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The New York Times
Hindu Justifies Mass Killings Of Muslims in Reprisal Riots
By CELIA W. DUGGER
Harish Bhai Bhatt is a jolly-looking man with a round belly and a bushy mustache that turns up like a smile, but his words would chill the soul of any Muslim in India.
According to Mr. Bhatt, a firebrand leader of the fundamentalist World Hindu Council, killing hundreds of innocent Muslims in the past five days of rioting was necessary. All Muslims had to be taught a lesson after a Muslim mob burned a train loaded with the council's members, immolating 58 people.
"Now, it is the end of toleration," he said, a revolver on his hip. "If the Muslims do not learn, it will be very harmful for them."
Mr. Bhatt's words cannot be dismissed as empty threats. The council's workers
are widely thought to have helped instigate the riots that have killed more than 500 people, mostly Muslims, since Thursday -- though council leaders deny it.
The council is part of the same Hindu nationalist family as the Bharatiya Janata Party, which rules
this state, Uttar Pradesh, and heads the national governing coalition. Despite calls from Muslim and secular political leaders to ban the council and arrest its leaders, senior party leaders have tried in the last few days to strike a behind-the-scenes bargain with the council -- so far without success.
Today the council defied Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's wishes and vowed
that on March 15 its workers will begin building a temple to Ram, the manly incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, on the site of a mosque demolished by Hindu zealots in the north Indian town of Ayodhya. The trainload of Hindus attacked by Muslims on Wednesday were returning from a ceremony that precedes the raising of the temple.
The council's temple crusade, the most incendiary issue in Hindu-Muslim relations, has the potential to cause more riots. It also presents the Bharatiya Janata Party with a moment of reckoning. Will it do as its secular allies require and stop the council from erecting hand-carved pillars at Ayodhya on March 15? Or will it waver when confronted with arresting council members, and even firing on them, as they defy court orders?
The party's second-most-powerful leader, Home Minister L. K. Advani, led the movement for a temple on the site of the Babri mosque culminating in its destruction in 1992 and the worst Hindu-Muslim rioting since the nation was created in 1947.
The temple crusade was pivotal in the party's rise to power. It polarized the Hindu-Muslim vote and helped consolidate support from Hindus, who are usually politically fractured on caste lines.
Twelve years ago, Mr. Advani defied Prime Minister V. P. Singh and refused to accept that the temple could be built only if the courts ordered it or the Muslims agreed to it.
The party withdrew from Mr. Singh's coalition on this issue, causing his government to fall. Mr. Singh savored the irony this weekend as he sat cross-legged in his home in New Delhi. He said he warned party leaders at the time, "Someday you'll sit in this chair and you'll have to say the same things."
Sure enough, on the very day the train burned last week, Mr. Advani told council leaders that the temple could only be built if the courts ordered it or the Muslims agreed to it.
The council's true believers feel a sense of betrayal at Mr. Advani's shift. Ashutosh Varshney, author of a book about Hindu-Muslim conflict in India ("Ethnic Conflict and Civic Life," Yale University Press, 2002), said the recent riots were rooted not just in the desire to teach Muslims a lesson, but in the Hindu right wing's desire:
"to throw a challenge to Vajpayee's moderate political stance towards Ayodhya and Hindu-Muslim relations."
The Hindu nationalists, tainted by the 1992 riots, had prided themselves on the relative peace during their years in power. The riots here shattered that claim.
The failure of the police here to protect Muslims from rampaging Hindu mobs has prompted many to charge that the state's chief minister, Narendra Modi -- a hard-core Hindu nationalist -- cynically allowed the riots to happen.
Alluding to recent election losses by the party, Shabana Azmi, a Muslim member of Parliament, said, "Modi wants the rioting and arson to continue because he believes this will consolidate the Hindu vote bank."
The violence has physically scarred this city of 3.5 million, but the corrosive anger of the Muslims will be even harder to repair. About 3,000 Muslims who fled their homes are living on the cement floors of a school. These refugees in their own city seethe with rage and grief.
Mahboob Bee, who sat on the floor holding 6-month-old Afsana on her lap, said she was separated from her husband, a mutton seller, and their 2-year-old daughter in the chaos of the mob attack. She has no idea whether they are alive.
As word spread that Hindus were trying to destroy the local mosque, Salima Bano's 18-year-old son ran out of the house toward the action. Mrs. Bano arrived in time to see him lean to pick up a stone, only to be hit by a policeman's bullet.
The battle was so fierce that Mrs. Bano was afraid to take her son to the hospital. Instead, she took him home, where he bled to death.
As the surviving residents of Naroda-Patia gathered round to talk, the men were angriest. Their hands shook and their eyes teared as they spoke. They said they knew the man who led the mob that attacked them. His name was Bipin Panchal and he was a local rickshaw salesman and a World Hindu Council supporter.
"If there's anybody responsible for this incident is it the police and Bipin,"
said Abul Hasan Ansari, whose paintbrush franchise was wiped out in the fires.
In different parts of Ahmedabad, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh residents have said in interviews in recent days that the council and its youth wing, the Bajrang Dal, had fomented and in some cases led the riots.
Mr. Bhatt, vice president of the state branch of the World Hindu Council and all-India vice president of the Bajrang Dal, denied that the groups participated in the riots, even as he justified the killing.
He proudly described himself as "the first enemy of Muslims" and posed with a three-pointed trident -- actually a vicious-looking knife -- that each Bajrang Dal member is given.