Saturday, March 16, 2002, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Shila daan at akhara
Singhal faces wrath of Ram sevaks for change in venue
S. Satyanarayanan
Tribune News Service

Mahant Ramchandra Das Paramhans performs a ceremonial offering
Mahant Ramchandra Das Paramhans performs a ceremonial offering in Ayodhya on Friday. — Reuters photo

Mahant Ramchandra Das Paramhans speaks to his followers
Mahant Ramchandra Das Paramhans (C) speaks to his followers in Ayodhya on Friday. — Reuters photo

Mahant Ramchandra Paramhans in a relaxing mood
Mahant Ramchandra Paramhans in a relaxing mood feeds monkeys near the workshop in Ayodhya on Friday. 
— PTI photo

The police tries to stop the procession
The police tries to stop the procession of kar sevaks in Ayodhya on Friday. 
— PTI photo

Local residents stand near a burning tyre
Local residents stand near a burning tyre on a street in Faizabad near Ayodhya on Friday. — PTI photo

Ayodhya, March 15
The much-touted “shila daan” ceremony, which kept the entire country on tenterhooks for the past fortnight, turned out to be a damp squib with the sponsors of the programme — Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas (RJN) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) — donating two shilas (carved stones) at Digambar Akhara more than a kilometre away from the acquired land without much fanfare.

The “sacred” stone for the proposed Ram Temple was handed over to Shatrughan Singh, heading the Ayodhya Cell in the Prime Minister’s Office, in the courtyard of the akhara which is the seat of Mahant Ramchander Das Paramhans after a brief puja at 3.30 pm in the presence of about 300-odd “Ram Sevaks” who broke the prohibitory orders to join the event.

High drama preceded the ceremony following a last minute change in the programme. The spot for shila daan or donation of the carved stones was shifted to Paramhans akhara as officials felt the situation would otherwise go out of control because of impromptu participation of the local people in the event despite prohibitory orders.

Ramkot Mohalla, which is very close to the acquired land of 67.703 acres and just half-a-kilometre from Digambar Akara, was the original site for the shila daan.

Angered by the sudden change in the programme, the Kar Sevaks, who had gathered at Digambar Akara, raised slogans and insisted that shila daan must be performed at Ramkot Mohalla only as decided earlier. It took over half-an-hour for VHP leader Ashok Singhal and Mahant Ramchander Das to mollify them to cooperate in the peaceful completion of the ceremony.

Faizabad Divisional Commissioner A K Gupta and District Magistrate B P Mishra were conspicuous by their absence at the ceremony. However, former Faizabad District Magistrate Navneet Sehgal, who was deputed by Uttar Pradesh Governor Vishnu Kant Shastri a couple of days back, supervised the entire event assisted by top police officials.

But for the persuading qualities of Mr Sehgal and his close association with Mahant Ramchandar Das, the event would have taken an ugly turn with Ram Sevaks becoming agitated.

Mr Sehgal conducted hectic negotiations before finally persuading Paramhans to agree to conducting the ceremony at his Akhara itself. BJP MP from Faizabad and Bajrang Dal leader Vinay Katiyar, VHP Joint Secretary Rajendra Kumar Pankaj were also present at the shila daan.

Although leaders of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas (RJN) and the VHP maintained that as pledged by them they were able to donate shilas for the construction of the proposed Ram Temple, the local Ram Bakhts felt cheated by the very same leaders whom they held in high esteem.

The position of VHP’s International Working President Ashok Singhal was the worst as Ram Bakhts vented their ire against him by openly abusing him for diluting the programme by agreeing to conduct shila daan at the Digambar Akara instead of Ramkot Mohalla.

“We want the shila daan only at Ram Kot Mohalla, cried the Ram Bakhts even as Mr Singhal, positioning himself over his Ambassador car, repeatedly requested them to listen to him and allow the ceremony to pass off peacefully.

As the Ram Bakhts repeatedly shouted slogans, the embarrassed VHP leader asked his security guards and other policemen present there to push mediapersons outside the akhara. Only after the intervention of Paramhans, who impressed upon them that the shilas whether donated at the akhara or at Ram Kot Mohalla will finally go towards the construction of Ram Temple, the Ram Bakhts stopped slogan shouting.

After conducting puja and handing over the shilas to the Ayodhya Cell chief, Paramhans accompanied by Mr Singhal and Mr Pankaj had a darshan at the make-shift temple of Ram Lalla and offered prayers amidst the tightest-ever security.

Barring a minor stone-pelting incident at Hanuman Garhi area, about 1 km away from the acquired land, the entire programme went off peacefully with the local administration pressing into service nearly 11,000 security personnel, including Rapid Action Force (RAF) to maintain law and order.

About 50 local people clashed with the police in Hanuman Garhi area as they were prevented from having darshan at the make-shift temple. They pelted stones, slippers and burnt a few tyres before they were chased away by the police. Subsequently, the situation was brought under control with the administration allowing darshan of Ram Lalla to the local people in batches of not more than 15 persons each.

An uneasy calm prevailed this morning in this temple town, which resembled an impregnable fortress with the administration throwing a thick security blanket to prevent any untoward incident. All roads leading to Ayodhya wore a deserted look and security personnel stopped and checked each and every vehicle moving in and around Ayodhya.

As a precautionary measure, the administration had banned movement of any vehicle, including that of mediapersons in sensitive areas near the acquired and disputed land causing immense hardship to the large number of national and international mediapersons.

An undeclared curfew appeared in force in the twin city of Ayodhya and Faizabad with all shops and other establishments remaining closed following a directive from the District Administration.

The security personnel heaved a sigh of relief as the shila daan ceremony passed off peacefully. However, Inspector General of PAC Harbhajan Singh told The Tribune that depending on the situation security forces would be withdrawn only in phases.



DM, Commissioner may go
Tribune News Service

Ayodhya, March 15
Faizabad District Commissioner B.P. Mishra and Divisional Commissioner A.K. Gupta are likely to be the scapegoats in the give-and-take formula adopted by the Atal Behari Vajpayee Government to persuade the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas (RJN) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to conduct their “shila daan” ceremony peacefully.

According to highly-placed sources, RJN and VHP leaders Mahant Ramchander Das Paramhans and Ashok Singhal respectively were assured of the transfer of Mr Mishra and Mr Gupta within three days if the two organisations cooperated with the government in the peaceful conduct of the event.Back

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