Six were killed today as unidentified militants attacked the bitterly contested holy site of Ayodhya in India’s Uttar Pradesh. First, a likely suicide bomber in a jeep blew up an outer security wall; then a group of five others posing as tourists in a taxi stormed the complex, sparking a gunbattle with police in which all the attackers were killed. The site has occasioned much violence in the past, beginning in December 1992, when the Babri mosque that had stood there since the Mogul era was destroyed in a mass action by Hindu militants, who claimed it was built atop an ancient temple marking the birthplace of the god Rama. The question again exploded into violence in February 2002 when a train carrying Hindu militants from the site, where they had rallied for rebuilding the temple, was attacked by Muslim militants in Gujarat state, leaving 59 dead and sparking weeks of retaliatory violence in which over 1,000 Muslims were killed. Excavations are currently underway to determine if in fact the temple had existed, and a makeshift Hindu shrine has been erected there.
Writes the AP:
Ayodhya is guarded at all times by thousands of police and paramilitary soldiers, and the site has multiple barricades where visitors are frisked before being allowed in. Security is so tight that even pens, pencils, lighters and matchboxes are prohibited.
No militant group claimed responsibility for the attack… But Hindu nationalists quickly blamed Pakistan-backed militants from the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir, and said the incident proved India’s recent peace overtures with Islamabad were a failure. India and Pakistan, traditional rivals, are pursuing peace after years of acrimony.
It was “an attack by jihad terrorists,” said a spokesman for the Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. “There should be protests against this across the country, peacefully,” spokesman Ram Madhav said.
The group is the ideological fountainhead of all Hindu organizations in India, including the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, which called for a nationwide strike on Wednesday to protest the assault.
“To attack the Ram Janmbhoomi, the holiest shrine of the Hindus, is a very serious thing and there should be an equal reaction,” said party president Lal Krishna Advani.
Pakistan condemned Tuesday’s attack in Ayodhya. The largest militant group in Kashmir, Hezb-ul Mujahedeen, also condemned the assault.
A leading Islamic scholar in India called for peace, describing such attacks as futile. “No movement can succeed with violence. They should give up the guns, bombs and violence and solve this through peaceful dialogue,” said Maulana Wahiuddin. “Those who are doing it are helping neither their country, nor their religion.”
The violence Tuesday was the first major attack on a Hindu temple site since a 2002 assault on the Akshardham temple in western Gujarat state which left 32 people dead, including two attackers. That attack was blamed on the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e Tayyaba group – one of more than a dozen guerrilla groups fighting for Kashmir’s independence or its merger with mostly Muslim Pakistan.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh indicated the government is bracing for further violence. The BJP called the assault “an attack on the Hindu faith” and demands that the Uttar Pradesh government step down, charging it with “laxity” in securing the site. (Press Trust of India, July 5)
See our last post on Kashmir.
See also “Political Archeaology at Ayodhya,” WW4 REPORT #82