With the Supreme Court verdict in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case expected any day now, Ayodhya is a sea of khaki. There are policemen every few steps on the road leading to the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site and the Hanuman Garhi temple — at the corner kirana store, outside the crumbling temple in the Ramkot area, in buses and cars, on motorcycles. But people walk past the policemen and groups of personnel of the Rapid Action Force in their camouflage blue, largely unmindful of their presence.
Sitting in his shop at Singar Haat, on the road leading to the disputed site, Arun Kumar Gupta, 62, says the people of Ayodhya are used to the presence of policemen. “This is not the first time Ayodhya is going through a critical phase due to the Babri Masjid issue. We are not bothered by the presence of policemen. The trouble starts only when politicians bring outsiders to the town,” says Gupta. There are few customers at his hardware shop this noon.
This suspicion of “outsiders” as trouble makers is echoed by most people The Indian Express spoke to in the temple town.
“The policemen don’t harass us. They are simply doing their job. Even in 1992, trouble started only when when karsewaks came from outside Ayodhya,” says Dharmendra Kumar Sonkar, who sells paan and cigarettes at the Tulsi Udyan Park area.
Asked about the upcoming verdict in the Ayodhya title suit, Sonkar says, “Mandir toh banna chahiye (The temple should be built). The rest depends on Ramji.”
At the Naya Ghat Chauraha, over 2 km from the first barricade on the road leading to the disputed site, a group of three sadhus sit soaking in the early winter sun. The temple is an easy conversation starter. One of them, Shiv Shankar Pandey, says to the others, “Agar mandir ab nahi bana, toh kab banega (If not now, when will the temple be built)?”
Another in the group, Gopal Das, nods in agreement and says, “Modi hain, dekho kya hoga (Modi is there. Let’s see what happens).” They dismiss possibility of tension after the judgment with a terse “kuch nahin hoga (nothing will happen)”.
Explained: Issues in Ayodhya title suit
A policeman passes by and the men exchange a nod. Asked about the security arrangements, the policeman, a senior officer who didn’t want to be quoted, says they are using locals as their “eyes and ears”. “We have identified residents, mostly small shopkeepers with a clean background, and told them to inform the police teams if they see any suspicious activity. In case of trouble, we will take them to the CCTV control room where they will identify suspicious persons,” he says.
Additional Director General of Police, Prosecution, Ashutosh Pandey, who has been assigned to chalk out the security arrangements and supervise the deployment of the police force, reached Ayodhya on Wednesday and held a meeting with officials. Besides the present deployment, more personnel will arrive in Ayodhya, Pandey said.
At 3 pm, in Panji Tola area of Ayodhya, the lane leading to the single-storey house of Iqbal Ansari, one of the main litigants in the title suit, is teeming with policemen. Outside Ansari’s house sit two policemen, who hold up their phones every now and then to take pictures of people visiting Ansari. “We have been told to check the identity of every person who comes to Ansari’s house,” says the constable. A small tent has been erected outside Ansari’s house, where the policemen sit round-the-clock and where Ansari meets mediapersons and other visitors.
Speaking on the upcoming verdict, Iqbal says, “Nothing will happen in Ayodhya, there will be no tension. The administration has assured us and I trust them. If something does happen, it will be in the neighbouring districts.” A portrait of his late father, Haji Mohammad Hashim Ansari, the original litigant in the case, hangs from a bamboo pole in the tent.
Ansari goes on to add that he has appealed to all Muslims in Ayodhya to accept the verdict, “whatever it may be, sitting inside their homes”.
According to Census 2011, Muslims make up a mere 6.19 per cent of Ayodhya’s population, with Hindus at over 90 per cent.
Across the road from Ansari’s house sits Nafeesa, 47, polishing khadauns (wooden slippers worn by sadhus). Her neighbor Kamlesh Devi, 37, drops by to ask if she has a gas cylinder to spare. “Nahi, laga hua hai (I am using it),” she says, smiling apologetically.
As the neighbour leaves, Nafeesa says, “These people are like our relatives. We go for each other’s weddings, eat with each other. If there is any fear, it is from those who might come from outside.”
A few houses away from Nafeesa’s, Mohammad Shakir, who graduated last year from a government college in Ayodhya and is now looking for a job, sits watching a news clip on the upcoming verdict on his smartphone. “So far, things are under control because the administration is very alert,” says Shakir, adding, “Aage Allah maalik hai (What happens in the future is in the hands of God).”
Across the town, in the Ram Ghat area, Acharya Satyendra Das, head priest of the makeshift temple at the disputed site, is talking to a journalist on the phone. After he hangs up, he says, “Whatever the judgment of the court, it will be accepted by all.”
Asked about what might follow if the verdict goes in the favour of the Hindu side, he says, “Diwali and Holi will be celebrated if the verdict is in our favour. But it will be done inside temples and our homes, or on the doorsteps of temples. We will not hold a procession, no matter what the judgment is. I have told my followers the same,” Das says as he gets up to leave for a TV debate.