NEW DELHI • India's top court yesterday named a three-man panel to resolve a highly emotive dispute raging for decades over the flashpoint religious site of Ayodhya.
The conflict over whether a temple or a mosque should be constructed in the holy city is a major flashpoint between Hindus and India's sizeable Muslim minority.
It has become a hot-button issue once again with Hindu nationalist Prime Minister Narendra Modi seeking another term in a general election due to be announced soon.
Many Hindus believe a spot in Ayodhya marks the birthplace of Lord Ram and that the Babri mosque that stood there for 460 years was built only after the destruction of an earlier temple. In 1992, Hindu zealots reduced the mosque to rubble, sparking riots across India that left some 2,000 people dead, most of them Muslims.
Mr Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party was on the political margins until the 1980s when it backed the movement for construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.
The case has been tied up in the courts since the 1950s, and moved to the Supreme Court in 2011.
Yesterday, a five-judge bench set up a three-member panel to resolve the dispute through mediation and gave it eight weeks to complete the process. The panel includes guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and advocate Sriram Panchu, and will be headed by retired judge F. M. Kallifulla.
"This move towards mediation... is in the best interest of the country and all parties concerned," Mr Shankar tweeted. "We should not leave any stone unturned in resolving this burning issue amicably."
In 2010, a court ruled the site should be divided - two-thirds controlled by Hindus and the rest by Muslims. But both parties contested the decision, and the case has stalled in the Supreme Court.