Pillar venue keeps Centre uneasy
Singhal softens on verdict-eve
To Ayodhya, but not on S-6
Bengal alert to foil pujas
Sadhu vs sadhu in temple tangle
Fingers crossed over hardliners
VP sees Bosnia parallel
Calcutta Weather

New Delhi, March 12: 

Atal takes responsibility for law and order

As the VHP and the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas gave conflicting signals on what they would do on March 15, the Centre spent much of the day preparing for tomorrow�s hearing in the Supreme Court.

The Prime Minister, who began his day by giving a clean chit to the Gujarat government on the way it handled the riots, wrapped it up by sending a message of assurance to the minority community.

Atal Bihari Vajpayee told a delegation of Muslim leaders from Uttar Pradesh in the evening that he did not represent a particular community but the entire nation. He also made it clear that it was his responsibility to maintain law and order and would abide by the court�s directive on the proposed puja.

However, the government is worried over the VHP�s insistence on handing over the pillars to the government�s receiver inside the makeshift temple in the presence of Ram Lalla.

The anxiety found formal expression at night with the Uttar Pradesh government declaring that the stones would not be allowed to be taken out of the VHP workshop, 3 km from the disputed site, �under any circumstances�.

The Uttar Pradesh principal secretary (home), Naresh Dayal, said in Lucknow prohibitory orders now in force prevent the movement of the stones. �If the VHP wanted to hand them over to the commissioner of Faizabad, it could do so at the workshop itself,� he added.

But officials in Delhi remained sceptical. �On the face of it, we cannot prevent anyone from entering the temple as devotees. But if there is a large gathering, we fear there may be trouble. We can�t regulate the number of devotees because they will say if you allow 20, why shouldn�t another 50 be permitted?� said an official.

�They (the VHP supporters) are unpredictable people. They say one thing one day and another the next day,� he stressed.

RSS sources said the VHP�s change in strategy was essentially intended at keeping an alternative alive in case the court gave an �unfavourable� verdict. If the court ruled that no puja would be allowed, the �shila daan� would be a good enough �face-saver�.

VHP leader Vinay Katiyar said tonight the organisation might opt for a puja on the premises of one of the 10 temples on the acquired land, instead of its earlier plan to carry it out near the disputed site.

Reports that several batches of kar sevaks have started for Ayodhya from various parts of the country are also keeping the government on its toes. Trains are not being allowed into Ayodhya and Faizabad, which have been sealed, but the government is worried about the possibility of �loose cannons� sneaking in and igniting a showdown.

At a Shivratri rally in Ayodhya tonight, attended by VHP leader Ashok Singhal, some kar sevaks surfaced and raised slogans seeking removal of the restrictions on temple construction.

Vajpayee met home minister L.K. Advani, law minister Arun Jaitley and attorney-general Soli Sorabjee in the evening to formulate the government�s response to the petition seeking army deployment to maintain status quo in Ayodhya.

Official sources said it was decided that the government would not make any suo motu submission but restrict itself to answering the court�s queries. But the government will also emphasise that �utmost priority� would be given to maintaining law and order and nothing would be left to chance.

At a morning function organised by the Arya Samaj, Vajpayee said the country was going through a �transitional� phase but it was not as if everything had come to an end. �Sometimes people think that everything is going topsy-turvy and they feel everything is coming to an end. But there is no reason to believe that as we have faced such a situation in the past, too,� he said, without referring to the Ayodhya crisis.

Vajpayee said the BJP and its allies were �punished� in the Assembly elections because of their �shortcomings�.


Ayodhya, March 12: 
The VHP today fell in line with the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas� scaled-back formula to donate pillars but expressed the hope that the Supreme Court would rule in its favour tomorrow and allow a symbolic puja at the undisputed site on Friday.

�Tomorrow, there will certainly be some way out. Our legal advisers have assured us that,� VHP working president Ashok Singhal said.

The VHP leader said he hoped the impasse would be resolved and all senior members of his outfit and the sadhus will be present in Ayodhya to carry out the Friday puja.

�Otherwise,� he said, �we will take pillars meant for the Ram temple and donate it there (Ramjanmabhoomi). After all, when all sorts of offerings are made to Lord Ram, why can�t we donate pillars?�

Singhal lashed out at a reporter who asked if it was a climbdown. �Don�t you know that when something is donated symbolically, it is preceded by a puja? There is no difference between donation of shilas (carved stones) and shila pujan. We have not compromised. It is not a softened stand of any kind.�

The VHP leader said if the court verdict was unfavourable, the sadhus would convene an emergency meeting on March 14. He said his colleagues and the sadhus were ready to court arrest if the government stopped them from doing even that.

