Fearing Holy Site Unrest, India Bans Bulk Texting

LUCKNOW, India -- India imposed a nationwide ban on bulk cell phone text messaging amid concerns that a potentially explosive court judgment on who should control a disputed holy site could spark unrest, a top official said Wednesday.

The Allahabad High Court is scheduled to rule Thursday in the 60-year-old case on whether the site in the town of Ayodhya should be given to the Hindu community or returned to the Muslim community to rebuild the 16th-century Babri Mosque that was razed by Hindu hard-liners in 1992.

Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said Wednesday that the bulk texting ban was temporary but did not say how long it would be in effect. He said some people were found to be sending messages to incite others.

Hindus say the mosque, built in 1528 by the Mughal emperor Babur, was erected at the birthplace of Rama. Hindus want to build a temple to Rama there.

The fight over the compound has shaken the core of modern India and led to repeated outbreaks of bloody communal violence. Rioting after the razing of the mosque in 1992 killed 2,000 nationwide.

On Wednesday, thousands of security forces fanned out across a dozen north Indian cities and towns, and authorities used helicopters to keep a vigil on historic sites of violence between Hindus and Muslims in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where Ayodhya is located, said Brij Lal, a top state police officer.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh published an appeal for calm in ads in Indian newspapers Wednesday.

"There should be no attempt whatsoever made by any section of the people to provoke any other section or to indulge in any expression of emotion that would hurt the feelings of other people," he said.

The parties to the dispute have also appealed for calm, since the loser in the case will almost certainly appeal to the Supreme Court, meaning a final decision could still be years away.

Chidambaram said India was now different from in the 1990s with a new generation more interested in economic advancement than communal divisions.

There appeared to be little of that tension in Uttar Pradesh so far, Lal said.

Still, nearly 190,000 police and paramilitary soldiers have been deployed across the state to prevent any violence after the verdict, Chidambaram said.

The lower court had been scheduled to issue its ruling last Friday, but the Supreme Court deferred that ruling so it could hear arguments on whether a decision on the 150-year-old dispute should be delayed further to allow the two communities a chance to settle it amicably.

On Tuesday, India's highest court cleared the way for a verdict by rejecting the plea to delay the judgment.