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Babri-Temple breakthrough in sight
By Zafarul-Islam Khan

New Delhi, March 5: A temporary respite in the two-month-long tussle about the commencement of building the Ram Temple at the site of the martyred Babri Mosque seems to be in sight. Ever since the legislative assembly elections were announced two months ago Hindu extremist outfits led by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Organisation), fixed March 15 as the date to commence the building of the proposed temple at the site of the demolished mosque. A make-shift temple already exists at the site ever since the mosque was demolished on December 6,. 1992. The issue is raked up every time elections are announced in order to polarise Hindu voters. 

This time this trick failed to benefit the BJP which has been trounced in all the four states where polls were held. But the Temple deadline remained although the extremists are barred from effecting any change to the status quo by the order of the Supreme Court of India until the court case about the dispute is settled. And this order covers all the land around the mosque site which was taken into custody by the government at the request of the Supreme Court and this includes land own by a Hindu trust which was registered to build the temple. Now the extremists say that they want to start construction only on the 'undisputed land' which includes not only the Hindu trust lands but also Awqaf land including Muslim graveyard. 

The current flare-up in Gujarat is also a spill over of this crisis. The so-called volunteers who were killed in the train incident which triggered the riots, were returning from Ayodhya, the town where Babri Mosque once stood, after taking part in some on-going rites prior to the construction. Such volunteers were coming to the town from all over the country in a bid to mobilise the Hindu society everywhere. 

As the date drew close the extremists stood firm on their deadline demanding that the government give them part of the so-called 'undisputed land' where they will start construction and if the government does not permit them they will do this by force. 

There is a feeling that the whole issue is a well-rehearsed drama in which the government and the extremists are staging a stand-off which became serious in the backdrop of Gujarat where close to one thousand people, mostly Muslims, have been killed usually by burning them alive. And the same was going to be repeated all over the country if the government did not acquiesce to the demands of the extremists. In this psychological build up the government used the services of a top Hindu religious leader who came to Delhi all the way from south India and held meetings with both Hindu extremists and representatives of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), a Muslim organisation which has been entrusted the issue of the Babri Mosque since the two Babri Action committees were discredited in the wake of the demolition in December 1992.

In a breakthrough in the ongoing efforts to end the impasse in Ayodhya, the AIMPLB today agreed to 'consider' a VHP proposal for constructing the Ram temple outside the area where the Babri Masjid stood before its demolition, till the court gives a final verdict on the disputed site. 

A proposal was made by Kanchi Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswathi, a Hindu pontiff, during a meeting he had with an 11-member AIMPLB delegation led by its General Secretary Syed Nizamuddin, Board Convener Dr Syed Qasim Rasool Ilyas told mediapersons that the Board would be calling an emergency meeting in Delhi within a week to consider the proposal and "will inform the Seer of our opinion on it before March 15." 

"Under the proposal, the VHP has agreed to construct a boundary wall outside the Masjid area. The fate of the disputed site would be decided by a court verdict and the VHP has agreed to abide by it," Dr Ilyas said. 

Speaking to MG, Dr Ilays said that no decision has been taken by us yet and we will take the decision in our meeting after taking into consideration all the issues. He said that both the Babri Action Committees are represented in our Board committee. He added that we do not see any problem with the temple if we get our land back on which we will build the Mosque. If a settlement is arrived at now it will include erection of a wall between the mosque site and the rest of the land. If the court decides in favour of Muslims that wall will remain intact and if the court verdict goes against Muslims that land will be handed over to the Hindu side, he said.

AIMPLB spokesman Kamal Farooqi said the seer had made a proposal for a solution which would combine "both dialogue and a court settlement", refusing to divulge further details. The board, Farooqi said, had neither accepted nor rejected the proposal yet and would deliberate on it on March 9, after which its decision would be communicated to the Shankaracharya. 

Former President R Venkatraman, former Governor Romesh Bhandari, and former Chief Justice Rangnath Mishra were present during the meeting. "The Shankaracharya wanted a mutually acceptable solution," Dr Ilyas said, adding that they agreed to issue a joint appeal to restore peace and normalcy in Gujarat and elsewhere. 

The Kanchi Seer said the Nyas (Temple trust) chief Ramchandra Paramhans had given a written undertaking on the compromise reached between the two sides. This letter would be handed over to Prime Minister Vajpayee, who would consult his NDA allies before coming to a decision on the issue. Shankaracharya said that the letter written by Paramhans to the Prime Minister also mentioned that the Temple trust had agreed to maintain status quo at the disputed site.

But VHP Vice President Giriraj Kishore said no such proposal had been made yet. "We have not taken any decision. If the proposal comes, the dharmacharyas (religious leaders) will decide on it, " he said. Kishore ruled out compromise on the three demands made on Monday: That all restrictions enforced in Ayodhya be lifted, shifting of carved stones to the undisputed site be allowed and the undisputed land be handed over to it before June 2 for construction to begin. 

Regardless of the government's stand, Kishore said, material for construction would begin to be moved to the undisputed land at 2.15 pm on March 15, and construction would begin at the site before June 2, when the 108-day yajna (rites) ended. 

Political observers say a compromise seems imminent and the VHP's hardline is a last-ditch face-saving effort before it gives in on some of its demands.

This is a sharp climb down from the AIMPLB, too, which had only yesterday threatened to move the Supreme Court, if necessary, to restrain the VHP from going ahead with its programme to shift the carved stones to the undisputed site on March 15 and demanded reconstruction of the Babri Mosque.

Imam of Delhi Jama Masjid, Syed Ahmad Bukhari, took strong exception to the AIMPLB agreeing to consider a proposal mooted by Kanchi Shankaracharya to construct the temple outside the disputed area. He added that the Board has no right to do so. "The Board has no right to take any decision with regard to Babri Masjid dispute. Only the All India Babri Masjid Action Committee (AIBMAC) has this right," he said. He added that the AIBMAC does not have the right to hand over any piece of land in the Ayodhya area for temple construction. 

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