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Report ready, temple claims fly faster

Ayodhya, April 27: With the Archaeological Survey of India finalising its mid-term excavation report to be submitted to Allahabad High Court tomorrow, the votaries of temple and mosque are already squabbling to lay claim to the evidence and bolster their positions.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Nirmohi Akhara claim the excavation, so far, has revealed the existence of a temple where the Babri Masjid once stood. They now want the excavation extended beyond May 17 — the new deadline the high court’s Lucknow bench fixed on April 8.

“We would like the excavations to be continued further till the ASI reaches a definite conclusion, one way or the other,” counsel for the Akhara R.L. Verma said.

Uttar Pradesh BJP chief Vinay Katiyar, too, has been leading temple supporters in claiming that excavated items such as lotus-feet imprints and figurine heads of bull, snake and Hindu deities beneath the 40x60 square feet disputed site provide “evidence of the temple”.

Observers watching the Ayodhya developments, however, have scoffed at the claim. “It’s premature and presumptive to say the least,” said an archaeologist who is a nominee of one of the Muslim litigants.

“We are hardly halfway through and no inference can be derived,” an ASI official said. “We’ll be lucky to reach a conclusion even after we have finished.”’

The survey recovered two dozen artefacts from the 12 trenches it worked in today. The digging threw up a couple of broken terracotta pieces, some glazed tiles, a silver pendant with an Urdu inscription and a silver coin from 1840 with Queen Victoria’s image.

Last week, moulded bricks, iron disc lamps and nails, figurines and fragments of green glazed tiles were found and sealed.

Muslim litigants, led by the Central Sunni Waqf Board, had zeroed in on the green glazed tiles as evidence that a Muslim habitation existed at the site even before the mosque was built.

A mid-term report by some archaeologists other than those engaged in the excavation appeared to lend the Waqf board’s view some credence. “More than a month-long excavation by the ASI has, so far, not revealed remains of any temple.”

“In the upper and middle layers, the glazed ware were so pervasive that at least in this part of the site of the Babri Masjid, Muslim inhabitation must have preceded the construction of the mosque by two or three centuries; no temple underlies the mosque here,” the report said.

Indian History Congress joint secretary R.C. Thakran, directorate of archaeology and museums deputy director Amal Ray, Punjab University’s Supriya Verma and Aligarh Muslim University’s P.C. Pant and Nikhat Ara had prepared the report.

ASI and government officials, however, have been tightlipped while claims and counter-claims have been flying since last week after the survey started digging faster and nearer to the makeshift Ram Lala shrine.

The survey has, so far, dug 36 trenches. Today, 126 workers were engaged, 35 of them Muslims, in keeping with the court’s directive of April 10.

The independent archaeologists’ group, along with the Aligarh Historians’ Society, has also questioned the survey’s methods on “professional grounds”.

“The aim of the ASI team from the beginning seems to have been simply to look for any find that can be remotely construed as part of the remains of a temple and to ignore the negative evidence,” their report said. They fear the ASI’s final report may give the Sangh more ammunition for its plans.

With the two-day meeting of a high-power committee for temple construction beginning in Ayodhya on April 29, VHP leader Ashok Singhal today raised the tempo.

“Now that the excavations have vindicated our stand, Rambhakts will not allow their lord to remain under the tent for long,” he said.

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