Distrust demolishes Ayodhya deal
1 killed in Bengal battle for yagna
‘Glaring’ omissions in formula
Curfew cleaves Gujarat town
Calcutta Weather

 
 
DISTRUST DEMOLISHES AYODHYA DEAL 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 10: 

Board rejects seer plan, Nyas vows to defy court

The despair of 1992 hung over Ayodhya tonight with the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board rejecting the package offered by the Kanchi Sankaracharya and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad asserting that it would go ahead with the bhoomi pujan on March 15.

With all players hardening their stands and the possibility of a confrontation looming, the Supreme Court hearing on Wednesday has emerged as the decisive factor.

The court is scheduled to take up a petition for army deployment in Ayodhya but a ruling is expected to cover the contentious issue of whether a puja could be carried out on the undisputed site.

The VHP today fielded its best-known hardliner, Praveen Togadia, to address reporters shortly after the board announced its decision.

Asked if the VHP would proceed with its puja even if the Supreme Court directed to the contrary, Togadia said: “Nobody in this country has the right to encroach upon the rights of Hindus to perform puja, yagna, archan and upasana.”

His statement came a day after the Prime Minister said the last word on the puja would come from the Supreme Court. Togadia said: “There is no emergency. We also have fundamental rights. How can we expect the courts to curb this? We are certain we will get the permission.”

Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas convener Ramchandra Das Paramhans — before whom junior home minister I.D. Swami paid obeisance last Thursday —went a step further and declared there was no point in stopping at a symbolic puja. He said efforts should be made to start temple construction.

“Did 58 people sacrifice their lives for a symbolic puja?” he asked, referring to the Godhra carnage. “They did it all for constructing a temple. Why should we go there to perform only a religious rite?”

Late in the night, Paramhans raised the pitch and told PTI in Ayodhya: “We will maintain status quo on the disputed land till the court judgment. However, if the court judgment goes against our religious feelings, we will not accept it. We will oppose it even if it means shedding blood.”

The VHP spokesman warned that the minority law board’s decision to oppose the bhoomi pujan would have serious repercussions. “We will hold the pujan on the undisputed land and as far as this is concerned, it is purely a matter between the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas and the Centre. There is no third party and the law board has no locus standi to oppose the March 15 shila pujan,” he said.

The incendiary postures forced Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee to go into a huddle with Cabinet colleagues L.K. Advani, George Fernandes and Arun Jaitley. Official sources said the “review meeting” discussed how not to allow things to get out of hand on March 15. It also finalised the stand to be taken before the apex court on Wednesday.

The Ayodhya administration has so far held its ground and refused to ease restrictions on the entry of kar sevaks despite a clear signal from I.D. Swami to do so.

The administration has also made public a terrorist threat in what is being seen as an attempt to keep senior VHP leaders away. Paramhans said sadhus would tomorrow lead a demonstration to the disputed site.

But the Centre kept afloat the possibility of another attempt to forge a consensus. Sources referred to a phrase in the minority board’s statement — saying the Sankaracharya’s proposals were “incomplete and inchoate” and suggesting that there was still a window open for dialogue — and said Vajpayee could ask the Kanchi seer to mediate again.

If he was referred to as the “prime mediator” in official circles for the past week, today he was described as the “architect” of the negotiations.

But a spokesman of the Kanchi monastery said: “Periyaval’s (senior acharya’s) role is virtually over. The acharya tried his best…”.

   

 
 
1 KILLED IN BENGAL BATTLE FOR YAGNA 
 
 
FROM OUR BUREAU
 
Calcutta, March 10: 
Ayodhya today cast a shadow on Bengal as a clash erupted between Vishwa Hindu Parishad supporters and police, killing one person and critically injuring two.

Around 1,000 VHP supporters clashed with the police at Taldi, a village near Canning in South 24-Parganas, after they were prevented from holding a yagna linked to the March 15 programme in Ayodhya.

The police admitted they had been informed of the programme but insisted no permission was given.

