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Indian PM to attend temple groundbreaking at disputed site: Trust


Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend a groundbreaking ceremony next month for a Hindu temple on a disputed site in northern India where a 16th-century mosque was torn down by a Hindu mob in 1992, according to the trust overseeing the temple's construction.

The ceremony is set for August 5, a date organisers said was astrologically auspicious for Hindus but that also marks a year since New Delhi revoked the semi-autonomous status of its only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir.

The symbolism was impossible to miss for both supporters and opponents of Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The right-wing party's manifesto had for decades included pledges to strip Indian-administered Kashmir of its autonomy and to build a temple to the Hindu god Ram where the Mughal-era Babri Mosque once stood, a site in the city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state that devotees believe to be Ram's birthplace.

Because the coronavirus is still rampaging across India, the ceremony will be broadcast live on state television and the number of participants and spectators will be limited, according to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Organisation), a far-right group allied with the BJP.

The temple will serve as "an enduring and immortal beaming center of social harmony, national unity and integration and awakening of the feeling of Hindutva [Hinduness]," the organisation's spokesman, Vinod Bansal, said in a news release on Saturday.

A century-long dispute over the site was resolved last year following the BJP's landslide election victory. In November, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the temple trust, saying that Muslim petitioners would be given 5 acres (about 2 hectares) at an alternative site.

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Hindu hardliners have long contended that Mughal rulers built a mosque on top of a pre-existing temple in Ayodhya, though an archaeological study of the site has not yet confirmed it.

Religious violence across India that followed the December 6, 1992 demolition of the mosque resulted in the killing of about 2,000 people, most of them Muslims.

Meanwhile, the trial in the demolition case continues to be heard in a special court.

An architect from Ahmedabad, in Modi's home state Gujarat, has proposed a towering sandstone structure 49 metres (161 feet) high with five domes.

Yogi Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh's chief minister and a controversial Hindu monk, requested that Ayodhya hold a special cleaning and purification ceremony and for all of the city's temples to light oil lamps before Modi's visit, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

Adityanath said the occasion marked the end of a "500-year struggle", PTI reported.

The high-profile event is being held as India reported more than 1.4 million confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, making it the third most-affected nation.