Police try to seal off New Delhi, bracing for massive Hindu protest

February 23, 1993|By New York Times News Service

NEW DELHI, India -- New Delhi is a city under siege as it braces for an enormous demonstration by Hindu fundamentalists to be held Thursday.

The government has banned the demonstration, and fears of violent confrontations between fervent Hindu militants and the police are sweeping the city even as security forces try to seal this capital off from the rest of India.

Thousands of Hindu leaders and potential demonstrators are being rounded up by police, trains pulling into the city's three stations are being checked for Hindu protesters, and the roads into the capital have been sealed to motor caravans of Hindus militants.

Along Raj Path, the vast grassy esplanade and boulevard leading to the government buildings, workers hammered huge wooden beams into the asphalt and began laying steel pipe barriers across roadways.

For weeks, Hindu political leaders have been promising that more than 1 million of their supporters would descend on the capital in an effort to bring down the government of Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao.

The government estimates that a half-million protesters have already arrived.

By staging a huge demonstration outside Parliament, the Hindu leaders said, they would force Mr. Rao to call for new national elections, elections they hope will catapult them to power.

But Mr. Rao, under pressure from colleagues in his New Congress Party who have said the protest would degenerate into violence, has outlawed the demonstration and flooded the city with police and paramilitary forces.

The political opposition, the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party, has said the protest will go ahead despite the ban.

"The point is," Mr. Rao said in an interview, "in an atmosphere which is surcharged with communal feelings, tensions, you cannot take this risk. It is that simple."

Lal Kishanchand Advani, the leader of the opposition in Parliament, denounced the government's banning of the rally and staged a three-hour sit-in of fellow opposition lawmakers on the lawns of the circular, pillared Parliament building. The government, he said, "wants to use state power to gag and stifle the Bharatiya Janata Party."

And Murli Manahor Joshi, the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, accused the government of stifling democratic rights by banning the demonstration.

"The Congress has not just pitted itself against the BJP," he said at a news conference. "It has pitted itself against the people of India -- against the heart and mind of India. This is not good for the country."

Since mobs of Hindu militants demolished a 16th-century Muslim mosque in December in the northern holy town of Ayodhya, Hindu leaders have stepped up their pressure on the News Congress Party government, believing that a groundswell of public opinion has shifted toward the Hindu movement.

The destruction of the mosque was followed by weeks of bloodshed as Muslims exploded in rage in towns and cities around India and were often fired upon by the police.

Last month, in a sustained nine-day attack on the Muslims of Bombay, crowds of young Hindu extremists belonging to a group called Shiv Sena systematically firebombed Muslim homes and businesses, killing more than 600 Muslims.

Already, the people of Delhi, both New and Old, are becoming more cautious in their movements, unsure of what will happen in the coming days, especially on Thursday.

The government's principal spokesman, S. Narendra, estimated that 500,000 Hindu militants had already entered the city.

Early yesterday, police raided houses across New Delhi and arrested about 200 people, most of them party members, on charges of breaching the peace, Press Trust of India said.

Police also arrested thousands of people in nearby states to prevent them from heading toward the capital, raising the number of people arrested since Sunday to about 6,400, United News of India reported.

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