NEW DELHI // Every December since 1993, the town of Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh, has been transformed from a peaceful town into a high-security area.
Next week, the security will be even tighter, because December 6 marks the 20th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid by Hindu extremists. It was an event, analysts say, that dramatically damaged India's secular fabric.
"For communal harmony in India, the Babri Masjid incident was the greatest national disaster – greater even than the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi," said Asaduddin Owaisi, the president of a political party called the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen.
The Babri Masjid, a mosque constructed in 1528 by the Mughal emperor Babar, was reduced to rubble on December 6, 1992, by right-wing Hindu groups who claimed that the mosque had been built on the precise site of the birth of the Hindu deity, Ram.
Security forces failed to prevent more than 100,000 members of the groups bringing down the mosque's domes with tools they had brought with them to build a temple to Ram on the site.
The demolition sparked waves of Hindu-Muslim riots, most notably in Mumbai (then called Bombay).
More than 2,000 people across India are believed to have died as a result of the clashes. The Babri Masjid incident changed the dynamics between India's Hindu and Muslim communities permanently, the historian, Ramachandra Guha, wrote in India After Gandhi.
While the communities had previously regarded each other with mixed feelings, "with the riots sparked by the Ayodhya movement, this ambivalence was replaced by an unambiguous animosity", Mr Guha wrote. "Hostility and suspicion were now the governing – some would say only – idioms of Hindu-Muslim relations."
Although leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad – both Hindu nationalist outfits – as well as of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were charged with inciting the demolition, no arrests were ever made.
The status of the site is still wending its way through the Indian supreme court.
Meanwhile, the BJP continues to press for a Ram temple to be built on the Babri Masjid's site, in an attempt to use the issue to garner Hindu votes.
In February, LK Advani, one of the BJP leaders who had been accused of stoking communal tensions in 1992, told an election rally in Uttar Pradesh: "The objective of my public life will be achieved the day a grand temple is constructed ... I believe that all Ram bhakts [devotees] want this day to come soon."
"In the BJP's view, the project is incomplete," said Madhav Nalapat, a professor of geopolitics at Manipal University. "They have torn down the mosque but they haven't constructed this temple."
While the Ram temple issue may have helped the BJP win the national elections in 1996, said Mr Owaisi, he added: "I think now people have seen through their whole game plan."
Instead, the greatest and most lasting effect of the Babri Masjid incident might have been on India's Muslim youth.
"Only after 1992 did we see the radicalisation of the Muslim youth, and that happened because of the total failure of our system, whether parliament or judiciary or administration," he said.
"Those boys who crossed the border [into Pakistan] to be indoctrinated to attack India – the Babri Masjid had pushed them to it.
"I'm not defending them. I'm just stating a fact."
Basharat Peer, a journalist and author who is working on a book about India's Muslims, contended that the Babri Masjid's destruction "was a very serious blow to Muslims here, making them unsure about their place in this society".
One of the legacies of 1992, he said, was a large migration of Muslims into specific neighbourhoods in Indian cities, "forming ghettoes in Bombay and Delhi in particular".
Another legacy, he added, was that young Indian Muslims began to leave the country in search of employment.
"Most of my class at Aligarh Muslim University – 85 per cent or so, I would say – now live in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Oman or Qatar," he said.
Nalapat did not think that the damage done by the demolition of the Babri Masjid was irreparable, although he admitted that it had "created a fear complex in India's Muslims. It is a fear of a hundred more Babri Masjids that is driving their anger".
"I believe if you take away the fanatics on both sides of this equation, and if people are rational, the overwhelming majority on both sides wants a resolution to this," he added.
Mr Owaisi disagreed. "The wounds are still there. Time has passed – 20 years have passed – but the wounds have not yet healed," he said.
& Samanth Subramanian on