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Muslims refuse to give up on Babri, Hindu extremists adamant
By Zafarul-Islam Khan

New Delhi, March 10: The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) today rejected the proposal for a symbolic ''bhoomi puja'' (earth worship) near the martyred Babri Mosque site in Ayodhya on March 15 and construction of a temple there. 

The proposal received through Kanchi Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswathi, one of the four Hindu pontiffs, sought permission to the VHP to build a temple in lieu of their abiding by a court verdict on the disputed site. The Kanchi seer had sent a written proposal to the Board yesterday evening. Under the proposal VHP would build a boundary wall around the disputed site where the Babri Masjid stood before its demolition and begin construction of the temple. But the Board was neither provided a copy of the undertaking given by the Ramjanmabhoomi Trust to the government to abide by the court verdict or its temple construction plan.

The Muslim side felt that acceptance of the proposal would open the floodgates for Temple building on the site while Muslims would get nothing in return. In view of the past experience, there is no hope that the extremists could be retrained once they start their building activity. A point of compromise could be for the Muslims to regain the martyred mosque's site, a very small piece of land, while the extremists get the very large expanse adjoining it. But this is not acceptable to the extremists who want to place the sanctum sanctorum of their temple at the very site where the masjid's mihrab once stood.

The Board meeting, attended by 75 members and special invitees, considered the proposal put forward by the Shankaracharya of Kanchi, who was roped in by the Government and the Hindu extremists to convince the Muslim side to allow the puja on March 15 and the actual construction on June 2 on what they term as 'undisputed land' while the Supreme Court of India considers all the land 'disputed' and has asked the Indian government to act as guardian of the land until the final verdict is out.

The AIMPLB statement said that the proposal put forward is "incomplete and incoherent''. It said the settlement is not possible in a piecemeal manner. Hoping for better proposals to come up, it appealed to the Centre to ensure the maintenance of status quo in the land acquired by it and effective steps to ensure that no symbolic karsewa (voluntary work) or puja (worship) took place in the area. The Board also condemned the riots in Gujarat.

The rejection was unanimous, AIMPLB convenor, Dr Qasim Rasool Ilyas, told MG. He said that the board had already met yesterday and thoroughly considered the proposal and wrote down a detailed report about it. This report was presented today to the general meeting. Barring a few words, the report was adopted in its entirety. 

Advocate Yusuf Muchala, an AIMPLB member, said the Board was open to constructive suggestions "from any quarter except the Sangh Parivar [RSS family], the Bajrang Dal and those responsible for the demolition of the Babri Masjid".

Earlier, emerging midway from the meeting, AIMPLB member and Babri Masjid Action Committee Convenor, Syed Shahabuddin, said there was unanimity among the members that "not even one brick should be laid on the disputed land without the Supreme Court's permission". He also said the Board members felt there was nothing new in the compromise formula offered by the Shankaracharya of Kanchi. "It's just a new way of putting the VHP's stand." "The Babri Masjid site is not to be sold, gifted or bargained," he said. He said the board stuck to its earlier stand, and was prepared to negotiate with the government on any suggestion it came out with.

As a result of official and media misinformation campaign, there was an apprehension in Muslim minds here that some members of the AIMPLB may try to derail the consensus which says that since the Hindu extremist side is adamant to capture the Babri land and shows no inclination to address the Muslim point of view, only a court verdict will be acceptable to the Muslims. The meeting saw demonstrations by the Citizens for Peace, an umbrella group comprising Islam Preaching Centre, Bharatiya Muslim Majlis, and National Lok Tantrik Party. "Most Muslims don't want talks with the government," The group's spokesperson Wasim Ahmad Ghazi said.

The Babri Mosque was demolished by the extremists on December 6, 1992 and ever since a make-shift temple exists at the site which is open for Hindu worship while Muslims are not allowed to approach the place. In the extremist campaign shortly before and after the demolition about three thousand Muslims were killed. The issue remains a major political problem India faces for the last two decades. 

The temple issue was exploited to the hilt by the BJP as a political plank and the current Home Minister, LK Advani, who spearheaded the campaign and oversaw the mosque demolition, has conceded that the Temple issue catapulted his Hindu rightist party (BJP) to its present position. From two seats in Parliament before the Temple campaign it now boasts 182 seats and has been ruling the Centre for the last three years. But the party has miserably failed to deliver in terms of political and economic achievements, it has lost the ordinary voter's support and this was amply clear in last month's elections in four Indian states.

