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Tuesday, June 16, 1998 Published at 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK

World: South Asia

BJP raises stakes over Ayodhya

The dispute over the Ayodhya mosque provoked riots

The BBC's Andrew Whitehead in Delhi explains the issues at stake:

It is the most emotive issue in Indian politics - what should be built on the site of a demolished mosque in the north Indian town of Ayodhya.

And the remarks from the BJP's spokesman, K L Sharma, have rekindled fears among opposition parties and the Muslim minority that the party remains determined to build a Hindu temple on the disputed site.

BJP spokesman K L Sharma: "The situation is complicated"
In December 1992 a crowd of Hindu hardliners pulled down with their bare hands the ancient Babri mosque in Ayodhya, which they said had been built on the birthplace of the Hindu deity, Lord Ram. That sparked off the worst religious riots since independence.

Many believe that India's tradition of secularism and religious tolerance was in peril.

The BJP came to power earlier this year pledging to build a magnificent Hindu temple on the site, though its coalition allies, some of whom rely on Muslim support, forced the Hindu nationalists to drop the issue.

But it has come back into political focus with revelations that groups allied to the BJP have been employing hundreds of masons to build columns and cornices for the proposed temple.

The Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, told parliament last week that no construction work would be allowed on the site until the Supreme Court had ruled on the issue.

But the BJP has now made clear that if the court refuses to endorse the building of a temple there, it might seek to sidestep the judgement by introducing legislation.

As things stand, the BJP does not have the necessary support to push such a measure through parliament, but it is being seen as an indication that behind the BJP's new moderate image there still lies a hard-line, assertively pro-Hindu agenda.

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