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Ayodhya deal in the dark?
By PM Damodaran

Lucknow: The startling disclosure made by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader, Ashok Singhal, that the Prime Minister, A.B. Vajpayee, had assured the handing over of 67.5 acres of 'undisputed' land to the VHP by March next year to begin the construction of the Ram Temple has given a new dimension to the Ayodhya dispute. This has given rise to the speculation that the central government, through an executive ordinance, may release the acquired land to the Ram Janambhoomi Trust soon.

After a meeting with the Prime Minister, the VHP leader claimed that he could convince him that 67.5 acres out of 71 acres of land acquired by the central government was undisputed and could be handed over to the Trust for beginning the construction of the temple in March next year. According to Mr. Singhal, barring a piece of land measuring 80 feet x 40 feet, where the Babri Masjid structure stood before its demolition on December 6, 1992, remaining land of 67.5 acres was legally undisputed. In this context, the VHP pointed out that the Sunni Waqf Board had withdrawn its claim on 67.5 acres of land recorded as graveyard. Also no mosque existed in the graveyard. Moreover, according to the VHP, out of 67.5 acres of land acquired by the central government, 42.5 acres of land was acquired from the Trust. The Trust now wants the Centre to give this land back to it to begin the construction of the temple. 

The Prime Minister, Mr. Vajpayee, has, however, refused to react to the claim of the VHP that he had assured it of handing over the undisputed part of the acquired land to the Trust. During the debate on the Ayodhya issue during the winter session of Parliament, Mr. Vajpayee did not interfere to make his stand clear. The Prime Minister had a couple of months back disclosed that discussions with the representatives of Muslims and Hindus were in progress to solve the imbroglio and he expected a solution to the dispute by March next year, the deadline set by the VHP to begin the construction of the Ram temple.

Despite the claims made by the VHP, the central government cannot hand over the acquired land to it without the prior permission of the Supreme Court. The apex court unlikely to take a decision in the matter in the near future. While giving its ruling, the apex court, in the Ismaili Farooqui case, had in 1994 observed that the land acquired was of "strategic importance". In fact, the divisional commissioner in Faizabad, who is the authorised person of the acquired land, had made attempts in February this year to open some temples situated in the acquired area under pressure but the central government vetoed the proposal considering the legal aspects of the case.

There is, however, a major shift in the VHP's temple construction plan. Mr. Singhal now says that the deadline of March 12 next year set by the VHP is only for securing the undisputed land for the Trust and not the scheduled date for starting the construction of the temple. The VHP is now ready to wait for a decision of the court on the 'disputed 2.77 acres of land'. This is apparently in tune with the preparations being made by the VHP to construct the temple. According to the VHP leaders, the artisans will take a few years to begin the work at the sanctum sanctorum, which will be situated at the disputed land, after the construction work of other parts of the temple is completed. 

Meanwhile, in a significant development, Mr. Shatrughan Singh, director of the Ayodhya Cell constituted by the Prime Minister a couple of months back, visited the city on December 14 to go through the official documents pertaining to the dispute. It is said that Mr. Singh particularly looked into the details of the 71 acres of acquired land. He also saw the maps of the disputed area and went through the history of the shrine. He had reportedly taken some documents with him to Delhi. Mr. Singh, however, refrained from meeting the representatives of the contending communities in the dispute.

In the meantime, Mr. Singhal claims that he was not guilty of contempt of court when he barged into the sanctum sanctorum of the make-shift Ram Temple in Ayodhya on October 17 because the Supreme Court had not issued any order prohibiting the devotees" entry into that area for darshan. On the other hand, he alleged that the central government had committed a contempt of court while directing the state government to allow only 'meaningful darshan' at a distance from the makeshift temple. He maintained that by this directive, the central government had flouted the Allahabad High Court order allowing darshan at the temple. 

According to reports from Ayodhya, there is, however, an undercurrent of tension, particularly among the Muslims in the area, over the developments. 

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