NEW DELHI: India's prime minister led appeals for calm after a court verdict yesterday divided a disputed holy site in the northern town of Ayodhya between Muslims and Hindus. The decision, capping a six-decade legal battle, split the flashpoint parcel of land in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state into three equal parts - with two portions awarded to the Hindus and one to the Muslims.
"I have full faith in the people of India and I also have full confidence in the traditions of secularism, brotherhood and tolerance of our great country," said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
"I know that often it is only a few mischief-makers who create divisions in our society. I would appeal to my countrymen to be vigilant and not let such people succeed in disrupting peace," he said.
One part of the site will become a temple for Hindus, another third will go to the Hindu charitable trust Nirmhoi Akhara and the remaining third would be handed to Muslims, according to the ruling by the Allahabad High Court.
Tens of thousands of security forces were deployed around Ayodhya to avert a violent response to the ruling. The 1992 razing of the centuries-old Babri mosque on the site by Hindu zealots sparked riots that killed 2,000 people.
Authorities were nervous about inflaming religious tensions with the ruling coming just days before the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi on Sunday.
Hindus were overjoyed that the ruling upheld their belief that the dome of the razed mosque had stood over the birthplace of Hindu deity Lord Ram.
"I am very happy the court has accepted the historic fact and this is a matter of great happiness for Hindus," Nritya Gopaldas Maharaj, president of one of the main litigants, the Ram Janam Bhoomi trust, said.
But Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the chief cleric in New Delhi's main Jama Masjid mosque, denounced the judgement, saying the court had ruled "on the basis of blind faith and not by evidence and documentation provided to the judges".
"We are definitely not happy," he said. "We are not giving up our claim (to rebuild) the Babri mosque," he said in New Delhi.
Asaduddin Owaisi, a Muslim MP, said "there is anger building up among the Muslim community over the verdict but, God willing, it may not translate into street violence".
"We must forget everything that's happened and unite to build the grand temple to Lord Ram," said Mohan Bhagwat, head of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, ideological mentors of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party.
But he held back from claiming victory, saying "this is not an issue of defeat or victory of anyone. This is a victory for our national identity".
"Please maintain harmony and accept the court's verdict. This is my appeal," said Narendra Modi, chief minister of communally sensitive Gujarat state where religious riots in 2002 left 2,000 dead.
Several Hindu and Muslim groups announced they would appeal against the High Court judgement to India's Supreme Court. "The court has respected Hindu beliefs, but we will take the matter to the Supreme Court as the fight still remains," Maharaj said.
"We will try and claim the portion of land that has been allotted to the Muslims. I appeal to the Muslims to peacefully accept the verdict," he said.