Puja & pillar divide temple twins
Rush to defuse defence dogfight
Atal counts on trident
PMO keeps board line alive
Calcutta Weather

 
 
PUJA & PILLAR DIVIDE TEMPLE TWINS 
 
 
FROM ANAND SOONDAS
 
Ayodhya, March 11: 
Divisions cropped up within the temple movement today with the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas saying it would “donate” the pillars to the Ayodhya land receiver on March 15 and falling silent on the proposed bhoomi pujan.

But the VHP, which has announced that the pillars would be taken in a procession to the acquired land, stuck to its strident public stand. The outfit said it would go ahead with the Friday puja and reiterated its demand for lifting of curbs on the movement of kar sevaks.

VHP working president Ashok Singhal arrived here this afternoon, setting at rest speculation on whether he would be allowed into the temple town. Ringed by securitymen, he headed straight for Karsevakpuram, the camp set up for kar sevaks.

Singhal, who met Uttar Pradesh Governor Vishnukant Shastri in Lucknow before leaving for Ayodhya, said the puja would be held near the disputed site on March 15. “Nothing can stop that from happening now,” he asserted.

The VHP leader said the minority community had no role to play on the issue as it was “between the Ramjanmabhoomi Trust and the government”. He also warned that his arrest before the Friday puja will “not be in anyone’s interest”.

Singhal bristled at the Prime Minister’s assurance that the government would abide by the Supreme Court’s verdict on the puja. The Prime Minister told the Lok Sabha today that the situation in Ayodhya was “totally under control”.

An angry Singhal said: “There was no mention of the apex court’s judgment when Vajpayee had asked the Sankaracharya of Kanchi to mediate on the issue.”

But conflicting signals emerged from the sadhus, with Ramjanmabhoomi Trust chairman Ramchandra Das Paramhans lobbing the ball in the government’s court. “I have pledged to donate stones at the garbha griha of Lord Ram. I will do it formally, without any fuss, and take a receipt from the receiver (Faizabad divisional commissioner A.K. Gupta). Henceforth, it will be their responsibility to ensure protection of the stones,” he said.

Gupta, however, said he could accept the “donation” only after he got the Centre’s nod. “But first we must receive something in writing from the mahant.”

Paramhans, who conducted a puja at Karsevakpuram today, claimed that Ram had appeared in his dream last night and told him to make the donation. But he said he would not “force” it on the receiver.

“We had thought the Ramjanmabhoomi would be handed over to us by March 12 and we would go there on March 15 with shilas to begin construction. But Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee failed to hand over the land,” he told PTI. “(But) we will not go to others’ land for sangarsh (struggle) or take the law into our hands.” The sadhu said he was against any “symbolic” puja. “I will go to the Ramjanmabhoomi with fanfare, but only when it is handed over to us.”

Bajrang Dal founder president Vinay Katiyar echoed him. No bhoomi pujan will be performed and there will be only a donation of pillars, the BJP MP from Faizabad said in Delhi.

NDA partners expressed reservations about the Nyas’ change of stand. But BJP sources contended that if the Paramhans-Katiyar duo “came around”, the VHP’s movement would lose “considerable steam” because, as they put it, “if one had the lung power to galvanise the kar sevaks, the other had the men and muscle”. Without the blessings of Paramhans, the VHP would find it difficult to hold a puja.

But even as Ayodhya heads for D-day, the administration is bracing for what it termed the “real” threat — from terrorist groups. Gupta said the government had received “top grade” intelligence information yesterday that “terrorist groups operational in Jammu and Kashmir” might try to create communal disturbances in Ayodhya on March 15.

Kar sevaks we can handle. Terrorists are the real problem. The … most potent threat is from them. There won’t be many kar sevaks on March 15,” he said.

The administration today carried out searches on the banks of the Saryu, flushing out several kar sevaks.

   

 
 
RUSH TO DEFUSE DEFENCE DOGFIGHT 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, March 11: 
The defence ministry today moved to put the lid on a row between the army and the air force after an air force transporter flown by Air Marshal V.K. Bhatia, chief of western air command, came under fire in the Kargil sector.

Defence ministry sources today said “air and army headquarters are in close touch and there is no difference at the top level”. But last week, the chief of the Ladakh army corps, Lt General Arjun Ray, had said that Air Marshal Bhatia had strayed into Pakistani airspace.

