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BJP in two minds on Ayodhya
By P.M. Damodaran

Lucknow: Despite the candid admission by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leaders that they had trespassed into the prohibited area near the makeshift Ram Temple in Ayodhya on October 17, the Uttar Pradesh government is trying to hush up the incident refusing to take action against them. The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Mr. Rajnath Singh, has gone to the extent of claiming that the VHP leaders, who included Mr. Ashok Singhal, had never barged into the prohibited area.

After the incident generated a lot of heat and controversy, first information reports (FIRS) were filed against the VHP leaders for the offence. That it was merely an eyewash was known from the fact that they were filed under Section 186 of the Cr.P.C., which is a non-cognizable offence. Severe action, like the arrest of the accused, could not be taken under this section.

The U.P. government then set up a committee under the additional Director General of Police to probe into the incident. Predictably, the report of the committee made no charges against the VHP leaders. The report dealt with only the aspects of security lapse. The government, on the basis of the report, made two junior level officers in Ayodhya -- sub-divisional magistrate and the police circle officer -- scapegoats and suspended them "for dereliction of duty". As a face saving measure, the government is now claiming that it is tightening the security in and around the area to avert the recurrence of such incidents.

From the very beginning, the bureaucrats had been trying to project it as a minor incident apparently to serve the interests of their political bosses. The senior officials claimed in the evening on October 17 that the VHP leaders had never entered the prohibited area. They tried to put the entire blame on the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), which is manning the prohibited area, for the security lapse. On the part of the officials in the district administration and police in Faizabad district, under which Ayodhya falls, they had not dealt the situation with any seriousness. It was said that when they were informed of the entering of the VHP leaders into the prohibited area at 9.30 in the morning on that day, they did not care about it because they were busy in making the arrangements for the visit of the Chief Minister to the district headquarters later in the day.

There are also accusing fingers against the district administration in its role in opening the gate, which always remained locked, near the makeshift temple on that day. Some one had opened it which helped the VHP leaders enter the sanctum sanctorum. The VHP leaders are tightlipped about the identity of the person who opened the gate. In fact the district administration and the security officials in the area are accused of allowing the VIPs to enter the sanctum sanctorum regularly. The president of the Ram Janambhoomi Nyas, Ramachandra Paramhans, had admitted this fact when he said that there was nothing new in the incident on October 17. Several BJP and VHP leaders were entering the prohibited area regularly for darshan. On that day, the VHP leaders passed through the way the common devotees take and entered the prohibited area apparently to show that they could do whatever they wished!

Some VHP leaders had, however, later tried to save them from being chargesheeted for the offence. Initially they had proudly narrated their adventure in entering the prohibited area and offering puja at the sanctum sanctorum before the media but later they deviated from their statements and claimed that they had not done anything illegal. They now aver that they had never entered the sanctum sanctorum, where generally only the pujaris are allowed to enter.

The VHP is now justifying the action of their leaders in entering the prohibited area in Ayodhya by making a new definition on 'safe distance' from where the devotees could have a darshan. The organisation is maintaining that it was for the district administration to decide the 'safe distance' considering the security concerns and the visibility of the idol for the devotees and the court has no say on it.

But this contention will not hold water. It was true that it was the district administration which had in1993 fixed a distance of approximately 50-ft from the idol of Ram Lalla from where the devotees could have the darshan. The distance was decided considering both the security and the visibility aspects. But the distance was fixed on the directives of the court. The Supreme Court later in 1996 had ruled that this distance should continue and there should not be any alterations without its consent. Taking this fact into consideration, the action of the VHP leaders in barging into the prohibited area amounted to contempt of court. It is reported that the All India Babri Masjid Action Committee is contemplating to file a contempt of court case against the VHP leaders for trespassing into the prohibited area. In that case, it may land the VHP leaders in trouble.

Significantly, none of the Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, including the Prime Minister, Mr. A.B. Vajpayee and the U.P. Chief Minister Mr. Singh, had condemned the action of the VHP leaders. They described the incident as "unfortunate" or "security lapse". They obviously dared not take action against the VHP leaders though they knew it well that they had violated the law. They also knew that they could ill-afford to displease the VHP leaders by arresting them!

The Prime Minister, at his press conference in Lucknow last month, had considered the incident as a setback to his efforts in finding a solution to the Ayodhya imbroglio through talks though he is still optimistic of the result before March 12 next year, the deadline set by the VHP to begin the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. Mr. Vajpayee vehemently denied that it was a political gimmick to gain votes for his party in the Assembly elections in U.P. and other states. On the contrary, he felt that the incident would result in the loss of votes for his party.

On the other hand, his Home Minister and number two in the government, Mr. L.K. Advani, thought otherwise if his remarks were any indication. Mr. Advani admitted that the temple issue had helped the BJP to come to power. The Home Minister remarked that his Rath Yatra's (from Somnath to Ayodhya) message of cultural nationalism had paid rich electoral dividends to the BJP! His apparent reference was that the ruling party might again take up the issue in the next round of Assembly elections for electoral gains.

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