India's Top Court Postpones Hearing on Contested Sacred Site

(Bloomberg) -- India’s top court has postponed a hearing over the ownership of contested land in the northern city of Ayodhya until Jan. 29, continuing the suspense on the politically sensitive case ahead of general elections.

The five-judge Constitution Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi will then likely to decide whether to expedite the hearing, which has the potential to influence the outcome of the poll which is due by May. The court said it rescheduled the hearing as Justice U. U. Lalit recused himself.

Hindu nationalist groups affiliated to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party have reinvigorated their pitch for expediting the temple’s construction. Hindu mobs razed a 16th-century mosque in 1992 in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh -- triggering deadly riots that killed at least 2,000 people, mostly Muslims -- and the site remains at the heart of India’s most politically divisive row.

The groups have been pressing the government to bring an ordinance to pave the way for the temple’s construction, saying Hindu society can’t be expected to wait indefinitely for a court decision on the issue.

Modi said on Jan. 1 that a decision on the site can only be made once the judicial process has concluded.

The Supreme Court has been hearing about a dozen appeals against the 2010 Allahabad High Court ruling that mandated a split which would have given Muslim’s one-third of the land and Hindu groups two-thirds.

Hindu groups say the Babri mosque at the disputed site was built over the ruins of a temple that marked the birthplace of their god, Lord Ram.

The movement also helped propel the BJP to power six years later. The ruling party promised to build a temple at the disputed site in its 2014 election manifesto.

In March 2017, a Hindu priest Yogi Adityanath, a strong supporter of building the temple , became chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, raising expectations among Hindu groups that the process of making a Hindu shrine would be fast-tracked.

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