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Modi halts temple demolition

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By OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
  • Published 22.11.08
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Ahmedabad, Nov. 21: Narendra Modi returned from abroad this morning and suspended his temple-razing drive after a meeting with the man who had dubbed him “Aurangzeb” yesterday.

The chief minister ordered the halt minutes after Vishwa Hindu Parishad president Ashok Singhal called on him to describe how much the demolitions had hurt his outfit, and Hindus in general.

“The drive has been temporarily suspended,” an official at the chief minister’s office confirmed.

Singhal yesterday compared Modi to Aurangzeb, a Sangh parivar object of hate, and Mahmud of Ghazni, an 11th-century invader alleged to have sacked many temples in Gujarat.

Theories abound on why Modi has halted the much-reviled drive, aimed at nearly 350 illegally built temples in Gandhinagar. Many including the Congress saw the demolitions as Modi’s revenge on a bitterly critical Parishad; and its suspension after the Singhal meeting is being seen as significant though details of the talks aren’t clear.

Some others, who sniffed a Modi bid to emerge a “secular and national” alternative to L.K. Advani, think the chief minister perhaps considers he has achieved his aim and is wary of pushing his bemused Hindu vote base too far.

Some 265 temples, including 15 “big ones”, have already been pulled down, an official said. One temple has been razed in Surat and surveys are on in several districts to identify those illegally built.

“The drive has been suspended but the message has already gone round,” said former BJP lawmaker Sunil Oza, now in the breakaway Mahagujarat Janata Party.

Some others believe the halt is a fallout of the Gandhinagar civil court yesterday staying the demolition of two popular temples — the Mahakali Mandir in Sector 5 and the Shiv temple in Sector 4. The court has ordered regularisation of these two temples that were to be razed today.

M.R. Patel of the Mandir Bachao Samiti, formed by Gandhinagar residents and temple trusts after the demolitions began last week, is thanking the court and not Modi. But it isn’t clear why a stay relating to just two shrines — the court rejected petitions from several other temple trusts — should stop the entire drive.

An official said the administration would move a higher court against the stay. Modi already has a high court order to demolish illegal buildings, but it does not mention any specific structures.

All illegal shrines on roads and other public places have been flattened and only 82 more, erected on government land in residential areas, are left. They will be pulled down too, said a collectorate official.

Sai Baba shrines and other temples have mushroomed across Gandhinagar since the BJP came to power in the state in 1995.Puzzled text messages are flying across Ahmedabad, trying to figure out the chief minister’s apparent transformation from Hindutva’s poster boy to temple buster.

But Modi, widely blamed for the 2002 carnage of Muslims, has already reinvented himself as a champion of development. He today returned from a four-day tour of Uganda and Kenya, where he had led a business delegation.