Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi
Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee told an all-party meeting summoned by him on Tuesday that his government would not allow construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya pending a court verdict.
Vajpayee had summoned the meeting following a letter from Congress president Sonia Gandhi asking to discuss the matter in view of the congregation of Vishwa Hindu Parishad workers in Ayodhya.
Briefing reporters after the two-hour meeting, Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan said the prime minister contended that Ayodhya was a sensitive issue that had to be resolved either by negotiation or a court verdict, as President K R Narayanan had told the two Houses of Parliament at the start of the Budget session on Monday.
Mahajan said the prime minister also told Parliament on Tuesday that the court's order on maintaining the status quo at the disputed site would be enforced and it was the government's responsibility to do so.
Union Home Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani told the meeting that according to the government's estimate, there are 14,000 karsevaks (volunteer labour) in Ayodhya right now, but not at the disputed site.
Moreover, he said, paramilitary forces have been stationed in the town since the campaign for the recent election in Uttar Pradesh began. If necessary, more forces would be sent, he said.
Mahajan said the parties that attended Tuesday's meeting expressed concern at the presence of the VHP crowd, saying it was likely to disturb the law-and-order situation.
The government, they said, should be alert in view of the 1992 experience, when the Babri Masjid was demolished despite an undertaking given to the Supreme Court that the status quo would be maintained. All the parties also promised full support to any tough measures to maintain law and order in Ayodhya.
According to Mahajan, they also felt that the Centre should appeal to the Supreme Court to expedite hearings on the sensitive issue and reach a verdict quickly.
Those who attended the meeting included Gandhi, Communist Party of India, Marxist, leader Somnath Chatterjee and K Yerran Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party. From the government's side, apart from Vajpayee and Advani, there were Law Minister Arun Jaitley, Civil Aviation Minister Syed Shahnawaz Hussain and Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Vijay Goel.
The Ayodhya Dispute: The complete coverage
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