The spat was further complicated today after Pakistani spokesman Brigadier Rashid Quereshi said in Islamabad that an IAF plane had crossed the Line of Control and was fired at by the Pakistani air defence artillery on Sunday.

The statement was later amended to say that the IAF plane, an An-32, had strayed into Pakistani airspace on January 19. Indian army air defence artillery, the Pakistani spokesman alleged, also fired at the aircraft when it was flying back into Indian airspace.

Air Marshal Bhatia was flying the plane on a maiden flight to Kargil where an airstrip has been recently completed. The aircraft was hit but landed in Leh. Air force sources said the aircraft has “recovered” and has been flown to its parent base. The An-32 was based in Chandigarh.

Army chief General S. Padmanabhan had personally visited the Kargil sector the day after the incident was reported. The IAF’s own inquiry by Air Marshal Sekhon is expected to be completed shortly.

Defence ministry sources said the aircraft was not hit by fire from the Indian army. This can mean one of two things: First, that Air Marshal Bhatia had violated Pakistani airspace or, second, that Pakistani anti-aircraft guns had targeted an Indian plane in Indian airspace from across the LoC.

Defence sources said the landing at Kargil can be tricky. As the crow flies, Kargil is about 3.5 km from the LoC. An error of judgement in the tense LoC could easily escalate into a conflict. One report has actually suggested that Air Marshal Bhatia was in Pakistani airspace for 11 minutes.

“It is regrettable that speculative and inaccurate reports on various aspects of the incidence are appearing in the media while the matter is still under investigation,” the air force said in a statement.

PTI from Islamabad adds that Quereshi said: “What we need to point out is that when forces are close to borders, there are chances of mishap.”

   

 
 
ATAL COUNTS ON TRIDENT 
 
 
FROM RADHIKA RAMASESHAN
 
New Delhi, March 11: 
The BJP’s allies have refused to be swayed by the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas’ “tactical” shift from puja to pillar donation, smelling in it a ploy to legitimise the temple spearhead’s claim on the acquired land.

Sources said the Vajpayee government is banking on three factors — the differences between the Nyas and the VHP, the RSS’ “persuasive” powers and the softening of the BJP’s hardliners — to tide over the worst crisis it has faced so far.

The government is again pinning hopes on the RSS to prevail on the VHP and the Nyas to defer the programme by three to four months to prevent a confrontation.

It is learnt that defence minister and NDA convener, George Fernandes, and BJP president K. Jana Krishnamurthi were in touch with RSS functionaries Madan Das Devi and Mohanrao Bhagwat, asking them to “persuade” the VHP.

The RSS’ general council is meeting in Bangalore from March 15, the day the VHP has threatened to hold the puja. The Sangh’s national executive will meet a day before to finalise the agenda. The RSS had earlier tried in vain to broker a truce.

Another ray of hope for the government is the subtle backtracking of hardliners within the BJP, which robs the VHP of a valuable source of strength and support. These hardliners —mainly Uttar Pradesh MPs — had sent a signed letter to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, protesting against the restrictions in Ayodhya.

The railway minister’s assertion in the House today that train services to Ayodhya would be resumed only after a written advice by the home ministry has troubled the MPs. But Swami Chinmayanand, the prime mover behind the protest, told The Telegraph: “The government has no choice but (to) fulfil its constitutional and legal responsibilities.”

The changed stand, said party sources, was prompted by the realisation that if they carried things too far and made it seem as though Vajpayee was “isolated”, he would have no choice but to put in his papers. “That would be disastrous because it would lead to either chaos or another election,” said a senior BJP leader.

It was also said that home minister L.K. Advani had distanced himself from the hardliners.

Official sources said that in its submission to the court, the government was expected to refer to today’s pillar puja to buttress its contention that nothing untoward would happen if a symbolic ceremony was allowed on a small portion of the “undisputed” land. The government feels that the one-day programme would not alter the status quo ante in any way.

However, NDA sources described the Nyas’ new proposal as a “clever ploy” to hoodwink them and the Opposition.