But he warned that in a country which worshipped Ram and revered Ram bhakts, it would not be in the best interests of the government.

Singhal said the VHP and the Nyas did not want any confrontation with the government, particularly when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whom he described as a �friend�, was under �severe pressure�. �I have promised the government and even told Uttar Pradesh Governor Vishnukant Shastri that whatever programme we conduct, it would be peaceful, extremely peaceful.�

He said Hindus and Muslims can live together in an atmosphere of �love and brotherhood, if politicians allow it�.

Singhal spared the politicians but came down heavily on the bureaucracy. �There is immense pressure on Vajpayee. There is pressure from the Opposition, from NDA partners and the Muslim Personal Law Board. But the most vicious one has come from the bureaucracy,� he said. The �bureaucrats are working as political agents�.

�I.D. Swami (the junior home minister) said he would remove the curbs in Ayodhya. But the bureaucracy did something else. It has become a Hitler raj,� he said.

Nyas chairman Ramchandra Das Paramhans said the sadhus had decided to �donate pillars at the feet of Lord Ram� because the deity had appeared in a dream and asked for the offering. �Don�t see any politics in this act of faith,� he said.

But the sadhu heaped scorn on Vajpayee. �Till date, he has not clicked any photograph with me alongside him. But he is merrily holding the hands of Muslim leaders and getting filmed,� Paramhans said.


Ahmedabad, March 12: 
When the Sabarmati Express chugged out at 8.30 tonight, Ayodhya veteran Haresh Bhatt and a thousand handpicked kar sevaks were supposed to be on S-7 and S-6 � the same coach that was torched in Godhra.

But both compartments were virtually empty.

A huge contingent of policemen and Central forces had ensured that Bhatt and his army kept away from the station. However, late tonight the fiery Bajrang Dal vice-president told The Telegraph over phone that he was on his way to Ayodhya and would reach there at any cost.

Bhatt has the option of boarding the train from Dahod, 160 km from Ahmedabad, but police said all railway stations and trains were being monitored. Sabarmati was on its first journey after the Godhra carnage.

Sources said Bhatt might not take a train at all and was likely to travel with some supporters in private vehicles. A hardliner said others would scatter into smaller groups and travel separately.

At noon, Bhatt had announced that come what may, he and his troops would descend on the temple town well in time for Friday�s puja. �If we can�t catch the train tonight, there are other ways to go. But we will be in Ayodhya by March 15,� he said.

�No court can stop us performing the puja. If it does, it will be injustice against the Hindus. This is our answer to those who want to frighten us,� the 1971 war veteran, whose skills in the Indian Air Force had won him four medals, added.

Bhatt will be scoring a double if he manages to play out his threat. He had entered Ayodhya in 1990 when all roads leading to it had been cordoned off and hundreds of Bajrang activists picked up en route.

Faizabad, the usual destination of the Sabarmati, has been sealed. Today�s train will terminate in Lucknow � three hours from Ayodhya by road � on Thursday.

Bhatt conceded that his job would be that much more difficult this time. That is why he had meticulously picked 1,000 �well-trained� kar sevaks for the �tough mission�. Women and children have been left out.

�Most of them have been to Ayodhya in 1990, in 1992 and participated in kar seva,� he said. And how does he plan to pull it off this time? �We will reach Ayodhya the way we reached there in 1990,� he said.

Though Ayodhya was barricaded in 1990, Bhatt � then leading 40 kar sevaks from Gujarat, 20 of whom were held in Madhya Pradesh � snuck in. That was after walking 470 km in seven days from Riva in Madhya Pradesh and crossing four rivers.

While all states have been asked to send 500 kar sevaks, Gujarat has been allowed to send twice the number. �Everybody thought kar sevaks would be frightened by the Godhra incident. On the contrary, we had to persuade so many kar sevaks not to come,� Bhatt said.

According to the Sangh�s tentative plan, four more batches of 500 volunteers each will leave for Ayodhya on March 17, 21, 23 and 27. Almost 10,000 volunteers will mass in Ayodhya by the month-end.


