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Security forces on alert in Lucknow

Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow

Paramilitary forces are out on the streets of Lucknow to control likely communal violence in the city on Thursday.

The arrest of Maulana Abdullah Bukhari, the Shahi Imam of Delhi's Jamma Masjid, has further surcharged passions, particularly among the Shias who had threatened to defy the government's 20-year ban on the Azadaari procession.

Hundreds of policemen are patrolling the streets of Lucknow's walled city, where trouble is anticipated after Shia leader Maulana Kalbe Jawaad called for a direct confrontation with the police.

Earlier, on Wednesday morning, Jawaad had reached a compromise with the state administration and agreed to observe only a token protest, as was being done over the past 20 years.

Jawaad was in the process of communicating his decision to his followers when he was informed about Bukhari's arrest at Ghaziabad railway station, en route to Lucknow. The Shia leader then decided to have a showdown with the state government.

''We have taken Bukhari into custody on the grave apprehension of breach of peace," says Lucknow's District Magistrate Pradeep Shukla.

Barely three weeks ago, Bukhari was arrested and packed off from Lucknow, after being charged with inciting local Muslims to oppose the ban on the procession. A spokesman for the Mayawati government said, ''the Maulana's arrest had become inevitable once again as his obvious intention was to stoke communal passions.''

While Jawaad was busy preparing for a showdown with the administration, officials were drawing up a plan of action to round up prominent Shia leaders and prevent violence.

Meanwhile, Sunni leaders, including Zafaryab Jilani -- convener of the Babri Masjid Action Committee -- declared, 'if the Shias are granted permission to take out their procession, we will follow suit by taking out our Madde-Bahaba procession.''

Such a situation may lead to not only a Shia-police clash, but also a violent confrontation between the two Muslim sects.

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