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Thursday, 14 March, 2002, 12:45 GMT
Ayodhya Hindus to defy ban
Mahant Paramhans Ramchandra Das (r) watching work on pillars for the temple
The ceremony is a direct challenge to the government
A senior Hindu leader has vowed to go ahead with a special ceremony at the disputed holy site of Ayodhya, despite a Supreme Court ban on religious activity there.

We will do puja ... even if the government shoots me

Mahant Paramhans Ramchandra Das

Mahant Paramhans Ramchandra Das, who is spearheading the campaign to build a temple on the site of the razed Babri mosque, said devotees would gather at the site on Friday.

His statement came just hours after Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee pledged to uphold Wednesday's court order barring Hindu hardliners from holding prayers.

Security forces have all but sealed off the northern town as fears rise that the showdown could spark further communal violence.

More than 2,000 people died in nationwide rioting in 1992 after Hindu activists tore down the Babri mosque in Ayodhya, which they believe marks the birthplace of the god-king Rama.

Symbolic gesture

Mahant Paramhans said he would begin the ceremony, or puja, at 1415 local time (0845 GMT) on Friday.

"We will do puja .. .even if the government shoots me," the 92-year-old was quoted as saying by the Reuters news agency.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee
Vajpayee is struggling to contain the situation

Hindu hardliners belonging to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) organisation had initially set Friday as the deadline to begin construction of a temple at the site.

But Mahant Paramhans said after a meeting of a dozen VHP holy men that they would only bring pre-carved stones to the area of the proposed temple.

"I will take the stones and go with other members of the temple construction committee," he was quoted by AFP as saying.

The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that "no religious activities of any nature, by anyone" would be allowed in Ayodhya.

On Thursday, the court further clarified the ruling, saying it extended to the disputed temple-mosque site as well as the surrounding land under government control.

But VHP National Secretary Rajendra Singh Pankaj was defiant.

"No power on earth can stop us. If they prevent us, we will all get arrested and then launch an agitation never seen in history," he was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.

Appeal for calm

The government is trying to find a legal solution to the crisis after communal rioting two weeks ago in neighbouring Gujarat state left more than 700 people dead.

  • 1. Proposed Rama temple
  • 2. Site where VHP placed symbolic pillar
  • 3. Site of demolished mosque

      Click here to read more about the disputed site

  • Most of the victims were Muslims, killed in revenge for an attack on a train carrying Hindus back from Ayodhya.

    In the latest incident, one person was injured when police fired on a crowd of a few hundred people who were looting shops and houses belonging to Muslims in the village of Kawant in Gujarat.

    An indefinite curfew has been been imposed in the area.

    Reports say some 8,000 police and paramilitary troops have now deployed in Ayodhya.

    Mr Vajpayee told parliament earlier that all measures were being taken to maintain law and order.

    "I wish to categorically and unambiguously state the government will implement the court's order in letter and in spirit," Mr Vajpayee was quoted as saying.

    "I appeal to all political and non-political organisations to cooperate with the central and state governments to maintain peace and communal harmony," he said.

    Opposition uproar

    Mr Vajpayee's statement was met with uproar by opposition MPs, who demanded an explanation for a request on Wednesday by the attorney general that militants be allowed to hold a symbolic ceremony.

    Mr Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party has close links with the VHP, and his critics believe the request was a betrayal of India's secular constitution.

    Mr Vajpayee is struggling to accommodate both the VHP, which shares his party's Hindu nationalist aspirations, as well as his secular coalition allies, whom he depends on to remain in power.

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    See also:

    07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
    Country profile: India
    14 Mar 02 | South Asia
    Ayodhya Muslims live in dread
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