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Temple issue raked up once again, central government finally realises gravity of the situation
By Zafarul-Islam Khan

Ram Mandir Model (left); VHP people at Ayodhya

New Delhi, Feb. 28: The Indian government finally issued orders yesterday to state governments to stop the convergence of Hindu fanatics to the town of Ayodhya and ordered local authorities in the town to prevent the transportation of building materials to the site where the fanatics want to start building a temple on March 15. This change of heart came as a result of the tragic train incident yesterday in which 57 'volunteers' of the temple movement have been killed. Yet it is not clear how serious the central government will be in its newfound resolve. Trouble in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP) will serve the BJP which has just lost elections in that state and would love to create problems for its adversaries there.

New evidence says that 'Muslims' were not involved in yesterday's train attack. Rather the attackers were Hindu people from the washermen (dhobi) community whose women were mistreated by the so-called 'volunteers'. But the media here kept parroting whole day yesterday that the attackers were 'Muslims.' This led to communal flare-ups in various parts of the state of Gujarat where the train incident took place.

All opposition parties, including several partners of the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA), have expressed doubts over the BJP-led central government's assurance that it will maintain status quo on the Babri Masjid issue in Ayodhya. 

After vacillating for two long months while Hindu extremists made open preparations to start building 'Rama Temple', the Vajpayee government at the Center had finally called an all party meting on Ayodhya issue on Feb. 26. It promised in this meeting that it will not allow any alteration in the existing situation at the disputed site. Even Home Minister LK Advani, who led the Ayodhya movement and presided over the demolition of the Babri, has warned that strict action would be taken against those who take the law into their own hands. In a statement on Feb. 26 Advani said VHP president Ashok Singhal has embarked on a course of action which is "fraught with dangerous consequences". 

The all party meeting was called amidst increasing signals that the rightist fundamentalist Hindu outfits are again trying to rouse communal sentiments in the already charged atmosphere in the country. The frenzy got momentum after the BJP rout in Uttar Pradesh and three other states in the just concluded legislative assembly elections. 

The opposition had blocked the proceedings in both the houses of Parliament, Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha on Feb. 26, demanding a full-fledged discussion on the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's announcement to start the construction of Ram temple on March 15 at the site where Babri Masjid stood for centuries until it was demolished by a frenzied Hindu mob on December 6, 1992, led by the BJP leaders. Agitated members of Parliament as well as some of the ruling alliance partners demanded that the government provide details about the steps taken in Ayodhya to maintain law and order. About 15 thousand fanatic Hindus have already arrived in the town and the VHP projection is that there will be 0.7 million such elements in the small town on the appointed day. Now that this seems unlikely, the VHP is still belligerent and claims that the programme will go on as planned.

Since the BJP will attract penalties in the Elections Act if it raised religious issues from its own platform, it relies for this purpose on its proxies, mainly the VHP and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal. The VHP (World Hindu Council) has been faithfully reviving the Temple issues before every state legislative assembly and national parliament elections in order to consolidate the Hindu vote behind the BJP. 

The Temple slogan has lost much of its appeal down the road since the Mosque demolition in 1992. This time too it was revived but failed to influence voters just like the other slogan of fighting 'terrorism', which was discovered by the BJP recently.

Ever since the demolition, Muslim position has been that they will accept a court verdict whatever it was. But extremist Hindus refuse this knowing full well that their case is weak and may be thrown out even by most sympathetic courts. To overcome this they demolished the Mosque to create a new status quo and now they want to complete the construction of the Temple in order to create another fait accompli. Prime Minister Vajpayee had tried to bring round some Muslims to accept a certain formula to hand over the site to the extremists. He had given the deadline of March 12 to accomplish this but no movement could be made since no Muslim individual or organisation is ready to provide this coup de grace to the Masjid-Temple imbroglio.

The VHP has been all along making preparations for the proposed temple. Three workshops, one in Ayodhya itself, have been busy, without hindrance from the authorities, for many years preparing the carved stones which are to be used in the Temple. 

Meanwhile the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court is looking into the legal case and there is no hope of any early verdict. Another judicial body, Liberhan Commission, is looking into the conspiracy that led to the demolition of the Mosque in 1992 and has yet to present its report to the government. 

Exasperated, the VHP recently revived the issue with a much hyped show of Chetawani Yatra (Warning March) and announced to start the construction of the Ram temple at the martyred Babri Masjid site on March 15. Ram Chandra Pramhans, one of the prominent leaders of the temple movement, set the ball rolling when he announced, "we will wait till March 12, not a day more. We have given the government enough time. We cannot wait any longer. They (the government) will be well advised not to test our patience any longer." He later announced that the movement of the construction material for the temple from the Karsevakpuram, the township built by the fanatics, to the Mosque site, will begin from March 15. A large number of pillars and beams, planned to be used in the proposed temple, are ready in several workshops (Karyashalas) in Ayodhya, Jaipur and Mount Abu. 

