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October 17, 2001
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VHP leaders force their way into makeshift temple in Ayodhya

Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow

Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) activists on Wednesday triggered a minor crisis when they forced their way into the sanctum sanctorum of the makeshift Ram temple in Ayodhya, at the site where the Babri masjid stood earlier, in gross violation of the directives of the Supreme Court.

VHP supremo Ashok Singhal, its vice president S C Dikshit and international general secretary Praveen Togaria entered the sanctum sanctorum and insisted on performing puja on the first day of navratri, a nine-day Hindu religious festival commencing on Wednesday, officials said.

They staged a dharna inside the sanctum sanctorum for nearly two hours.

The incident set off panic in the prime minister's office, which made frantic inquiries from the chief minister's office as about 200 acres of land in and around the disputed Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri masjid site is under the custody of the central government, which had appointed the divisional commissioner as its custodian under the directive of the Supreme Court.

"As per the Supreme Court's orders, no one other than the temple pujari (priest) was permitted inside the sanctum sanctorum of the makeshift temple," State Principal Home Secretary Naresh Dayal informed.

About 800 security personnel are permanently stationed within the precincts of the acquired area to maintain round-the-clock vigil on the contentious site.

However, considering that the VHP is closely associated with the Bharatiya Janata Party, which heads the ruling coalition in the state, the incident had left the local administration in a fix.

Much confusion and commotion prevailed in and around the disputed makeshift shrine, which was erected almost instantly following the demolition of the 16th century Babri mosque on December 6, 1992.

It was only after top administrative and police officials, including the divisional commissioner and deputy inspector general of police, intervened that the VHP activists were physically evicted from the premises.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Rajnath Singh, who was scheduled to address a rally in Ayodhya's twin-city Faizabad, deliberately postponed his departure from Lucknow.

Senior officials in Lucknow said the chief minister left for Faizabad only after receiving word from district authorities that the defiant VHP leaders had been brought out of the temple premises.

"On being informed about the gate-crash, we promptly ordered the district administration to act and bring the situation under control. Following this, the VHP leaders were taken into custody and removed from the site," Dayal said.

He proposed to take punitive action against the policemen on duty.

"It was a clear case of dereliction of duty and action is bound to be taken against officials of the UP police and the Central Reserve Police Force, who were jointly entrusted with the security of the disputed site," he said.

The demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992 had sparked off countrywide communal riots leaving hundreds dead.

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