The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Seer sees hope in talks to break temple deadlock

Kancheepuram (Tamil Nadu), June 15: Back from his trip to northern India where he appeared to have tried to give a push to a negotiated settlement of the Ayodhya dispute, the Sankaracharya of Kanchi reaffirmed faith in the process he has started with Muslim leaders.

“If all the Muslim leaders concerned and myself talk it out, we can resolve the issue even within the next two to three months,” Swami Jayendra Saraswati said.

It is a time frame the Sankaracharya has mentioned for the second time in the past few days in an indication that his initiative may have progressed beyond what is commonly thought.

On his visit to Delhi, the seer met top political leaders — Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, deputy Prime Minister .K. Advani, defence minister George Fernandes and Congress president Sonia Gandhi. He said leaders in the government and outside “want the Ayodhya issue resolved amicably and are doubly keen to ensure communal harmony and unity”.

He also met Muslim leaders. The Sankaracharya played down the disclosure by Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the Shahi Imam of the Jama Masjid in Delhi, that the seer had approached him for “secret” talks during his recent visit.

“I had sent word to everyone (Muslim religious leaders) and the Shahi Imam was also invited for talks,” the Sankaracharya told The Telegraph.

“Of course, such talks are not held in the open,” he said in reference to the word “secret”.

The Imam has also said that the question now is not about construction of a temple or a mosque at Ayodhya but about the ownership of the land, which has to be decided by the Supreme Court.

The Sankaracharya did not see the process of negotiation being contradictory to the proceedings in court. He was careful to avoid getting into any controversy with the Imam and would only reiterate that there was “enormous scope” for resolving the dispute through talks.

He cited instances of several civil cases that had gone the legal way but then the contestants had withdrawn in favour of an out-of-court settlement.

Asking politicians to stay away — an appeal also made by the Prime Minister — the seer said the government could at best “assist” in the talks. The type of assistance the government could give would emerge “only when we begin to talk”, he said.

“The dispute is not a political issue. It is a religious issue and hence can be sorted out among the religious leaders of both sides,” the Sankaracharya added.

Apart from his unquestioned standing as a religious leader, the seer is better suited than possibly anyone else to spearhead the effort for a negotiated settlement also because of the condition here — adjacent to the mutt premises stands an old mosque.

It has just been given a fresh coat of paint in anticipation of President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s visit on June 19. He may offer prayers there.

Kalam will first visit the Sri Chandrasekharendra Saraswati Vishwa Maha Vidyalaya (a deemed university) at Enathur near here to inaugurate the first master’s course in power and communication systems. After that, he will visit the mutt.

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