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Deaths stoke Bhojshala embers

Bhopal, Feb. 20: On a day chief minister Digvijay Singh toyed with relaxing Bhojshala entry norms, the communal virus sunk its claws deeper into tribal-dominated Jhabua, ending in the deaths of three persons.

The Hindu Jagran Manch-sponsored bandh over the Bhojshala dispute — backed by the BJP — was otherwise peaceful. Violence erupted only after five in the evening, with two persons being killed in a communal clash at Charwat and another dying in police firing in Amjara.

One Bant Singh died when police fired on a belligerent mob that clashed with them in Amjara after performing the last rites of a pujari. The police claimed the pujari had been killed by dacoits, but local Hindu Jagran Manch activists alleged it was an act of communal retaliation.

Two persons belonging to the minority community were killed at Chadwara village as a sequel to an earlier dispute over the Bhojshala shrine, police sources said. V.M. Kanwar, inspector general, Indore range, said the day was otherwise incident free.

The killings put a question mark on Digvijay’s proposal to relax Bhojshala entry rules based on local recommendations. There were fears that the move might trigger more tension than dissipate it.

Yesterday, several Hindu, Muslim and other religious organisations had agreed to lift restrictions on the majority community in Bhojshala and allow darshan on condition that no puja is performed or slogans raised on the premises. Muslims consider the disputed 11th century monument to be a mosque but Hindus believe it is a Bhojshala-cum-Saraswati temple.

The saffron brigade led by the Hindu Jagran Manch had, however, boycotted yesterday’s peace meet and instead called a bandh in five districts of Malwa.

Today, they laid down that nothing less than permission to perform puja on the premises would satisfy them.

Late last evening, the beleaguered chief minister huddled with his ministerial colleagues over the smouldering Dhar situation. A local Congress MLA, Karan Singh Panwar, suggested that the restrictions at Bhojshala be eased and devotees allowed in for darshan. He pointed out that till 1994 both Hindus and Muslims had easy access to the shrine — which is under the Archaeological Survey of India — and the arrangement had worked well.

However, Digvijay today said in the Assembly that the sticking point was performing puja on the premises. Quoting an affidavit presented in Indore High Court in June 1998 — when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was Prime Minister — questioning the authenticity of the Bhojshala, he said the restrictions imposed by the ASI had to be respected.

Any decision to change the norms had to be taken by the Centre, Digvijay said, prompting a walkout by the BJP before he could finish his sentence.

Some ministers in the Digvijay regime want the chief minister to play tough with the saffron brigade, including placing a ban on both the Hindu Jagran Manch and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. They claim the duo will not be satisfied with permission for darshan in Bhojshala but would certainly instal a statue and stoke trouble.

This, in turn, would vitiate the communal atmosphere and prove costly for the Congress in an election year.

The tribal belt in Malwa has traditionally been a Congress stronghold but the BJP has been making inroads of late. Cities like Indore, too, have a strong BJP presence.

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