India counts cost of sectarian riots: Tim McGirk visits the Maharaja of Jodphur, one of the Indian noblemen impoverished by Indira Ghandi

THE FRENZY of religious strife that has shaken India over the past week, leaving more than 1,200 people dead and 5,000 injured, is finally ebbing.

But for months to come, Indian will be reeling from this outbreak of sectarian violence: it has poisoned relations between the majority Hindus and the country's 120 million Muslims, who suffered the brunt of the killings. It has also damaged India's ties with Islamic countries.

Pakistan and Bangladesh plan to lodge a protest at the United Nations against the Indian government for failing to stop Hindu militants on 6 December from razing a historic mosque in the northern town of Ayodhya.

On a trip to Dhaka, capital of Bangladesh, the Pakistani Prime Minister, Nawaz Sharif, said: 'The mosque issue is not only a problem for the sub-continent but also for the entire Muslim world.'

Officials in Dhaka said that Muslim mobs killed eight Hindus and burnt down entire Hindu neighbourhoods in Bangladesh, leaving 50,000 people homeless, all to avenge the incident in Ayodhya.

In New Delhi, the Defence Minister, Sharad Pawar, told a newspaper that Muslim petroleum-producing nations were considering sanctions against India, which must import most of its oil.

Iran issued a stiff condemnation of India and has demanded that the New Delhi government rebuild the mosque, even though a makeshift Hindu temple now stands in the rubble.

Some Hindus believe their god Ram was born on the spot where the mosque stood for 500 years.

Throughout India, more than 135 towns and cities yesterday remained under curfew. The army and paramilitary forces, armed with machine-guns, were patrolling the streets.

But the religious clashes are tapering off. The curfew was relaxed for several hours in most places so that starving families in the affected neighbourhoods could at last buy food.

The cities of Bombay, Ahmedabad, Bhopal and Surat had the highest death-tolls, but sectarian unrest flared in nearly every state of India.

Enforcing a new ban on Hindu and Muslim extremist groups, police in various states yesterday arrested hundreds of militant leaders. This wave of arrests prompted the right-wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which the government blames for the mosque attack and the ensuing bloodshed, to call for protest marches around the country today.

Lal Krishna Advani and several other BJP leaders were arrested soon after the Ayodhya incident. Despite the protest call, those BJP politicians not behind bars were in an obedient mood: they did not defy the government crackdown on extremist groups in Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, states under the control of the BJP.

Some of the blame for the religious clashes sweeping the sub- continent fell on satellite television. Several politicians and newspaper editorialists claimed that while India's state-controlled radio and television censored news of the demolition of the Ayodhya mosque, broadcasts of the event by the BBC and Cable News Network were seen by millions of Indians.

This reportedly inflamed religious tempers throughout the sub- continent, as did satellite news coverage from Pakistan and Bangladesh of Muslims there tearing down Hindu temples.