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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 15:22 GMT
Militants converge on Ayodhya
Artisan carves statue of deity on pillar to be installed at Ayodhya temple
Preparations for building the temple are well advanced
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The BBC's Ram Dutt Tripathi
in Lucknow
Hundreds of Hindu activists are gathering in the northern Indian town of Ayodhya to begin building a temple at a disputed site where an ancient mosque was razed a decade ago.

Although India's central government says it will enforce the law which strictly prohibits such construction, the activists say they are going ahead with their plan.

Hindu activists at a rally
Pressure is mounting on the government

The volunteers, who belong to the right-wing Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), are arriving by trains and buses from different parts of India.

They worship at a makeshift temple on the ruins of the ancient mosque and then take a pledge to build a temple in its place.

The demolition of the mosque by VHP militants in 1992 led to communal riots and tension all over India.

Chanting slogans "Jai Shri Ram" the volunteers attend special prayers at the VHP's headquarters near the site.

Nearby, dozens of artisans are engaged in chiselling red sandstone pillars, arches and images of Hindu deities for the planned temple.

A dispute between Hindus and Muslims over the ownership of the land has been pending in court for several years.

Fraternal disputes

The VHP is an important ally of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In the past, the BJP provided political support for the VHP's controversial temple-building plans and its campaign for turning India into a Hindu state.

But the compulsions of national politics have forced the BJP to distance itself from the VHP's campaign.

Police restrains VHP activist
Passions are running high over the Ayodhya issue

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has advised the VHP to wait for the court's verdict before taking further steps.

Defying Mr Vajpayee, a senior VHP leader, Acharya Giriraj Kishor, announced on Monday that moving building material to the disputed site will begin at 1415 local time (0845 GMT) on 15 March.

But in a speech to the opening session of the parliament on Monday, President KR Narayanan said the government was duty-bound to maintain the status quo at the disputed site in Ayodhya.

The president also said that all necessary measures would be taken to ensure the preservation of law and order.

See also:

11 Feb 02 | South Asia
BJP faces state poll test
02 Feb 02 | South Asia
BJP 'will back courts' over temple
14 Jan 02 | South Asia
India launches new Ayodhya initiative
06 Dec 01 | South Asia
Ayodhya anniversary raises tensions
18 Oct 01 | South Asia
Hindu hardliners' Ayodhya strategy
18 Oct 01 | South Asia
Ayodhya temple security stepped up
10 Apr 01 | South Asia
Minister testifies on Ayodhya attack
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