Calcutta, March 12: 
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee today asked district magistrates and sabhadhipatis to deal firmly with attempts to organise Ram shila pujas in public.

The decision comes in the wake of Sunday�s incident at Taldi in which one person was killed in police firing near a yagna site.

Bhattacharjee also asked the officials to mobilise public opinion against the VHP. �You have to ensure peace everywhere at any cost so that there is no rerun of the Taldi incident,� he said.

Police swung into action today, checking block bookings of railway seats to prevent kar sevaks from reaching Ayodhya.


Ayodhya, March 12: 
Five of the seven akhadas in this temple town are not with the VHP or Ramchandra Das Paramhans, head of the prominent Digambar akhada.

Two of them � Nirmohi and Nirvani � have openly denounced the VHP�s March 15 puja, saying they did not want �blood to stain our hands�.

Unko khoon se ranga hua mandir chahiye. Hume dhoodh se dhoola hua mandir chahiye (The VHP wants a temple stained with blood. We want a temple that is bathed in milk),� said Gyan Das, head of the Nirvani group.

Gyan Das quoted from the scriptures to point out that the 100-day Purna Ahuti Yagna, started by the VHP to lend spiritual strength to the temple movement, ideally could not last longer than a day.

Yeh Ram ka yagna nahin, kal ka tandav hai (This is not a prayer to Ram but the dance of death),� he said. The ahuti was that of the hundreds who died in the Godhra train massacre and the communal carnage that followed in Gujarat, the mahant added.

Sitting in his ashram flanked by muscular bhakts who seemed to have just come out of the wrestling arena, Gyan Das criticised the decision to let VHP working president Ashok Singhal enter Ayodhya.

�How has this man, who is responsible for fanning hatred and bloodshed in the entire country, been allowed to step into Ayodhya?� he asked. �Singhal is the head of the country�s Taliban and, like in Afghanistan, this group here will destroy the nation.�

Jagannath Das, head of the Nirmohi akhada, said it was a blunder to have involved the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board in the discussions. The original plaintiff in the case � which goes back to 1886 � on the ownership of the Ramjanmabhoomi land, the Nirmohis say the fight is between the government and the akhada.

�The VHP and Ramchandra Paramhans have hijacked the real issue for political and financial benefits,� Ram Das, another member of the Nirmohi group, said. �But now we will not let it happen.�

The two akhadas feel that there can be no compromise if the government continues to involve wrong �persons and groups�. They even viewed Kanchi Sankaracharya Jayendra Saraswathi�s mediation with suspicion.

Both groups criticised the VHP and the Digambar akhada for playing with religious feelings of Hindus. �In the absence of anything concrete happening, let the court decide the fate of this bitter battle for Ram,� Gyan Das said.

The head of Nirvani akhada said he would honour the court�s verdict even if it went in favour of the minority community.

�If the court really goes into the history� of the dispute, the land is �bound to be given back to us�, he added. �(But) there should be no more bloodshed or acrimony. The temple can be built somewhere else.�

Residents of Faizabad and Ayodhya are also unhappy with the VHP. �The VHP is the main villain,� said Abhishek Sharma, who runs a grocery shop in Ayodhya.

�Where has their agitation taken us?� Sharma�s business has suffered losses and he is worried that if the barricading of Ayodhya continues he might have to take out his daughter from the �English medium� school she goes to.

Elsewhere, in Ram Sanehi Ghat, Rajinder comes with an empty bus � yet again. As a lone CRPF jawan hops in, Rajinder, who has been driving the bus for the last five years, lamented the dwindling flow of income.

Saab kuch khatam hai, khali hai. Ghar me paise nahin hai,� he rued. Rajinder has had no passengers since February 28, when the administration diverted transport services to stop the inflow of kar sevaks.

Slightly ahead, on the highway � the 128-km-long stretch of road that separates Lucknow and Ayodhya � a line of trucks carrying scooters from a factory in Pune lie immobile. They have been stranded for the last 10 days.

�We have problems getting food nowadays,� said Paramjit Singhs, one of the drivers. �We should have been back in Pune after delivery of these vehicles. When will we be allowed to go in?� he asked.


New Delhi, March 12: 
Hours ticking away towards the Friday deadline, Uttar Pradesh Governor Vishnukant Shastri today dashed to the capital for discussions with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and home minister L.K. Advani.

