Muslims leave Ayodhya as Sena, VHP raise Ram mandir pitch

Muslims leave Ayodhya as Sena, VHP raise Ram mandir pitch
Highlights

A sense of uneasiness has settled amongst the Muslim community in Ayodhya, two weeks before the demolition anniversary of the Babri Masjid, as a large number of Shiv Sena and Vishwa Hindu Parishad members reached the town to attend a Dharm Sabha on Sunday

Ayodhya: A sense of uneasiness has settled amongst the Muslim community in Ayodhya, two weeks before the demolition anniversary of the Babri Masjid, as a large number of Shiv Sena and Vishwa Hindu Parishad members reached the town to attend a Dharm Sabha on Sunday.

Observing the influx of right-wing workers in Ayodhya, local residents have been struck by fear of a repetition of 1992 when the Babri Masjid was demolished by Karsevaks and Shiv Sena workers. The ensuing riots took lives of scores of Muslims. Several families have already moved out of the town towards safer spaces, while others have sent their children and women away out of fear of violence.

The Sena and the VHP have sharpened their rhetoric to demand the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya even as the two outfits plan separate events in the temple town. Local media reports claim as many as 2 lakh supporters from the RSS and VHP, in addition to Hindu seers, would arrive in Ayodhya for a 'Dharam Sabha' on Sunday. The event will reportedly be held at 11am at the Bhaktmal Ashram.

The VHP had been drumming up support for early construction of the Ram temple, despite the issue continuing to remain in the Supreme Court. While Section 144 had been imposed in Ayodhya, VHP activists defied orders and held a roadshow in preparation for the Dharam Sabha.

Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray accompanied by his wife Rashmi and son Aditya, embarked on a high-profile visit to Ayodhya on Saturday, aimed at grabbing centre-stage in the demand for constructing the Ram Temple as elections approach.

They took a flight to Faizabad from where they will drive down for an engagement at the Laxman Killa in Ayodhya, and later perform a 'maha-aarti' on the banks of Sarayu river on Saturday evening. On Sunday morning, Thackeray will go for a darshan of Ram Lalla accompanied by local party leaders, sants and sadhus, interact with the media and later with the public, though plans for a public rally were not finalised yet.

For the Ayodhya visit, Thackeray is carrying an urn containing the earth from the Shivneri Fort - the birthplace of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in Pune district of Maharashtra. Over 4,000 Shiv Sainiks from Maharashtra, besides more from other parts of the country have preceded him to Ayodhya since the past couple of days, a party spokesperson said. Party leaders including Sanjay Raut, Ministers Eknath Shinde, Rajan Vichare, Mumbai Mayor Vishwanath Mahadeshwar and others have been camping in Ayodhya for the past few days to prepare for Thackeray's visit.

This will be the Thackerays' first-ever visit to the holy city, though in the past his father and founder of the Shiv Sena, the late Bal Thackeray had travelled to Uttar Pradesh on a couple of occasions. The Shiv Sena had on Friday asked “how long” it would take the Narendra Modi government to pass a law for construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya. Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut claimed that it took Ram bhakts only “17 minutes” to demolish the Babri Masjid in 1992, but the Modi government had been unable to move on the temple issue despite getting a majority in the 2014 elections.

Raut also reiterated Thackeray's slogan of Mandir pehle, phir sarkar (first the temple, then the government). Nearly 3,000 Shiv Sena activists are accompanying Thackeray in his visit to Ayodhya. Earlier, BJP MLA Surendra Singh warned “1992 could be repeated” during the VHP's Dharam Sabha on Sunday, in a reference to the destruction of the Babri Masjid 26 years ago. Singh had warned saffron outfits could take the law into their hands over the Ram temple issue. In preparation for the events by the Shiv Sena and VHP, the Uttar Pradesh Police more than doubled the number of Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) units in Ayodhya to 48.

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