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Tuesday, 19 December, 2000, 12:58 GMT
Ayodhya defeat for Vajpayee
Demonstrators burn effigy
There are fears the row could stoke communal passions
The Indian Government has lost a censure motion in the upper house of parliament in a fresh row over the disputed holy site at Ayodhya.

Prime Minister Vajpayee
Prime Minister Vajpayee: Criticised by allies
The opposition criticised Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee for, in their view, stirring up sectarian tensions with controversial remarks over Hindu nationalists' plans to build a temple on the site of the demolished Babri mosque at Ayodhya.

On the eighth anniversary of the mosque's destruction earlier this month, Mr Vajpayee had described plans for a temple as an "expression of national sentiment" and an "unfinished task" - remarks for which he was heavily criticised.

The opposition won the censure motion by 121 votes to 86, but the defeat was widely expected because the government does not have a majority in the upper house.

Call for dialogue

In his address to the upper house, Mr Vajpayee appealed for unity.

"Let Ayodhya not divide us," he said and called on Hindu and Muslim communities to begin a dialogue on the issue.

But he insisted that three key BJP ministers charged in the mosque's destruction should not resign.

"I am not giving anyone a clean chit, let the courts decide," he said.

The government is only answerable to the lower house, so the vote cannot cause the government to fall but it will be an embarrassment for the prime minister.

The ruling coalition won a vote on the same issue in the lower house last week.

Coalition concern

Mr Vajpayee's comments on Ayodhya have led to criticism, not just from the opposition but also from some of the regional coalition partners in his Hindu nationalist BJP-led coalition.

Construction on pillar for temple
Hindus want to build a temple on the site of the demolished mosque

In the upper house debate, a member of the Telugu Desam Party, warned that if there was any deviation from the common agenda - which does not include support for the building of a temple at Ayodhya - the government would not only betray its partners but also the entire nation

He said that in such an event, his party would withdraw from the coalition.

But coalition members from the more important lower house, stood by Mr Vajpayee in the debate there last week.

Religious rifts

A group of Indian religious leaders has called on the coalition partners to withdraw from the alliance.

"It is not too late. The people of India want you to take courage and boldly stand up to the [Hindu right-wing] juggernaut," said a statement from Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jain and lower-caste Hindu clerics and political leaders.

On Monday, the firebrand Hindu leader Bal Thackeray called for India's Muslims to be disenfranchised.

"Once the secularists know that the Muslims have no vote value, no one will bother about Muslims," he said.

The destruction of the Babri mosque at Ayodhya sparked Hindu-Muslim rioting which left 3,000 people dead.

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See also:

13 Dec 00 | South Asia
Vajpayee attacked in Ayodhya debate
15 Dec 00 | South Asia
Vajpayee's double victory
13 Dec 00 | South Asia
Ayodhya debate to test coalition
11 Dec 00 | South Asia
Ayodhya row rages on
16 Nov 00 | South Asia
India's Ayodhya cauldron bubbles
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