The police fired 25 rounds in the air on the increasingly belligerent crowd near the railway station after tear-gassing had no effect. Tapas Haldar, 27, died on the spot. Around 50 people, including 25 policemen — were wounded.

In the evening, the state BJP claimed the six admitted to Bangur hospital were party supporters. The BJP has called a bandh in Canning tomorrow.

“We were determined not to allow the yagna as it would have led to disturbances in a vast area where the population is mixed and sensitive to such things,” said Chayan Mukherjee, inspector-general of police (law and order). “Before resorting to firing, we used teargas and lathis without success.”

The incident has exposed the police’s inability to assess the situation despite advance information. Only 50 policemen were posted in the area, though tension was building up.

The VHP had announced it would hold the yagna at the 30-year-old Hariseva mandir near Taldi railway station, Mukherjee said. Local VHP leader Amar Ray, who was later arrested, said the police did not “stop” the parishad from preparing for the yagna. But superintendent of police Deb Kumar Ganguly said the administration had denied permission for the yagna and clamped Section 144 since Friday.

Women started assembling at the temple from 7.30 am. The devotees agreed to the police directive that only one person could enter the temple at a time.

Trouble started when a Canning-bound train pulled in at the station at 9.45 am. Several VHP activists — most had come by the train — started pelting stones. Heavily outnumbered — the ratio was 1:20 — the policemen burst tear-gas shells.

The crowd then charged at the policemen, forcing them to first fire in the air and then at the mob. The battle raged for over 90 minutes. Relatives of the victims alleged that policemen fired on the crowd from point-blank range.

Though the Taldi programme spun out of control, a parallel one at Asansol was handled well. Over a 100 VHP activists were arrested while trying to perform the same yagna.

   

 
 
‘GLARING’ OMISSIONS IN FORMULA 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, March 10: 
Faced with the inflexible attitude of hardliners on both sides, the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board today rejected the Kanchi Sankaracharya’s formula of a symbolic bhoomi pujan near the disputed site in Ayodhya on March 15, saying the proposal was “incomplete and inchoate”.

The board said the Supreme Court would be moved against the puja plan. But the board added that it would not object if the court cleared the puja. “There will be no agitation,” assured Yusuf Muchala, convener of the board’s legal cell.

The minority panel also reiterated its desire for an out-of-court settlement of the vexed issue. “The dispute cannot be resolved in a piecemeal manner. It has to be resolved in a holistic manner, in such a way that construction of the mosque is also not delayed,” said the unanimous resolution adopted at the board’s emergency meeting.

After day-long deliberations, the Muslim Personal Law Board members expressed their inability to accept the Sankaracharya’s proposal, pointing out that without the temple construction plans, it was difficult to understand the purported written undertaking given by the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas.

The board said another “glaring omission” was the absence of a written assurance from the VHP that it would abide by the court verdict. “At best, the proposals are ‘workable arrangements’ and do not offer (a) solution of the problem in its entirety,” the board said.

The panel managed to present a united face, but sharp divisions prevailed within. While the younger leadership felt that the board’s rigid attitude would cost the community dear, the old guard chided those who had called on the Sankaracharya, accusing them of falling into a “trap”.

The elders said there was no question of negotiating on a mosque. “According to the Shariat, a mosque remains a mosque till doomsday,” said G.M. Banatwala, an MP representing the Indian Union Muslim League. He found support from Ibrahim Sulaiman Sait, Syed Shahabuddin and Zafaryab Jeelani.

But Shahabuddin also voiced the community’s willingness to abide by the court verdict. He said that if the verdict went against the community, there would be no protests.

The board appealed to the Centre to ensure maintenance of status quo ante at Ayodhya and ensure that no symbolic puja takes place. It regretted that documents such as building plans of the temple, the site plan and the undertaking given by the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas to the Prime Minister had not been made available to the board despite repeated requests.

