LUCKNOW, India – India braced for a spasm of violence Thursday ahead of a potentially explosive court verdict on whether Hindus or Muslims should control a disputed holy site over which deadly riots have broken out in the past.
Hundreds of thousands of paramilitary soldiers patrolled the streets across northern India. Police have arrested more than 10,000 people to prevent them from inciting violence, while another 100,000 had to sign affidavits saying they would not cause trouble after the verdict, a top official said.
The 16th-century Babri Mosque in the town of Ayodhya was razed by Hindu hard-liners in 1992, setting off violence that killed 2,000 nationwide. The 60-year-old fight over the compound has shaken the core of modern India and led to repeated outbreaks of bloody communal violence.
Hindus say the mosque, built in 1528 by the Mughal emperor Babur, was erected at the birthplace of their god, Rama. Hindus want to build a temple to Rama there.
The High Court in Uttar Pradesh state is scheduled to rule on the dispute Thursday, deciding whether the holy site will be given to the Hindu community or returned to Muslims who want to rebuild the mosque.
Helicopters hovered over holy sites as people entering temples were checked with metal detectors, police said.
"We have deployed around 200,000 security personnel at sensitive places to prevent any violence post the Ayodhya verdict," top state official Shashank Shekhar Singh said.
Last week, the government banned bulk texting to stop people from sending mass messages that could incite violence.
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.
India's Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said India was now different from in the 1990s with a new generation more interested in economic advancement than communal divisions.