory orders under Section 144 have been imposed in the district, the police say that keeping “outsiders” and mischief elements will play a role in maintaining law and order. The State has requested the Centre for paramilitary forces.
Security has been tightened at all vital installations, and social media is being monitored, says Ayodhya SSP Ashish Tiwari. The district has been divided into four security zones — red, yellow, green and blue, with the area around the disputed site the most heavily guarded, he adds.