Right-wing Hindu activists rallied and courted arrests in support of building a temple at a disputed site in the northern Indian town of Ayodhya, reviving a campaign that triggered deadly riots two decades ago.
Hundreds of workers belonging to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or the World Hindu Council, carried flags and shouted slogans in the capital New Delhi after authorities in the neighboring state of Uttar Pradesh yesterday detained about 1,700 members, including leaders of the organization. The local administration said the rally could disturb peace as the world’s second-most populous nation prepares for elections set to be held by May.
A similar movement in 1992, backed by the Bharatiya Janata Party, culminated in the razing of a 16th century mosque that stood on the site Hindu groups say is the birthplace of their warrior-god Rama. The demolition sparked Hindu-Muslim riots that led to more than 2,000 deaths across the country in one of the worst religious violence since India’s independence from British rule in 1947. The movement also helped propel the BJP to power six years later.
“The move, supported by the BJP, is aimed to play the Hindu card and polarize voters on religious lines to get maximum political advantage in the run-up to general elections,” said Sanjay Kumar, a New Delhi-based analyst at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. “VHP has got the advantage in mobilizing people.”
The VHP, which is spearheading the temple campaign, has vowed a 20-day march across Uttar Pradesh. The BJP condemned yesterday’s arrests, while the federal ruling Congress party blamed both the BJP and the regional Samajwadi Party, which governs the state, for the campaign. Mulayam Singh Yadav, the leader of SP, defended the state government’s steps to prevent Hindu activists from entering the town of Ayodhya.
Hindus say the Mughal emperor Babar built the mosque after destroying a temple that was originally at the place. The Supreme Court is hearing the claims by Hindu and Muslim organizations after suspending a 2010 lower court ruling that split the disputed site between religious groups representing the faiths.
Helped by the temple campaign spearheaded by the VHP and BJP’s senior leader Lal Krishna Advani, the opposition party increased its strength in the lower of India’s parliament to 182 by 1998, from as few as two in 1984.
The BJP is now challenging Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who is besieged by corruption allegations against his administration, the slowest pace of economic growth in a decade and a record current-account deficit that drove the rupee to a record low last week.
The two houses of parliament adjourned today amid uproar over the VHP’s march and the arrests.
“By preventing the religious march, the state government has insulted the Hindus,” Yogi Adityanath, a BJP lawmaker, said in parliament today. “We are demanding that a magnificent temple should be constructed in Ayodhya. The government should bring a law for this.”