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January 14, 2002
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Babri panel rejects Vajpayee's talks offer

Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's much proclaimed efforts towards resolving the Ayodhya dispute through dialogue received a jolt on Monday, when Babri Masjid Action Committee turned down an informal offer for talks.

The offer was made on behalf of the prime minister by special envoy Shatrughan Singh, who heads the recently constituted Ayodhya cell in the prime minister's office.

A career bureaucrat, Singh had earlier held the charge of Faizabad divisional commissioner, in which capacity he also remained the official custodian of the disputed Babri Masjid area.

A makeshift Ram temple stands on the debris of the mosque that was pulled down on December 6, 1992 by Hindu fundamentalists, who claimed it as the birthplace of Lord Ram.

Singh, who has, made several trips to Ayodhya had invited key BMAC leaders Zafaryab Jilani, Abdul Mannan and Mushtaq Mohammad Siddiqui for what was described as an 'informal chat' on the issue.

"The invitation had been issued through journalist Shitla Singh, editor of Faizabad based Hindi daily, Jan Morcha at whose Lucknow residence we met Shatrughan Singh over dinner on Saturday night," BMAC convenor Jilani told rediff.com on Monday.

He said, "We made it loud and clear to the PMO official that no talks could be held with an opposite party, that displayed no semblance of a conciliatory approach."

Jilani asked, "Tell me, how can you think of entering into a dialogue with a party that went about proclaiming publicly that irrespective of what the judiciary decides, it would not budge from its resolve of building the temple on the disputed land?"

Jilani said, "Let the prime minister first restrain his allies in Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and other groups from making repeated proclamations about going ahead with the construction of the temple -- come what may -- from March 12."

He said, "After all, we have always maintained that we would abide by the decision of the court and if the verdict goes against us, we would relinquish our claim to the site and let the temple be built there."

Jilani also ruled out the possibility of a bargain on the 2.77 acre 'undisputed' land on which a formal shilaniyas (foundation laying) of the temple was performed way back in 1987.

Since this area falls just on the periphery of the razed mosque, the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party was understood to be toying with the idea of striking a deal on that with a view to making a breakthrough.

Barely a fortnight back, at a press conference in Lucknow, Prime Minister Vajpayee had reiterated his claim about an on-going dialogue for resolving the centuries old dispute.

"The talks are progressing in the right direction and I am hopeful of an amicable solution to come up well before the March 12 deadline set by Vishwa Hindu Parishad for resuming their Ayodhya agitation," Vajpayee had said.

Jilani said, "The question of 2.77 acre land had become meaningless once the Supreme Court had said that the land adjoining the disputed area would have to go to the party that wins the case pending before the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court."

He further said, "As it stands today, the entire 67 acre land acquired by the central government in the aftermath of the demolition remains the subject matter of dispute before the court, so the question of dealing with any bit separately cannot arise."

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