The VHP’s plan to arouse communal sentiments and rally common people behind the BJP has already suffered a set back with common people refusing to rally behind the ultra rightist Hindu party and giving it, in the process, a severe jolt in its quest to seek another stint of power at the Center. 

The BJP has failed to secure support for the Temple cause from a number of its alliance partners in the central government. The VHP has been claiming for quite some time that several partners of the NDA government at the Center have assured support for the Ram temple movement. But much to its chagrin, several leaders including the DMK’s Karunanidhi and West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, refused to even meet Temple movement leaders. Several others about whom it was claimed that they have agreed to support the construction of the Temple at the Babri site have also denied to have ever said so.

The current belligerence shows that the VHP seems to have come to the conclusion that it is time to do something to check the eroding popularity of the ultra rightist "saffron" brigade. So it is going steady with its plan to rake up the Ram temple issue, which has been the only reason of the spectacular rise of the BJP during the last two decades, as even the Home Minister LK Advani has conceded. 

The BJP's rout in the recent state assembly elections has also provided an opportunity to revive the issue through its proxies. Earlier the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), the parent body of the rightist Hindu outfits, did not approve of the VHP going all out on the issue as any such movement threatened the survival of the BJP government in both the state and the Center. But now it is the question of the survival of all the saffron parties including the RSS and the BJP. With a secular government at the helm in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP), they will try to turn the heat against secular forces and rally Hindu voters of the state behind the BJP. The Temple issue has proved to be the best prescription for such a plan.

This has caused panic in all political circles. They fear that a repeat of the 6 December 1992 is in the offing once again. It were thousands of so-called "karsevaks" (volunteers) who stormed the 15th century mosque in 1992, demolished it and quickly erected a makeshift temple with precise planning. 

The government assurance that it will maintain the status quo at the site has not been able to satisfy members of Parliament. During the all party meeting the BJP-led government failed to answer the main question raised by almost all speakers, including leaders of the ruling NDA, as to how it planned to tackle the situation. Both Prime Minister AB Vajpayee and Home Minister LK Advani failed to give a categorical assurance that the Karsevaks (volunteers) already in Ayodhya would be sent back and no more would be allowed into the city. Vajpayee simply stated that there is difference between 'demolition' which takes just a few hours and 'construction' which takes time..!

Senior Congress party leader Arjun Singh described the discussion as an exercise in futility, 'since the centre failed to spell out its so-called appropriate action'. Similarly Communist Party of India (CPIM) leader Somnath Chatterjee expressed anxiety over the turn of events. He said the BJP cannot be taken for its words in view of the 6 December 1992 mosque demolition. The BJP, which was in power in UP at the time, had assured the Supreme Court that it would not allow the mosque to be demolished. Still thugs led by present central ministers went out to demolish the mosque.

NDA partners, including TDP, MDMK, Trinamool Congress and the Janata Dal (S), put the government in a spot by questioning the government's actions so far. Yerren Naidu of the TDP pointedly demanded to know the governments plan of action. 'It will be a disaster if December 6 is repeated' he declared. 

Meanwhile, the VHP has declared that it will not stop and will go all-out to start construction on the appointed date despite the government warning yesterday. It has also said that it is happy that there is the prospect of Mulayam Singh of the Samajwadi Party being at the helms in UP as this will help the extremists to incite common people against secular parties. 'If Mulayam Singh becomes the chief minister, we have a plan by which we will go all out. If it had been a BJP chief minister, it would have meant a little more restraint for us,' VHP general secretary told media on Tuesday. He said that that VHP has worked out a plan for both favourable and unfavourable conditions. This includes deciding on leaders who will go underground and front commanders who will stay to lead the extremists.

Finally, after yesterday's tragic train incident, the Center has woken up to its responsibilities. It has now directed Uttar Pradesh government to take 'strict measures' to the Temple extremists entry into Ayodhya. 

In a communication to the state government, the central home ministry has now asked the authorities to stop group reservation in trains and come down heavily on ticketless travellers. Temple extremists are known to travel without tickets, taking over reserved seats and misbehaving with other travellers. A ban has been imposed on the movement of stone pillars and other construction materials by VHP activists to Ayodhya. But it remains to be seen how serious the government is in its resolve to tackle its own rabble-rousers.

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