PRAYAGRAJ (India) • A powerful Hindu priest has said he would lead a group of followers to start building a Hindu temple on the ruins of a 16th-century mosque, which could violate a court order and raise religious tensions in an election year.
A Hindu mob levelled the mosque in 1992, sparking communal riots that killed about 2,000 people across India.
The site, in the northern town of Ayodhya, has been the focus of dispute between majority Hindus and minority Muslims for many years.
Hindu groups believe the site to be the birthplace of Lord Ram, one of the religion's most revered deities.
They also point to evidence there was a temple at the site before the mosque was built in 1528.
The place where the Babri Mosque once stood is now under court control, guarded by armed state and federal police.
"We'll lay the foundation stone there on Feb 21," Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati said on Wednesday at the world's biggest religious gathering, Kumbh Mela, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh where Ayodhya is located.
But Mr Zafaryab Jilani, a secretary of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board and an advocate in the mosque case, said his community would not be provoked by such calls to disturb the status quo and that any attempt to breach the site would amount to contempt of court.
Mr Saraswati's aides said they were ready to be arrested if their attempts are resisted.
His comments came a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist government petitioned the Supreme Court to return land around the site seized by various court orders over the years.
Building the temple is a key demand of the conservative Hindu allies of Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party and has gained fresh impetus ahead of a general election due by May.