“Accepting the pillars would amount to official endorsement of encroachment on the acquired land. It is not the receiver’s business to accept bricks but to see that the property is not encroached upon. We would advise the Centre not to fall into the Nyas’ latest trap,” said an NDA leader.

   

 
 
PMO KEEPS BOARD LINE ALIVE 
 
 
FROM RASHEED KIDWAI
 
New Delhi, March 11: 
The All-India Muslim Personal Law Board and the government have kept a channel of communication open to explore the possibility of reviving the Ayodhya negotiations.

Officials of the Prime Minister’s Office sounded a “responsive” board yesterday soon after the formal rejection of the Kanchi Sankaracharya’s formula.

Efforts are also on to bring the Sankaracharya back into the picture. The seer had distanced himself from the issue yesterday, but the PMO is hopeful of persuading him to pick up the thread. If the PMO succeeds, the Sankaracharya may return to Delhi on Thursday.

Members of the minority board struck a positive note but said much would depend on the Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday. If the court issues an appeal to leaders of both the communities to revive efforts for a consensus, it would make it easier for the board to return to the talks table.

The board is still in favour of an out-of-court settlement based on the spirit of “justice” and “give and take”. “We are still open to the idea of negotiations. We have two conditions. There should be a sincere effort to resolve the issue, instead of politically-motivated moves, and there should be a conducive atmosphere to carry out such a settlement,” board spokesman Qasim Rasool Illyas told The Telegraph.

Illyas, editor of the prestigious Urdu journal Afkar-e-Milli, said it was up to the Centre to take the initiative of resuming the dialogue to resolve the Ayodhya tangle. “We are an aggrieved party. We have been getting feelers who are always keen to know what we are offering. The question that I want to ask (is): What are we (Muslims) going to get from the government and the VHP?” Illyas asked.

How could an inter-faith dialogue succeed when one side was making all sorts of threats and setting deadlines, he asked.

Another key member of the board, Manzoor Alam, too, sounded optimistic about the prospects of new talks, but said the ball was now in the government’s court. “It is for the government to decide how it intends to resolve the issue. The board has never said no to a dialogue,” said Alam, who runs the Centre for Objective Studies.

He said the problem before the Muslim leadership was that there were too many different voices, making it difficult to maintain focus on key issues.

Some board members said in private the talks could have made more headway if the Sankaracharya had not gone public with the formula. The proposal received a further setback when the Vishwa Hindu Parishad leadership started speaking in different voices.

Moreover, the papers that the Sankaracharya had promised did not reach the board till Saturday afternoon. There was no revised temple plan or map of the disputed and acquired areas.

Some board members were so upset with the government that they wanted to call off the Sunday meeting. But they were eventually persuaded not to take such an extreme step.

Another school of thought said the board meeting had become redundant after the Prime Minister’s statement that the government would go by the court’s verdict on the bhoomi pujan.

But office-bearers said the board went ahead with the Sunday meeting as it did not want to be seen as rigid or lukewarm to the idea of negotiations.

A petition was filed in the Supreme Court today by Anis Suhrawardy, president of a lawyers’ forum, seeking the constitution of a body of eminent people that would oversee simultaneous construction of a temple at the disputed site and a mosque in and around the disputed area in Ayodhya.

Suhrawardy said the Ayodhya issue was affecting the secular fabric of the country and, hence, it was necessary to move the court to restrain the government from subjecting itself to the pressure of either the VHP or the Babri Masjid Action Committee.

He said a committee represented by both the communities should undertake the construction of both the Ram mandir and a masjid in Ayodhya. The petition is likely to be taken up for hearing on March 13 along with another seeking army deployment around the disputed site.

The board has decided to move the Supreme Court on March 13 when Mohd. Aslam Bhure’s petition seeking army deployment would come up for hearing. “We had decided to move the court much before (the) talks began. Our legal department is ready and we move ahead on March 13,” said a source in the board.

   

 
 
CALCUTTA WEATHER 
 
 
 
 

Temperature

Maximum: 35.5°C (+2)
Minimum: 25.3°C (+5)

Rainfall

0.6 mm

Relative humidity

Max: 92%
Min: 47%

Sunrise: 5.53 am

Sunset: 5.40 pm

Today

Partly cloudy sky. Possibility of light rain, accompanied by thunder, in some areas.
   
 

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