Modi, Muslims to attend Ram temple ceremony on contested Ayodhya site

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An armed police officer stands guard on the bank of Sarayu river ahead of the foundation-laying ceremony for a Hindu temple in Ayodhya, India, August 4, 2019. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar

LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) – Prime Minister Narendra Modi and two prominent Muslims who lived through deadly riots following the razing of a mosque in 1992 plan to attend the foundation-laying ceremony for a Hindu temple on Wednesday on the same site.

Modi, whose Hindu nationalist party had led demands for a temple there dedicated to the god-king Ram, will unveil a plaque, his office said in a statement.

His visit to Ayodhya comes despite his interior and energy ministers both testing positive for COVID-19 days after a cabinet meeting last week.

Construction of the temple was made possible by a verdict last year from the Supreme Court awarding the disputed site to the Hindus. The planned visit by the two well-known Muslims showed an easing of animosity between followers of the two faiths in one of Hindu-majority India’s most communally sensitive regions.

“Whatever happened are things of the past,” said Iqbal Ansari, one of the Muslim litigants. “I’ve been invited and I think it’s the wish of Lord Ram and I am going to attend it.”

Mohammad Sharif, another Muslim honoured with one of India’s highest civilian awards for doing the last rites of unclaimed bodies since the riots, said he too had got an invitation and was keen to be there.

In 1992, a Hindu mob destroyed the 16th-century Babri Mosque on the site, triggering clashes in which about 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed. Hindus believe the site is the birthplace of Lord Ram, a physical incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu.

Barricades have been put up across the town with heavy police presence, as authorities try to limit the number of visitors to maintain social distancing. At least two priests in the area and four policemen have tested positive for COVID-19.

Still, nearly 200 people are likely to be there at the event, including 135 holy people and priests from Nepal.

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