India's Muslims split in response to Hindu temple verdict

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FILE - In this Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018, photo, a man holds a brick reading "Jai Shree Ram" (Victory to Lord Ram) as bricks of the old Babri Mosque are piled up in Ayodhya, in the central Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Indias largest Muslim political groups are divided over how to respond to a November 2019 Supreme Court ruling that favors Hindus right to a disputed site 27 years after Hindu nationalist mobs tore down a 16th-century mosque there, unleashing torrents of religious-motivated violence. (AP Photo/Bernat Armangue, File)

NEW DELHI – India’s largest Muslim political groups are divided over how to respond to a Supreme Court ruling that favors Hindus’ right to a disputed site 27 years after Hindu nationalist mobs tore down a 16th century mosque, an event that unleashed torrents of religious-motivated violence.

The sharp split illustrates growing unease among India’s Muslims, who are struggling to find a political voice as Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government gives overt support to once-taboo Hindu nationalist causes.

“We are pushed against the wall,” said Irfan Aziz, a political science student at Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi. “No one speaks about us, not even our own.”

The dispute over the site of the Babri Masjid mosque in the town of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state has lasted centuries. Hindus believe Lord Ram, the warrior god, was born at the site and that Mughal Muslim invaders built a mosque on top of a temple there. The December 1992 riot — supported by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party — sparked massive communal violence in which some 2,000 people were killed, mostly Muslims.

The 1992 riot also set in motion events that redefined the politics of social identity in India. It catapulted the BJP from two parliamentary seats in the 1980s to its current political dominance.

Modi’s party won an outright majority in India's lower house in 2014, the biggest win for a single party in 30 years. The BJP won even more seats in elections last May.

Muslim groups for decades waged a court fight for the restoration of Babri Masjid. But now, friction among Muslim groups has spilled into the open, with one side challenging the verdict and the other saying they are content with the outcome.

Hilal Ahmad, a political commentator and an expert on Muslim politics, said India's Muslims feel isolated and even divided over the verdict because policies championed by the BJP have established a populist anti-Muslim discourse.