RAY SUAREZ: Two days of violence in western India began with this scene yesterday: A train carrying Hindu fundamentalists set on fire by a Muslim mob. Many passengers were chanting Hindu slogans before the attack; 58 died.
TRAIN PASSENGER: (Translated): They surrounded the train from all sides. Then they poured diesel and petrol into the carriage that had mostly women in it, and then they burned them alive.
RAY SUAREZ: Today's retaliation also took the form of arson. Some 2,000 Hindus torched Muslim properties. At least 38 people died in the flames of this Muslim housing complex. In the words of one youth, "Now it's fair." Six more died from police shootings during the riots and store looting. Meanwhile, chants of "kill the killers" came from Hindu activists in the capital, New Delhi.
JAI BHAGWAN GOYAL, Hindu Shiv Sena Party (Translated): It was a planned attack, a conspiracy to attack the Hindus and openly burn them alive.
RAY SUAREZ: Yesterday's victims on the train in the western state of Gujarat were returning home from the Hindu holy city of Ayodhya. That's where the hard-line World Hindu Council wants to build a new temple. Ayodhya is considered the birthplace of the deity Lord Ram, and a popular pilgrimage destination. But there's been conflict in Ayodhya. It was once the site of this mosque, built in the 16th century, when this was part of a Muslim empire. The mosque was demolished ten years ago. Members of the World Hindu Council and other extremists tore it down in what they considered an act of liberation.
The ensuing riots and religious violence killed as many as many as 3,000 people, mostly Muslims. The 1992 unrest brought new support to Hindu nationalist groups, including Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's BJP Party. The party has close ties with the hard-line World Hindu Council. The Council said it will start building the new temple right on the site of the ruined mosque on March 15, despite a court order forbidding it.
RAY SUAREZ: For more, we go to Harold Gould, a visiting scholar of South Asian Studies at the University of Virginia, and author of five books about India; and Richard Larivier, the dean of the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Austin. He has written extensively about Indian religious law and Hindu religion. Well, Harold Gould, let's start with you. These tense areas are parts of India that you know well. Are the tensions that exploded into violence this week just always there and waiting for a spark? Why did this happen now?
HAROLD GOULD, University of Virginia: Well, I think this potentiality for violence has always lurked under the surface in India, ever since the partition. But it takes, as you say, sparks to bring it to the surface and produce serious repercussions.
And I would like to say that I think this particular event is as ugly and as reminiscent in many ways as the chaos that accompanied partition itself, only of course not hopefully ever on that scale again. But it's that type of unbridled violence.
I think it comes at a very bad time for India because I think India right now has worked to establish its identity both in the international community and with the United States as a secular democratic socially harmonious society and has tried to contrast itself with a theocratic authoritarian dysfunctional Pakistan. This kind of violence, this kind of communal unrest, if it ramifies, could really undermine considerably India's entire attempt to establish what kind of a society it wants to be from you know, from this time onward.
RAY SUAREZ: Let me go to Dean Lariviere at this point because Harold Gould mentions that this may be the worst violence since partition. It's been 54 years since partition, and even after Pakistan and India were created, India had one of the largest Muslim populations of any country on the globe. In half a century, how come they're still at each other's throats at flash point places like the state of Gujurat and Ayodiah?
RICHARD LARIVIERE, University of Texas at Austin: Well, to some extent it's helpful to look at the phenomenon of communalism in India as a sort of societal cancer in end in the same way that racism is a societal cancer here in the United States. From time to time there are remissions and one is even hopeful that you're curing these terrible cancers, but then some awful event rips open the new wounds.
There was an awful event in 1992 that ripped open the wounds, the destruction of the Babri Masjid as your piece just described. This is a new and really, really bad moment in the relationship between Muslims and Hindus. It's also a flashpoint and a hot-button issue in politics that is frequently the refuge of scoundrels who don't really know how to address the terrible problems that confront India.
