Hindu zealots raid Muslim sacred shrine

HINDU NATIONALISTS are threatening to re-enact theevents of six years ago when a mosque in the north-Indian state of Uttar Pradesh was demolished by a Hindu mob.

Today, at a shrine in the south-western state of Karnataka, near the town of Chikmagalur, the same forces are expected to attempt a re-run of the events which provoked a communal bloodbath in which hundreds died.

Six years ago on Sunday, Hindu nationalists tore down the Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya. It stood, they claimed, on the ruins of a Hindu temple marking the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram.

The site where the second action is threatened, known as Baba Budan Giri, is a religious hill town 170 miles from the state capital of Bangalore.

Baba Budan Giri is revered by Hindus and Muslims. It contains a Muslim shrine to the 18th-century mystic Sufi saint, Baba Budan, and a Hindu holy cave of Saint Datthathreya is located next to it.

Hindu leaders said they were not opposed to worship by Muslims at what they saw as their shrine but only sought to draw attention to alleged acts of sacrilege near the holy cave.

"We are only against the desecration of our shrine and are not against worship by both communities side by side," said JS Subba Rao of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, one of the Hindu groups involved.

About 4,000 Hindus are taking part in processions from different parts of the state to culminate in Baba Budan Giri. Today is the birthday of Saint Datthathreya and five "rath yatras", or Hindu processions, will converge on the shrine with the goal, according to organisers, of "liberating it from Muslim control" .

In anticipation of trouble, 22 platoons of police reserves have been dispatched to the site, barricades have been thrown up to limit the number of people who can approach the shrine at one time to 15, and closed-circuit television has been installed.

The site was peaceful yesterday, with only a handful of Hindu activists chanting slogans.

The authorities are, however, braced for violence today.

When Ayodhya's mosque was demolished, the man heading the yatra which sparked the action was a Hindu nationalist named Lal Krishna Advani. Today, Mr Advani is Minister for Home Affairs in the nationalist BJP party- led government.

Since he and his party gained office eight months ago, the plans to build a vast Hindu temple at Ayodhya have been finalised, and work on the elaborately carved stones is now far advanced. The organisers insist that building will go ahead whether the Supreme Court - now considering the controversy - gives them permission or not.

Today the Ayodhya site is like a war zone, with massed watchtowers and barricades and throngs of soldiers. The Karnataka authorities are deeply alarmed that the Chikmagalur shrine could go the same way.

But a Hindu spokesman said: "Our aim is not to have any confrontation. We recognise it as a place of both Sufi and Hindu saints, and want that it should be a fine example of how two communities can co-exist."

Fine words; but the sort of co-existence envisaged at Ayodhya has one community firmly beneath the other's heel.

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