The board sought the dismissal of the Narendra Modi government, linking it to the Gujarat carnage. It welcomed the Centre’s appeal for expeditious hearing of the cases relating to the Ayodhya dispute. But a member said: “The key point which everyone failed to address is: who is going to build the mosque if the court verdict favours us?”

The outcome of the board’s meeting did not cheer several community leaders. A profound sense of resignation pervaded the meeting hall, with most speakers confining themselves to rhetoric. Mutual suspicion was in the air; so was talk of a section of the board getting too close to the Prime Minister’s Office. Of the 75 board members and about a dozen special invitees, only 67 chose to attend the meeting.

   

 
 
CURFEW CLEAVES GUJARAT TOWN 
 
 
FROM CHANDRIMA BHATTACHARYA
 
Modasa (Gujarat), March 10: 
A clear divide marks Modasa, a would-be town about 100 km from Ahmedabad.

Two rows of shops stretch for about 500 m on both sides of the highway. Half of them are open, doing brisk business but the others are closed despite curfew being officially lifted from Modasa. The closed shops belong to Muslims, who have declared a “janta curfew” because they still dare not move out of their homes.

More than a week after the carnage, as signs of normality are said to have returned to the state, Muslim pockets in Sabarkanta — one of the districts where blood was shed indiscriminately in the wake of Godhra — are still living under self-imposed curfew.

The “janta curfew” sign hangs a little away from the Modasa Road Transport Co-operative Society. It adds that the guilty should be punished. Some shop-owners in Modasa have put up another sign: “Welcome to Hindu Rashtra.” The message is repeated in nearby Dhansura village.

It’s these messages and the underlying threat that keep the fear alive in the Muslims. “Whatever the police may say, we are not safe. So we have imposed the curfew on our own,” says M. Habib Bula of the transporters’ co-operative.

There’s a small gathering at the society that provides truck services from Mumbai to Delhi and also acts as a financier. The transporters say the perpetrators of the violence are still at large and thriving. They are known faces from the neighbourhood, either traders or Bajrang Dal activists. But the police have done nothing to find them.

With its 4,000 members, the co-operative is also the hub of the Muslim community in Modasa and the villages around it. Of the 30,000 Muslims in the area, most are associated with the truck business in various capacities.

It made truck-owners the special target. On the way to Modasa, from Bayad to Dhansura, the highway is littered with remains of burnt trucks. There’s a charred vehicle every 100 metres for the first kilometre. Many of the trucks were waylaid at night and the drivers were burnt inside.

“We lost seven drivers, six of whom were from the society. Fifty of our vehicles were burnt,” says Salimbhai Dadu.

“The VHP and Bajrang Dal worked very systematically; (they) checked papers, and if the names were of Muslims, set the driver and the truck on fire. It went on for three days, from February 28 to March 2. The police didn’t do a thing,” he adds.

The society said it had handed over to the police a list of the people, including Dal activists from the neighbourhood, they thought guilty, but the police are sitting on it. The police countered they are looking into it but did not have enough people.

“How can we return?” asks Zulfibhai. “All along the highway you’ll see the same picture. We don’t know when we can get back to business.”

Ironically, the co-operative was built in 1972 to secure the community against communal riots. That year, too, truckers were targeted after a “students’ riot in Ahmedabad that spread here”, says Salimbhai. “Then we thought of organising ourselves. The co-operative was doing well. Some may not have liked that.”

The curfew seems to have spread all over the area. The road to Himmatnagar, the district headquarters and another site of carnage, looks deserted.

Shops belonging to Muslims have been gutted. They look like pockmarks in the desert-like landscape, punctuating rows of abandoned shops. Shops at Harsol, a village on the way to Ahmedabad, are completely gutted. “Gujarat is the laboratory of the VHP,” says Salimbhai.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 34.9°C (+2)
Minimum: 22.7°C (+3)

Rainfall

Nil

Relative humidity

Max: 93%
Min: 45%

Sunrise: 5.54 am

Sunset: 5.39 pm

Today:

Partly cloudy sky. Maximum and minimum temperature likely to be around 35°C and 24°C, respectively
   
 

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