India’s top court halts plans for survey of centuries-old mosque

MUMBAI (Reuters) – India’s Supreme Court halted on Tuesday plans for a survey of a centuries-old mosque to determine if it contained Hindu relics and symbols, just days before another key temple, built on a razed mosque, is set to be inaugurated.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will preside at Monday’s event centred on a temple in the town of Ayodhya dedicated to Lord Ram, a deity worshipped by millions of Hindus, during his campaign to win a third term in general elections due by May.

The Supreme Court stayed a lower court order allowing the setting up of a commission to survey the Shahi Eidgah mosque in the city of Mathura in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, said news agency ANI, in which Reuters has a minority stake.

Its panel of Justices Sanjiv Khanna and Dipankar Datta said the application filed for appointment of the local commission was very vague, the Bar and Bench news website reported.

Last December, the state’s Allahabad high court had permitted a survey of the 17th century mosque, where Muslims still pray, to determine if there were any relics or Hindu symbols in the complex.

Members of hardline Hindu groups linked to Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) believe that Islamic invaders and rulers destroyed Hindu temples over several centuries.

Last year, another court allowed a similar survey of the centuries-old Gyanvyapi mosque in Modi’s constituency of Varanasi, to determine if it had been built atop a Hindu temple.

Nationwide riots that killed 2,000 people, most of them minority Muslims, broke out in 1992 after a Hindu mob razed a mosque on the Ayodhya site they believed to be the birthplace of Lord Ram, saying there had earlier been a temple there.

In 2019, the Supreme Court handed over the land to Hindus, and construction of the temple began in 2020.

(This story has been corrected to clarify that Reuters owns a minority, not majority stake in ANI, in paragraph 3)

(Reporting by Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)