NEW DELHI – Hundreds of thousands of people converged on the northern Indian town of Ayodhya on Sunday in support of a Hindu right-wing organization’s demand to build a temple at the site of a mosque razed by Hindu fanatics in 1992.
The massive rally called by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or World Hindu Council ended peacefully, police said.
In their addresses to the crowds, VHP leaders urged India’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government to pass an ordnance or an executive order to build the temple, the India Today television channel reported.
Organizers said 200,000 people had come to attend the rally from far-flung parts of India. Large numbers of Hindu religious leaders and mendicants also participated.
The site in Ayodhya has been a flashpoint of religious tensions for decades, with Hindus claiming it marks the birthplace of the god Ram and a temple dedicated to him had been pulled down to build the mosque.
Demands for the Ram temple have grown louder in recent months as India heads to a general election in May 2019.
Building the Ram temple in Ayodhya has long been an election promise of the BJP, which runs India’s federal government and the government of the state of Uttar Pradesh, where Ayodhya is located.
Hindu right-wing organizations including the VHP and Shiv Sena are calling for the process to be sped up.
Members of the VHP and Shiv Sena were among the Hindu fanatics who pulled down the dome of the 15th-century Babri mosque in 1992. At least 2,000 people were killed in widespread Hindu-Muslim riots across the country after the demolition.
A case over the disputed rights to the site is being currently heard by India’s Supreme Court.
Federal Home Minister Rajnath Singh has said the government will abide by the decision of the Supreme Court. It is not clear when the decision will come. The next hearing is scheduled in January 2019.
During a press briefing in Ayodhya on Sunday, Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray warned the BJP that it would not be able to return to power if it failed to build the temple.
“Bring in an ordnance, build the temple, we will support you, but don’t play with the sentiments of Hindus,” Thackeray said.
The BJP made its first major electoral gains in the 1990s riding on the demand for the Ram temple.
The Uttar Pradesh government announced on Sunday that plans to build a 221-metre bronze statue of the god Ram have been approved by the state cabinet.
The site of the statue and details of funding have not been finalized, said Avaneesh Awasthi, a spokesman for the government.
The statue would be taller than the recently unveiled Statue of Unity in Gujarat state, which the government claims is the world’s tallest at 182 meters. -DPA