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Friday, 15 March, 2002, 18:50 GMT
Hindu anger at Ayodhya
Security forces at Ayodhya
Security forces kept Hindu activists away from the site
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By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News Online correspondent in Ayodhya
line
Driving into Ayodhya early in the morning, we were stopped by police at eight different checkpoints.

Finally we were told to park our car at the edge of the town and walk the rest of the way.


Please tell the world that we were 100,000 strong, otherwise our movement will receive a major setback

Ashwin Panday
Hindu activist
Most shops and businesses were shut, save for the odd tea-shop.

The streets were filled with the security forces, journalists and stray monkeys.

Very few residents were about.

And once in, no one was allowed out.

At the Rama temple trust workshop, Hindu hardliner Mahant Ramachandra Paramhans declared he would go ahead with his plan to perform a ceremony at the disputed site.

"No one can stop me from carrying out my duty to God. I am ready for them," he said as several followers cheered him on.

Negotiations

For the next several hours, as restless Hindu activists fidgeted, senior police and government officials visited the mahant.

Mahant Paramhans Ramchandra Das, leader of the committee to build a temple in Ayodhya
The mahant led the protests

Closeted in a tiny anteroom, the negotiations continued as the radical Hindu leader was pressed to compromise.

Outside, the activists set off slogans and marched up and down the dusty complex. They were clearly anxious.

Ashwin Pandey had travelled 60 kilometres in response to the Hindu hardliners call to join them.

A university student doing his Masters in chemistry, he was worried at the size of the gathering - far smaller than expected.

"Please tell the world that we were 100,000 strong," he pleaded.

"Otherwise our movement will receive a major setback."

Saffron wave

At about 1400 local time, with the negotiations complete, the mahant came out to lusty cheers of "Hail Lord Rama".

Viewing the Ayodhya procession
Crowds cheered on the procession
Riot police took up positions on a narrow lane leading out of the complex and on buildings on either side of the road.

As two stone slabs - to be used to build the Hindu temple - were taken out, hundreds of Hindu activists poured into the lane.

"Clear the way!" they shouted. "Let us through."

As they marched on, hundreds of onlookers joined the cheers and, at times, the throng.

Ahead of them, nervous policemen kept a close watch.

A police radio crackled to life - a message from Home Minister LK Advani, who wanted to know what was going on.

Senior police officials swung into action and guided the crowd into a temple, half-way to the disputed site.

This was as far as they could go.

"Please go back to your homes," ordered Ayodhya police inspector DP Rai.

Angry

With a brief ceremony, the slabs were handed over to a local civic official.

Hindu leader Ashok Singhal
Hindu leader Ashok Singhal appeals for calm
The Hindu activists watched askance and then vented their anger as senior leaders asked them to calm down.

"This is an absolute sell-out," shouted Dina Nath Shastri, a Hindu priest.

"Is this why we came all the way? We've been cheated."

Others were more vocal.

"We will be the laughing-stock of the whole world. We pledged to carry out a ceremony [at the disputed site] and we failed."

But police and several local residents were visibly relieved.

"These people are mad, holding the nation to ransom," said policeman Ajai Tripathi.

Ayodhya resident Sushil Mishra said the town badly needed a respite.

"Train services have been suspended, people not allowed to move about freely, how long can we put up with this?

"No dispute is worth this trouble."

See also:

07 Mar 02 | South Asia
Thousands homeless in Gujarat
06 Mar 02 | South Asia
Traumatised victims wait for help
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: India
14 Mar 02 | South Asia
Ayodhya Muslims live in dread
15 Mar 02 | South Asia
India's secularism under threat?
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