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India's top court to name panel to weigh demand for temple on disputed site

India's top court to name panel to weigh demand for temple on disputed site
FILE PHOTO: People look at a model of a proposed Ram temple that Hindu groups want to build at a disputed religious site in Ayodhya in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India, November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar/File Photo -
Pawan Kumar(Reuters)
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By Suchitra Mohanty and Mayank Bhardwaj

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - India's Supreme Court is likely to name a panel on Friday to hear arguments in a case that could pave the way for a controversial plan to build a Hindu temple on the ruins of a 16th-century mosque, a lawyer involved in the case said.

Building the temple is a key demand of the conservative Hindu allies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and has gained fresh impetus ahead of a general election due by May.

The religious site in the northern town of Ayodhya has been the focus of a dispute between majority Hindus and minority Muslims for many years.

A Hindu mob tore down the mosque in 1992, triggering communal riots that killed about 2,000 people across India.

Both communities have petitioned the Supreme Court, which has taken control of the site, to resolve the dispute.

"The Supreme Court will likely decide which bench will hear the case," said Karunesh Shukla, a lawyer supporting the Hindu conservatives. "The court will also fix a date for the hearing to start."

The announcement is expected late on Friday morning in the capital, New Delhi. It is unclear how many judges will hear the case, but the Supreme Court usually sets up benches of three judges.

The allies of the BJP, including the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, its parent, have asked the government to introduce legislation to allow the temple to be built, bypassing any Supreme Court ruling.

Hindu groups believe the site to be the birthplace of Lord Ram, one of the religion's most revered deities.

Asked about the issue, Modi told Reuters partner ANI on Tuesday that the judicial process should take its course.

A day later, Alok Kumar, an official of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, or the World Hindu Council, responded that Hindus were getting impatient because the case had been pending a long time.

Over the past three decades, the group has spearheaded a campaign to build the temple. In the past few months, it has organised rallies of tens of thousands of activists, monks and other supporters, in support.

(Editing by Martin Howell and Clarence Fernandez)

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