June 20, 2019 / 2:11 PM / a month ago

Hindu monks push government to help build temple on disputed Indian site

HARIDWAR, India (Reuters) - Hundreds of Hindu monks gathered under the banner of a group linked to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party on Thursday urged the government to help build a temple on a disputed religious site in the Indian town of Ayodhya.

FILE PHOTO: People look at a model of a proposed Ram temple that Hindu groups want to build at a disputed religious site in Ayodhya in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India, November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar/File Photo

“After taking part in our annual event, the seers are of the view that the government must remove every single obstacle in the path of a grand temple in Ayodhya,” Alok Kumar, international working president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), or World Hindu Council, told Reuters.

The demand from his conservative allies puts further pressure on Modi, who last month came back to power with a bigger mandate, to quickly resolve a dispute that has cast its shadow over the relationship between India’s majority Hindus and minority Muslims.

The VHP shares ideological ties with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and it has led the campaign over the past three decades to build a temple on the site of what Hindus say is the birthplace of Lord Ram, one of their most revered deities.

The disputed site in Ayodhya, situated in politically crucial Uttar Pradesh - India’s most populous state - continues to be one of the most polarizing issues in a nation where Muslims are 14 percent of the 1.3 billion population.

VIOLENT HISTORY

A militant Hindu mob tore down the centuries-old mosque in Ayodhya in 1992, triggering riots that killed about 2,000 people, in one of the worst instances of communal violence in India since the 1947 partition of the country.

Hindu groups insist there was a temple at the site before the mosque was built by a Muslim ruler in 1528.

The birthplace of Lord Ram, a physical incarnation of God Vishnu, deserves a grand temple, said Champat Rai, national vice-president of the VHP.

“After all, it’s a question of the sentiment of millions of Hindus who see Ayodhya as one of their most sacred places, as sacred as Mecca is in Islam,” Rai said.

The monks, who gathered in the holy city of Haridwar, on the banks of the Ganges river, sacred to most Indians, also asked the top court to quickly resolve the decades-old dispute.

“We’ve decided to write a letter to India’s chief justice to ensure a speedy conclusion of the case,” said VHP’s Kumar.

While keeping control over the controversial site in Ayodhya, the Supreme Court has been weighing petitions from both Hindu and Muslim communities on what should be built there.

Late last year the Supreme Court appointed an arbitration panel to mediate in the dispute. The arbitration panel, headed by former judge F. M. Kalifulla, is expected to give its report by Aug. 15.

Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

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