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Muslim sects on warpath; Lucknow tense

Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow

Lucknow is on the brink of communal violence with tension building up between the Shias and Sunnis.

All efforts of the Uttar Pradesh government have failed, and the Shias are adamant that the 20-year-old ban on their Azadaari Alam procession, due on Thursday, should be lifted. The government fears that conceding the demand would open a communal tinderbox, which was sealed with the ban in 1977 following Shia-Sunni riots.

On Wednesday evening, a painstakingly worked out agreement between Shia leaders and the state government fell through with the arrest of Shahi Imam Maulana Abdullah Bukhari in Ghaziabad .

As news of the arrest reached Lucknow, agitated Shia leaders said they intended to stage the Azadaari procession on Thursday. A government spokesman said Bukhari was arrested as his arrival in Lucknow might have caused tension.

The UP government had constituted a two-member committee comprising the principal secretary, home, and the state director general of police to find a solution to the problem which had caused trouble between the Shia and Sunni sects for many years. Shia leaders had agreed not to stage the Azadaari procession on an assurance that the committee would submit its final report at the earliest. The Sunnis may now strike back.

''If the Azadaari procession can be taken out, so can our Madde-Saheba,'' is the Sunnis's contention. The procession commemorates four caliphs of the Sunnis, three of whom are considered persona non grata by the Shias. The latter recite tabbarra to denounce the Caliphs, which is said to have sparked communal violence in the past.

Blaming Mulayam Singh Yadav for the volatile situation, Chief Minister Mayawati says the Union defence minister is ''hellbent on inciting trouble, with the ultimate goal of paving ground for the Bharatiya Janata Party-Bahujan Samaj Party government's dismissal.... When the ban had been in force for 20 years, why are the Shias demanding its instant repeal now?'' In the past, Shias only courted arrest against the ban during Moharrum every year.

Soon after the demand was made, two Shia youth immolated themselves. ''Then Maulana Bukhari jumped into the fray to incite Lucknow's Muslims,'' says the chief minister. ''These developments clearly show that Mulayam is behind the mischief.''

Endorsing her views, state Urban Development and Housing Minister Lalji Tandon went a step further. He challenged the defence minister to come up with an amicable solution to the problem. ''If he can do so within the next 24 hours, I will persuade the chief minister to accept his formula,'' Tandon said.

The gravity of the situation can be gauged from the fact that the Iranian embassy in New Delhi last week despatched a special envoy to Lucknow to hold talks with the Shia leaders who have close lies with Iran. The visit added a new dimension to the controversy, with some leaders attributing it to BJP leader A B Vajpayee's initiative. However, Tandon flatly denies this. ''Vajpayee never approached the Iranian ambassador or anyone else to intervene in this matter. It was the Iranian ambassador who called on him and volunteered to help,'' he says.

However some local Muslims have taken strong exception to the move. Lucknow Idgah's Imam Khalid Rasheed said, ''If this was done by a Muslim, the BJP leaders would have labelled him an anti-national.''

To avoid another communal flare-up, the state government deputed Tandon, one of the few state BJP leaders who enjoys a good rapport with the Muslims, and Co-operation Minister R K Chaudhary (of the BSP) to sort out the issue. As their efforts yielded little result, Mayawati constituted a high-level administrative committee comprising state Home Secretary H C Gupta and Director General of Police S R Arun. The committee has been given three months to submit its report after talking to the two sects.

As June 26 keeps the Uttar Pradesh administration on tenterhooks, the Shia leadership has been usurped by Kalbe Jawaad, nephew of Shia leader Maulana Kalbe Sadiq who is also vice-president of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. ''The government must concede our demand or face the music,'' says Jawaad, asking the Shias to take to the streets on Thursday.

The law and order situation

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