India Holds Its Breath over Religious Crisis
Byline: Sanjeev Miglani and Terry Friel
India's Supreme Court ignored a government plea in the midst of the country's worst religious crisis in a decade and barred hardline Hindus from holding prayers in the holy town of Ayodhya.
Its ruling that Hindus be prevented from holding a prayer ceremony tomorrow near the site of a razed mosque was slammed by hardliners who said they would urge the masses to demand their right to pray.
The Hindu-Muslim unrest, which has claimed more than 700 lives since February 27, looked as though it was agitating a political crisis as coalitionallies condemned a last-minute plea by the government for the prayers to go ahead. Coalition allies of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called the court plea by the government's attorney general 'objectionable'.
The lower house of parliament was suspended in uproar for the day after opposition lawmakers accused Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee of betraying India's secular constitution by siding with the Hindu hardliners. But in Ayodhya itself the situation was calm, although officials have beefed up security.
Supreme Court Justice BN Kripal said no religious activity should be allowed on land around the Ayodhya site - where a mosque was razed in 1992 - until an eventual court ruling on whether the land should be given to Muslims or Hindus. 'No religious activity of any kind, whether it is symbolic or actual shall be permitted or allowed to take place,' the judge told a packed courtroom after a 90minute hearing.
The three-judge bench rejected arguments made by Attorney General Soli Sorabjee that Hindus be allowed to hold a symbolic prayer ceremony, or 'puja' tomorrow. …