The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mandir-masjid bomb ticks on Digvijay turf

Bhopal, Jan. 23: Ever wondered how much damage a can of cheap wall paint could do' Immense, if one goes by events in Dhar, a tribal-dominated district in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh.

A raging battle for supremacy between Hindus and Muslims, which has all the trappings of another Ayodhya in the making, seems set to snowball on February 6 and 7, when the two communities would be offering prayers inside the 11th century Bhojshala complex. Hindus will be celebrating Basant Panchami while Muslims will come for Friday prayers.

The situation has exacerbated after local Muslims painted green the passage leading to the complex, which houses a mosque and a temple. Hindus see the seemingly insignificant act as attempts by Muslims to strengthen their claim.

The complex — built as a university by the legendary Raja Bhoj — has become the latest bone of contention between people like Praveen Togadia, Sadhvi Rithambara and other Hindutva protagonists and an equally belligerent Digvijay Singh. The chief minister is determined to “teach them a lesson”.

The Bhojshala housed what experts say is one of the finest examples of Hindu sculpture of the period — an idol of Saraswati. The idol is now part of the collection of a museum in London.

Legend has it that Raja Bhoj’s successors, some of whom later converted to Islam, built the mosque. Even a few years back, there was no tension between the two communities as the Archaeological Survey of India, which looks after the complex, granted both Muslims and Hindus access on Tuesdays and Fridays, respectively.

It was only in the last few years that both communities started eyeing the complex. One party filed a litigation in the district court but it was quietly withdrawn.

VHP leader Togadia is planning to arrive at Dhar on February 5 to lead a procession that would try to “liberate” the Bhojshala. Local Muslims are in no mood to relent.

The local Hindu Jagran Samiti is taking out a daily rath yatra in adjoining districts to mobilise support for February 6. Inflammatory posters and slogans have further vitiated the atmosphere.

Old-timers recall that there was no dispute over Bhojshala till the early 1990s, when the VHP sought to expand its base among the tribals around Dhar and Jhabua. One element of the strategy was hostility towards Christian missionaries.

VHP activists also began efforts to instal forcibly a Hanuman idol at the Bhojshala. Local citizens mediated a truce after an effort by the VHP to storm the Bhojshala in 1994, but a second assault on April 24, 1995, led to riots in Dhar, Indore, Ujjain and Dewas.

This time, the presence of Togadia and other Hindutva leaders is giving sleepless nights to the local administration, which is keeping a round-the-clock vigil, though Digvijay is confident that February 6 would pass off peacefully.

“I would deal with the miscreants with an iron hand,” the chief minister said, asked how he intends to keep the situation under check. “Let nobody be under any illusion that he/she would get away easily. When I say I would not allow any rioting, I mean it and the world would see it on February 6.”

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