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Saturday, December 6, 1997 Published at 14:46 GMT



Despatches


Hundreds of Hindu nationalists in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh are marching towards the town of Ayodhya to mark the fifth anniversary on Saturday of the destruction of the Babri Mosque.

Here is our Religious Affairs Reporter Jane Little.

As hundreds of Hindu nationalists march on Ayodhya there are fears of a repeat of the events of 1992, which led to some of the worst Hindu-Muslim rioting since Indian Partition in 1947 and left 2,000 people dead.

The anniversary comes at a sensitive time as India's largest political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), enters an election campaign, after running previous campaigns with calls for a new Hindu temple on the Ayodhya site.

The BJP has seen its support rise dramatically since 200,000 Hindu fanatics stormed and destroyed the mosque at Ayodhya.

Now five years on senior leaders of the party including its president L K Advani face criminal charges which allege they engineered the mosque's destruction as part of a political conspiracy to stir up Hindu chauvinist feeling.

The desire to get rid of the mosque goes back nearly 500 years when it was erected by the first Mogul emperor, Babur.

Hindus say the mosque was built on the ruins of a temple marking the birthplace of the god Rama.

But it was only after the British left India in 1947 that tensions spilled over and Hindus installed their own idols in the mosque.

Since then a series of nationalist rallies led by the likes of the BJP fanned resentment over the mosque and soon led to open conflict.

In 1990 one thousand people were killed in religious rioting, two years later the brick and limestone mosque lay in ruins.

The ensuing riots sparked fears of a nationwide political crisis as a secular government failed to get to grips with the rise in Hindu nationalism.

That did not happen and today relations between the majority Hindu population and India's 100 million Muslims are generally good.

But as extremists march towards Ayodhya and the BJP steps up its election campaign, the Babri Mosque remains an emotive symbol in Indian politics.





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