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Wednesday, February 4, 1998 Published at 15:45 GMT

World: S/W Asia

BJP attacked for temple pledge
image: [ The BJP unveils its election promises in Delhi ]
The BJP unveils its election promises in Delhi

Muslim leaders in India have denounced the Hindu nationalist BJP for its election pledge to build a new Hindu temple on the disputed site of a destroyed mosque.

The BJP, which is leading the polls in the run up to India's parliamentary elections, said it intended to 'explore all legal means' to build a Hindu temple in the northern city of Ayodhya.

[ image: BJP President Lal Krishna Advani addresses supporters]
BJP President Lal Krishna Advani addresses supporters
The announcement, which came on Tuesday in the BJP's manifesto, provoked surprise and alarm among India's 120 million Muslims.

Thousands of Hindu fanatics tore down a mosque in the city in 1992, inspired by the rallying calls of the BJP, which claims the site is the birthplace of the Hindu God Lord Rama.

The ensuing clashes between Hindus and Muslims left 2,000 dead and created bitter scars in Hindu-Muslim relations.

The BJP now says it wants to build a 'magnificent temple' there to Lord Rama.

Ahmed Bukhari, deputy Imam of New Delhi's Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque, has been joined by other leaders in condemning the manifesto, claiming it revealed the real face of the BJP.

The BBC's Religious Affairs reporter, Jane Little, says the BJP's pronouncement marks a shift away from recent attempts to broaden its appeal among Hindus and Muslims.

The BJP has recently tried to win over Muslim support by toning down its nationalistic language and fielding Muslim candidates.

[ image: BJP Prime Ministerial Candidate Atal Bihari Vajpayee: previously expressed regret]
BJP Prime Ministerial Candidate Atal Bihari Vajpayee: previously expressed regret
Only recently the party's candidate for prime minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, expressed regret for the razing of the Ayodhya mosque. And even the Shiv Sena party, a far-right regional ally of the BJP, had talked about building a national monument on the site.

The manifesto, which also calls to end special civil laws for different communities, has changed that. It shows the BJP is prepared to lose its more moderate label, in order to bolster its traditional constituency.

The party seems to have taken up the highly emotive symbol of Ayodhya to reposition itself as the party of Hindutva, or Hindu identity.

Correspondents say the party looks set to win the elections but fall short of an overall majority.

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