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Since 1st March, 1999
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Gherao spoils Buddha Jayanti
- Protest in presence of Governor

Gaya, May 9: Governor R.L. Bhatia’s gherao by dozens of Maharashtrian neo-Buddhists disrupted today’s Buddha Jayanti celebrations — the sacred occasion coinciding with the birth, enlightenment and salvation (death) of Buddha, the wandering prince who graduated to divinity more than 2500 years back in Bodh Gaya.

As soon as the governor was getting ready to leave the Buddha shrine, he was mobbed by several dozen neo-Buddhists, most of them women. The shouting brigade was led by Ambedkarite and former Maharashtra minister Sulekha Kamhare.

B.R. Ambedkar, the father of the Constitution, embraced Buddhism along with his followers and the neo-Buddhists prefer calling themselves Ambedkarites.

The protesters gheraoed the governor and raised slogans demanding total Buddhist control over the Mahabodhi Temple, the most sacred Buddhist shrine symbolising Buddha’s enlightenment. The security personnel had a tough time escorting the governor, who was here to participate in the 2,553 rd Buddha Jayanti celebrations organised by the temple management near the seat of enlightenment.

The shrine is now managed by a Hindu-dominated nine-member board — only four are Buddhists — with the post of the chairman statutorily reserved for the Gaya district magistrate provided he is a Hindu. In case the district magistrate isn’t a Hindu, the special temple act gives the state government the power to nominate a Hindu to head the board. The Buddhists are demanding repeal of the 1949 act that gives them (Buddhists) minority participation in shrine management.

A visibly embarrassed and angry governor rebuked the protesters reminding them of the Buddha’s teachings of tolerance and inclusiveness. Such a show negated everything that Buddha stood for, he said. If anybody had any grievances, it could be resolved at a proper forum, said Bhatia. Mobocracy had no place in a civilised society, he was heard murmuring.

Condemning the incident, Arvind Singh, a member of the Bodh Gaya management committee nominated by the government on a Hindu quota, said the protesters took advantage of inadequate security as most of the police personnel were deployed for poll duty.

Earlier, speaking as the chief guest at the celebrations, the governor said that Buddhism had universal appeal and the religion had become more relevant in the strife-torn modern world. Buddha’s concern for the suffering masses must be appreciated and followed, Bhatia said.

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