New Delhi: The Central government has asked state governments to form `peace committees` of Hindus and Muslims in what are called "communally sensitive areas" supplemented by strategic deployment of police and paramilitary forces ahead of the keenly-awaited Allahabad High Court verdict on the Ayodhya temple-mosque row Sept 24.
"Prevention is better than cure. That is why the centre has appealed for peace and suggested the formation of citizens committees belonging to people from various religions, especially Hindus and Muslims," a top government official involved in the measures being taken ahead of the Sept 24 verdict said.
The 51-year-old dispute seeks to decide the title deed - the ownership of the land - where the Babri mosque was built in the 16th century. The mosque was razed by radical Hindu mobs Dec 6, 1992, claiming it stood at the birth site of Hindu god Ram. The demolition of the mosque triggered the worst communal riots in the country post-Independence, resulting in the killing of about 3,000 people.
The Home Ministry has asked all states and union territories to give "topmost priority" to maintaining law and order as the judgement has the potential to "evoke sharp reactions". The ministry communication said the verdict "is likely to evoke sharp reactions and communal passions among both Hindus and Muslims, depending on the way the judgement goes".
A contingency security plan in view of the verdict has also been prepared by the Home Ministry. It has asked central paramilitary forces, including the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and the Rapid Action Force (RAF), to be ready for any sudden deployment.
"Security forces will be available to reach any part of the country if the need arises," said a Home Ministry official. "But the government is trying to involve socio-religious organisations and public leaders to avoid any such situation."
Uttar Pradesh, where Ayodhya and other sensitive Hindu centres are situated, will see the largest deployment of security personnel. About 160,000 state police personnel, 4,400 CRPF troopers, and 3,300 RAF personnel are already lined up. Another 3,300 CRPF personnel are protecting the Ayodhya temple-mosque site and other religious locations.
The state had asked the Centre to send an additional 485 companies of the CRPF. "The Centre will send forces depending on how the situation develops," the Home Ministry official said.
The official, speaking strictly on condition of anonymity, said the Union cabinet had given immense importance Sept 16 to discuss the law and order situation in the country well before the Ayodhya verdict.
With the Oct 3-14 Commonwealth Games at the doorstep the government cannot risk any violence or disturbance, he added.
"The government appeals to all sections of society to maintain peace and order after the delivery of the judgment. It is important for all to ensure that the highest traditions of Indian culture and respect for all religions are fully maintained," the resolution adopted by the cabinet had said.
The resolution was publicised in newspapers as an "appeal" by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh along with his photograph.
"India is firmly and resolutely on the path of inclusive growth. Nothing must be said or done and nothing must happen that may cause us to deviate from our goals and our objectives," the cabinet said.
While urging people "that the judgment needs to be treated with utmost respect", Manmohan Singh said: "At the same time, we must remember the fact that the judgment, at this stage, is one step in the judicial process. The determination of the issues need not necessarily end with this judgment, unless it is accepted by all parties."
"In case any of the parties feel that further judicial consideration is required, there are legal remedies available, which could be resorted to," the resolution said.
"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," Manmohan Singh appealed.
The official said the government felt the response of political parties and the public to the appeal has been positive. Even rightwing political groups like the Sangh Parivar that have a particular stand on the issue have shown restraint so far, he added.
"The political atmosphere and the public perception of the dispute is different in 2010 from the surcharged one of 1992," the official pointed out.
But governmental preparations on the Ayodhya verdict would not end with the appeal, another official from the home ministry said.
"The situation in Ayodhya and sensitive places will be closely monitored by the ministry next week. The process will be on whether the Home Minister (P. Chidambaram) is in Delhi or in Kashmir or elsewhere," he said.
A three-judge special bench of the Allahabad High Court is set to give its verdict in the legal dispute Sept 24.
Before the high court are three fundamental questions: Is the disputed spot in Ayodhya the birthplace of Lord Ram? Was the Babri mosque built after the demolition of a temple? Was the mosque in question built in accordance with the tenets of Islam?