Ayodhya: The dispute that stretched over a century and a half is likely to be put to rest finally on Saturday when the Supreme Court announces its verdict on the title suit of the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi dispute.
It is an issue that has cast a shadow over India's socio-political fibre for decades and may even continue to do so for a few more years.
The Ayodhya dispute began way back in 1853 when the first incident of communal violence over the Ayodhya issue was recorded.
Nawab Wajid Ali Shah was then the ruler of Awadh. It was the first time that the Hindu community representatives claimed that the mosque was built after the demolition of a Hindu temple.
By 1859, Hindus and Muslims both had started praying at the site. The issue of possession of the site led to more communal clashes and the Britishers built a fence that divided the compound into two parts -- the inner court to be used by Muslims and the outer court by Hindus.
Courts got involved for the first time in 1885 as Mahant Raghubir Das filed a plea in Faizabad district court seeking permission to build a canopy of Ram Chabootra on the site of Ram Janmabhoomi. The Faizabad district court rejected the plea.
The first big controversy in the Ayodhya conflict came in 1949 when an idol of Lord Ram was allegedly placed inside the mosque by Hindu activists and a message was spread that Lord Ram had miraculously appeared inside the mosque.
There was a protest from the Muslim side. Both Hindus and Muslims filed a civil suit each in the court. The government had to declare the premises 'disputed area' and lock the gates until further notice.
The then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru asked the idol to be removed immediately but the local officer, K.K.K Nair, refused to carry out the order stating that doing so would lead to communal violence.
Cases were filed in the court by the Hindu side seeking permission for the right to worship the idol in the premises. The court held back the removal of the idol and allowed the Hindus to worship. The Nirmohi Akhara became a party to the dispute in 1959 and the Sunni Waqf Board joined in 1961.
After two decades, in the early eighties, the dispute became more political than legal as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged as the torch bearer of Hindutva.
With Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal and other fringe outfits working overtime to whip up a Hindutva wave, Lord Ram's temple became the dominant issue of Indian politics, dividing communities on religious lines and blurring regional divides.
The Hindutva frenzy reached a crescendo on December 6, 1992 when volunteers of fringe groups demolished the mosque. More than 2,000 died in riots that ensued across the country, but the Hindu flag flew high.
For 29 years after the Babri Masjid demolition, the case of the title suit -- ownership of land -- has been keenly contested in various courts and the issue has been driving the politics of the country in one way or the other.
The formation of the BJP government at the Centre in 2014 and then in Uttar Pradesh in 2017 worked as a catalyst and the slogan "Ram Lalla hum aayenge, Mandir wahin banayenge" seems to be turning into reality now.
After years of intensive battle between Hindus and Muslims on this issue, there seems to be a palpable difference in the mood now that the apex court is all set to announce the verdict.
Hindus are convinced that the verdict will be in their favour, while Muslims have more or less reconciled to this fact.
Despite unusually high security arrangements, the verdict is more likely to be received and accepted with restraint.
What cannot be ignored is the fact that some trouble makers may be waiting to deepen the communal divide by provoking and inciting passions and spreading rumours.
This will pose a bigger challenge for the administration, more so in times of social media that takes a few seconds to make news travel.
Moreover, the timing of the verdict is also crucial. Barawafat, a major Muslim festival, will be held on Sunday and Ayodhya will attract lakhs of devotees on Tuesday on the occasion of Kartik Purnima, which will coincide with 'Prakash Parv' celebrating the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak.
Crowd management will be a major issue in Ayodhya.