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Supporters of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), a Hindu nationalist organisation, shout slogans during the ‘Dharma Sabha’ religious event organised by the VHP in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. Image Credit: Reuters

Ayodhya: Tens of thousands of Hindu hardliners rallied on Sunday to press their demand for a temple to be built at a disputed Indian holy site where an ancient mosque was razed in 1992.

Huge crowds of saffron-clad protesters, some waving swords and chanting “Praise Be to Ram”, massed in Ayodhya in northern Uttar Pradesh state where right-wing Hindu groups want a grand temple to their deity constructed.

Organisers had expected 300,000 demonstrators to attend rallies in Ayodhya and two other Indian cities, and busloads of protesters were still arriving into the afternoon.

Security measures were beefed up, with some 5,000 additional police deployed to protest areas, especially in Ayodhya.

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Police patrol outside the venue of the congregation hosted by the VHP, in Ayodhya. Image Credit: Reuters

Many Hindus believe a spot there marks the birthplace of Ram and that a medieval mosque that stood there for 460 years was only built after the destruction of an earlier temple.

Hindu hardliners reduced the Babri Mosque to rubble in 1992, kicking off riots across India that left thousands dead, most of them Muslims.

The site remains a flashpoint between Hindus and India’s sizeable Muslim minority and the show of force by hardliners comes two weeks before the 26th anniversary of the mosque’s destruction.

Huge banners bearing images of the mosque being torn down by sledgehammer-wielding radicals hung at the protest, where hardline leaders called for parliament to pass a law allowing for the temple’s construction.

The temple controversy has been tied up in courts for decades but some hardline groups are agitating to make it a campaign issue ahead of general elections in the next six months.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is running for a second term, has faced some disquiet from his core supporters who feel that he has not done enough for the cause, despite his parliamentary majority.

More than 2,000 died in riots after the mosque was torn down.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) on Sunday said they will not cede an inch of land for anything but a Ram temple and demanded from the Sunni Waqf Board that they withdraw their case over distribution of the disputed land as ordered by the Allahabad High Court (HC).

Champat Rai, International Vice President of the right-wing outfit, told a large gathering of supporters at Ayodhya that the issue is non-negotiable for Hindus.

“The distribution of land is not acceptable to us and we want the whole land for Lord Ram,” he declared before the 75,000-strong cheering crowds. He also pointed out that the Hindus will not accept offering of “Namaaz” over any piece of the disputed land.

Warning that no one should test the patience of the Hindu community anymore, he said they have been battling the matter for the past 490 years.

“Some intelligent people think that the whole matter began after the destruction of the Babri mosque in 1992...they are ignorant...the matter goes back to 490 years,” the VHP leader said.

He also said that the “dharm sabha” had to be called after a gap of 25 years because some intellectuals think that on December 6, 1992 curtains came down on the contentious issue. “The fire has not been extinguished, it continues to simmer inside our hearts.”

Rai added that this is last such congregation to press for Ram temple and the next logical step for the Hindu outfit would be beginning of construction of a grand Ram temple in Ayodhya.

He also demanded that the Muslim litigants should withdraw the case from the Supreme Court and pave way for an early construction of the Ram temple. Another prominent seer Swamy Bhadracharya, however, announced that future plans of the saint community with regard to the Ram temple would be announced after December 11.

This is being seen as a wait-and-watch move by the saints as Prime Minister Narendra Modi at an election rally in Madhya Pradesh earlier in the day accused the Congress of trying to thwart an early solution to the Ram Mandir issue.

Amid talks of a possible introduction of a Bill by the Modi government in Parliament’s winter session that begins on December 11, many seers are of the view that a “last opportunity should be given to the BJP government on the issue”.

Earlier, hundreds of thousands of VHP workers and supporters trooped into the venue of the “dharm sabha” and Muslim locals showered flower petals on them. Muslim litigant Iqbal Ansari, who had earlier expressed fear at the growing crowds in Ayodhya for the VHP event, on Sunday thanked the Uttar Pradesh government for “good arrangements”.