Former Uttar Pradesh governor Romesh Bhandari has sought suo moto intervention by the Supreme Court to prevent the December 1992 type defiance by the VHP and its allies that led to the worst-ever bloody riots. Bhandari’s letter to Chief Justice SP Bharucha says: "Once a sizeable crowd of karsewaks (volunteers) has started gathering in Ayodhya, controlling them will pose a major administrative problem. Public emotions could be aroused easily....It is my considered view that in these circumstances it will be highly debatable for anyone in power to order firing and use force against leaders and saffron-clad religious personalities." Bhandari said that any delay will render the court’s directions redundant and controversial. "In all likelihood we may be left with a fait accompli and the resultant chaos as was witnessed in December 6, 1992 when the Babri Masjid was demolished in full public glare, " he added in his letter.

With the AIMPLB's rejection of the proposals, the ball is in the Supreme Court's ground. It is expected to consider within days two Muslim petitions seeking restraint on VHP activities in the town of Ayodhya and to stop the convergence of the extremist volunteers in that city for the March 15 ceremony.

Mohammad Hashim and Mohammad Aslam alias Bhure’s petitions to the apex court will be heard on March 13 and March 15 respectively. They have separately pleaded for deployment of the Army at the 67.703 acres of land acquired by the central government around the demolished and disputed structure in Ayodhya. Bhure’s lawyer, MM Kashyap, said he had pleaded for sealing of the area where "stones are lying in Karsewakpuram and Pindwara in Rajasthan".

Meanwhile Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Saturday said the government will abide by the Supreme Court's directions on the VHP's programme to carry out bhoomi puja near the disputed site in Ayodhya on March 15. In the first official comments on efforts to hammer out a solution on the Ayodhya issue, Vajpayee told a delegation of All India Organisation of Imams that "the government would do as per the directions of the Supreme Court which is hearing the matter on March 13".

The VHP, on the other hand, asserted today that it would go ahead with its proposed symbolic 'bhoomi puja' at the undisputed site in Ayodhya on March 15, saying nobody has the right to encroach upon the "religious rights of Hindus". Commenting on the statement of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that the Supreme Court will decide whether or not to allow the symbolic puja on March 15, VHP General Secretary Pravin Togadia said "nobody in this country has the right to encroach upon the religious rights of Hindus to perform 'puja', 'yagna', 'archan' or 'upasana' [various forms of Hindu worship]." "Efforts by the government or the Muslims to stop the ceremony will go against our religious beliefs," he told a local TV channel here.

Amidst heightening apprehensions over the March 15 programme of the VHP and Ram Janambhoomi Nyas, a group of Hindus and Muslims today took out a symbolic 'peace march' in Ayodhya today in order to emphasise the need for communal harmony and national integration. The silent march, led by noted Gandhian Nirmala Desphande, was taken out symbolically in view of the prohibitory orders. Numbering about 100, the marchers carried placards with messages such as 'Sanjhi sanskriti zindabad, nafrat fasad murdabad' (long live common culture, down with hatred and fights), 'Mandir nahin rozgar chahiye, jeene ka adhikar chahiye' (we want jobs, not temple; we want right to live) and 'Desh bhakti sarvochya daitva hai, nafrat failana samaj aur desh ke khilaf hai (love for country is the supreme duty, spreading hatred is against the society and country). Although the organisers planned to take out the march through the city, police disallowed them citing prohibitory orders in force. Later, Ms Deshpande told reporters that VHP's programme was "against law and the Constitution" and demanded that it be stopped immediately.

Apart from this march, paramilitary forces today staged flag march in Ayodhya and other sensitive areas as security was further beefed up following intelligence report that a group of terrorists in the garb of karsewaks might try to target the makeshift temple. Central Reserve Police Force, Provincial Armed Constabulary and units of UP police, in full anti-riot gear and totting machine guns, marched through the twin cities of Ayodhya and Faizabad passing through sensitive areas including lanes close to the disputed site. 
Mounted police, anti-riot vehicles and fire tenders also participated in the exercise which began at 10.30 AM and concluded two hours later after passing through areas having Muslim population in the town. 

In another related development, at least two persons were killed and 32 others, including 25 policemen, injured in police firing and clashes between VHP activists and security personnel over performance of a yagna (Hindu prayer) at Taldih in South 24 Parganas district of West Bengal today. Trouble started when some of the 4,000 odd VHP activists, who had congregated at the Harisabha temple near Taldih railway station, 60 km from Kolkata, since Saturday night, started raising slogans after being denied permission by police to go ahead with their plans.

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