India's an enormously wealthy country, but it has, in spite of its enormous wealth, it has an even larger population. And rather than coping with plans and policies for rectifying the inequities of resource distribution in India, which is a tough, tough problem, it's easier to articulate your political slogans in terms of these kinds of communal differences.
For instance, L K Advani who is the current home minister, was, in 1992, right on the spot when the Babri Masjid business was happening. In fact, in November of 1992, LK Advani said he didn't care what the Supreme Court said, they were going to tear down that mosque and build the Ram Temple.
Now, Mr. Advani's in the government and he is face ago terrible crisis and as so frequently happens with democracies, he finds his views mitigated once he's in power. But now he's really reaping the whirlwind of his own rhetoric over the years.
RAY SUAREZ: Harold Gould, let's talk a little bit more about the significance of that site. The Ayodiah mosque now is the focus of all this attention among Muslims and Hindus. Why?
HAROLD GOULD: Well, I think Professor Lariviere and you yourself have already indicated some of the factors here that there's an almost tragic symbolism here because this was considered to be the site of one of India's holiest figures, the God Ram. And then in 1526, a mogul, a Muslim emperor, agreed to have that temple destroyed and a mosque built on its site. There are even some historical evidences that this mogul king himself had misgivings about this, but was persuaded to do it by his religious fanatics of day.
At any rate, this has stood there as a running sore in India, and when modern institutions developed in India and politicization began as we know it in modern times, this became a ready focus for the, you know, the conflict between the Hindu and the Muslim communities, or at least those segments of it who were not identified with the desirability of building a secular state but each one... but the ones who wished to have, I suppose, what we call in the social sciences an ethno-religious state.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, the World Hindu Council now says that it's determined to, in two weeks from today, start building that new Hindu temple. Will anybody stop them? Will the BJP-led government, a Hindu nationalist government in India, stop them from doing it?
HAROLD GOULD: This is going to be a very interesting test case because the Hindu party that we're talking about, the BJP, is itself factionally split between what I would call pragmatic secularists on the one hand who are involved in democratic government and then their own right wing of fundamentalists or extremists who of course are not only pushing for this ethno-religious state based upon Hinduism but are also working very hard against the secularists in their own party.
And this comes at a time when the BJP and the coalition which it heads is suffering from some difficulties in terms of its capacity to govern the country at the center anyway because it has just lost elections in four of the major provinces, including the one within which this Ram Temple exists and which is the most important province in the country from the sort of demographic, political standpoint.
RAY SUAREZ: Dean Lariviere, are there other tensions in the neighborhood that are sort of visiting themselves on what's going on between Muslims and Hindus in northern India right now?
HAROLD GOULD: Well, I think it's being exacerbated by the tensions between India and Pakistan.
RICHARD LARIVIERE: And the fact that it happened in Gujirat at all is precisely due to the fact that Gujirat is...
HAROLD GOULD: Close to Pakistan.
RICHARD LARIVIERE: Raw territory for this kind of communalism.
RAY SUAREZ: It's right on the border with Pakistan?
RICHARD LARIVIERE: Yes, and it also is the home of some of the most rabid right wing Hindu fundamentalist movements in northern India.
RAY SUAREZ: So do you think on March 15, a date chosen for its religious auspiciousness, that people are going to start building a temple in that town?
RICHARD LARIVIERE: I think we are going to see the strongest test yet of Mr. Vaj Payee's leadership. He has already told his party, his home minister Mr. Advani have already told the workers for the BJP and for the Vishnu Gayatri that they are not to assemble - that they are not to begin building the temple and we'll see if they have the dedication and the resolve to put this fire out.
HAROLD GOULD: And I think it's an important sort of insight into this is the fact that Advani, the chap who you had on your program here a couple of weeks ago, really in a sense represents the more hard-line faction within the BJP. And possibly the March 15 date could produce a kind of a, you know, an internal conflict within the BJP, which could widen the gap between Advani and Vajpayee.
RAY SUAREZ: Harold Gould, Richard Lariviere, I have to stop it there, but thank you both, gentlemen.
HAROLD GOULD: You're welcome.