The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ban threat on Bhojshala brigade

Bhopal, Feb. 19: As the rest of India was glued to the television, watching India cruise to victory against Zimbabwe, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijay Singh was trying to figure out how to prevent the state from going the Gujarat way after the Bhojshala dispute led to violence, firing and curfew.

Digvijay is not ruling out banning the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and other saffron outfits to arrest the spread of violence beyond Dhar and its neighbourhood.

Riot police had to resort to several rounds of firing in three places today to disperse belligerent Hindu Jagran Manch activists, who made another bid to storm and “liberate” the 11th century Bhojshala. Four persons were grievously wounded in the firing and several policemen suffered injuries.

“If they (the VHP and the Jagran Manch) do not mend their ways, I will give a thought to banning their activities in the state,” the chief minister warned.

But sources close to Digvijay dubbed his remarks as a “threat” to the saffron outfits rather than a policy statement. “The experience of banning extremist outfits has not proved beneficial in many parts of the country,” the sources added. Digvijay reiterated that he would not let the state go the Gujarat way.

“I may remain chief minister or not, but I will not tolerate communal riots in my state,” said Digvijay, who is eyeing a third term in office after the Assembly polls later this year.

The Jagran Manch, an umbrella organisation of the saffron brigade, is in no mood to relent, promising more such attempts till the Bhojshala, which Muslims consider to be a mosque, is “liberated”.

The echo of Dhar was heard in the Assembly, which failed to transact any business after noon.

The Jagran Manch has called for a bandh in Indore, Jhabua, Dewas, Dhar and Barwani districts tomorrow. These five districts make up an influential tribal belt bordering Gujarat.

The BJP, which had so far kept out of the Dhar agitation, is now coming forward to back the Jagran Manch. Uma Bharti, Venkaiah Naidu and the local BJP unit expressed their support for opening of locks.

Digvijay iterated his government’s stand that it was up to the Centre and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to lift the restrictions that permitted Muslims to pray every Friday and Hindus to visit once a year on Basant Panchmi.

“It was the Centre under Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Murli Manohar Joshi, Sumitra Mahajan and Uma Bharti that had imposed restrictions and now it is for them to ease restrictions if they wish to,” Digvijay said, pointing to an affidavit submitted in Indore High Court that questioned the veracity of Bhojshala.

Curfew was imposed in Dhar since morning after a bandh called by the Jagran Manch turned violent, leaving many policemen injured. The rioters spread to smaller villages around Dhar, raising provocative slogans and forcing minority community members to close establishments.

Inspector-general of police (Indore range) V.M. Kanwar said Rapid Action Force has been deployed. Traffic was disrupted and shops remained closed in Dhar in response to the bandh jointly called by the Jagran Manch, the VHP, the BJP and allied organisations, he said.

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