Though Vajpayee has repeatedly stressed that his government would honour the court�s verdict, sources felt this was easier said than done.

They said the government could plead before the Supreme Court, which is hearing the case tomorrow, to allow a symbolic puja, perhaps watered down more to handing over a pillar to a state official if only for the sake of peace. If the verdict goes in the VHP�s favour, it would make things easy for the administration.

Committed to honouring the verdict, Vajpayee might have to take the risk of acting against the VHP, an integral arm of the Sangh parivar, if the two-member bench says no to a puja � symbolic or otherwise.

The Prime Minister, the home minister and senior members of the Cabinet are assessing the risk of taking tough action against the outfit. Shastri has also given his assessment of the situation.

Government sources said the Centre � worried about sharp divisions within the VHP � did not rule out attempts by hardliners like general secretary Pravin Togadia to sabotage the commitment given by senior VHP leaders. The Centre believes that hot-headed elements within the VHP and the Bajrang Dal could spark a confrontation.

For Vajpayee, it is a classic Catch-22 situation. If he does not uphold the court�s dictum, his allies, already critical, could walk out and bring down his government. If he has to take action against the VHP, he runs the risk of being labelled a turncoat.

Shastri, a Sangh parivar veteran, also thinks the way to avoid a showdown is to allow the VHP to go ahead with its puja. But he asserted that the court order on the symbolic bhoomi pujan will be upheld and that all security arrangements have been completed.

�The Supreme Court order will be implemented,� the Governor told reporters after his meeting with Vajpayee and Advani. He said Vajpayee maintained that the court directive should be implemented.

Asked about the proposed puja by the VHP, Shastri retorted: �How can you stop someone from performing worship? Today being Shivratri, people will like to offer prayer. Can you stop them? Ayodhya being a pilgrim centre, pilgrims always come. Can (the) Supreme Court prevent people from worshipping in their houses and temples?�

Shastri said the state administration has taken necessary steps to deal with the situation, but refuted reports that troops have been deployed in Faizabad. The army has only been asked to remain on alert, he said.


New Delhi, March 12: 
Former Prime Minister V.P. Singh today warned that the country is heading towards a Bosnia-type situation and demanded a joint session of Parliament to discuss the agenda set by Sangh parivar hawks.

A joint session would send out a message that politicians across the country are united and determined to thwart the VHP, he said.

Singh slammed home minister L.K. Advani�s bid to play down the Gujarat riots by comparing them with the anti-Sikh riots in Delhi in 1984. The Gujarat riots were similar to the ethnic cleansing which led to international intervention in Bosnia, he said. �What is happening in Bosnia is happening here,� Singh added.

�The Indian nationhood is under attack. The sacrifice of the freedom movement is under threat from those who did not participate in it,� he said. The need of the hour was for the �secular and right-thinking people to organise and isolate the minuscule minority spreading communal poison�.

Singh said fundamentalists are attacking the Constitution and the Supreme Court. �Arundhati Roy was sent to jail for one slogan. Why is the court not taking note of their (VHP hardliners) statements? Are we going to stay a Republic?� he asked.

Singh said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, CPM leader Jyoti Basu, Telugu Desam chief Chandrababu Naidu, Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav and other top leaders should come together to take on religious fundamentalists. He said he had made such a suggestion to Vajpayee but declined to divulge his reaction.

Regretting that a majority of the 80 per cent Hindus was being bulldozed by the VHP, he said meetings of all legislators should be held to send out a message that there was an alternate force in the country.

The former Prime Minister criticised the move to involve �sadhus and babas� in the mediation efforts on Ayodhya. �I had told (former Rajasthan chief minister and BJP leader) Bhairon Singh Sekhawat not to involve them. You won�t be able to control them. How can you control people who don�t listen to their parents?� he said.

Singh said he took up the matter with some �allies� but refused to disclose their names.

�We talk of terrorism as the basis of religious fundamentalism. How can we face the world when we are practising terrorism in Gujarat,� he asked. Referring to the ISI-conspiracy theory behind the Godhra train carnage, Singh said even if the ISI was involved, the reaction of the fundamentalists had only helped their design.

Singh opposed the suggestion of handing over the acquired land in Ayodhya to the VHP or the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas for temple construction. In that case, he said, some land should be given to the Muslims for namaaz.

�Why (should) we be selective in giving government property. We should not get into it. How can you distinguish one religion from another in a secular state?�




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