Police show muscle amid religious tension
Fears of Hindu-Muslim clash on Friday
Police and special armed forces gave a show of force in central India’s Dhar district, Madhya Pradesh, on Tuesday as tensions between Hindus and Muslims escalate ahead of Friday, when both communities plan to worship at a nearby temple.
The state government deployed 4,000 police and paramilitary personnel in a flag march at the disputed site on Tuesday.
"We are on high alert," said district collector C B Singh, the head administrator in Dhar.
Hindus have for years visited the site in Bhojshala town only on Tuesdays, leaving Muslims to conduct their weekly Friday prayers.
However, the Hindu festival Vasant Panchami falls on Friday this year.
Hindu seer Murari Bapu led a huge gathering last week calling on Hindus to pray at the site on Friday. He also vowed to visit Hindu communities to raise awareness before the festival.
On Tuesday, 17,000 Hindus visited the site in what is reported to be the highest turnout there on any single day.
A leading Muslim cleric in the area, Waqar Sadik, said that prayers could be conducted safely by both communities on Friday.
But local Hindus have called on the state government, run by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to bar Muslims from the site.
Authorities in the area are holding discussions with both sides to work out a peaceful solution, said local administrator Singh.
Opposition parties in the area have accused the BJP of using the incident to garner support ahead of assembly elections later this year. But State Home Secretary Uma Shankar Gupta dismissed these claims, stating that the standoff would be dealt with according to the law.
Deputy Inspector General Praveen Mathur said that beefed-up security measures would continue until Friday, including a Rapid Action Force and teargas trained personnel deployed and ready to deal with trouble.
He is expected to prepare for a possible visit by Pope Francis to the Hindu-majority country
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