A now or never moment?

AYODHYA TEMPLE CONSTRUCTION DEMAND

A view of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in October, 1990. PTI File Photo

When the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s (VHP) Ucchadhikar Samiti on Friday last expressed its exasperation at the delay in the promised construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya and upped the ante seeking a legislative route to facilitate it, it only reflected the growing voice in the Sangh Parivar that this could well be a ‘now or never’ moment for their pet project.

At a time when the rupee fall, rising petrol prices, job scenario, agrarian distress fuelling farmers’ protest and outrage stare the Narendra Modi government in the last year of its five-year term in the face, the build up of Ram Temple narrative is not something that the BJP would really mind. Anyway, the Mandir has been an “aastha ka vishay” (a matter of faith)” for the Parivar.

In June this year, chief priest of Ramjanmbhoomi temple Acharya Satyendra Das categorically said that either BJP builds Ram Mandir or faces defeat in 2019. BJP leader Subramanian Swamy wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi a few months ago telling him that his government can enact an ordinance of ownership on the disputed land, which is believed by millions to be the birthplace of Lord Ram. Even BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra had said in Mumbai sometime back that he would give in writing that a Ram temple would be constructed in Ayodhya.

While Modi and his ministers are for record sake stressing that the BJP will fight the next Lok Sabha polls on the development agenda, referring the Ayodhya matter as something to be decided by the court, the pressure for temple from within the organisation and the Parivar has been unrelenting.  

Legally, after the three-judge bench of Supreme Court on September 27, 2018 declined a plea of Muslim side to refer to a lager bench the issue of reconsideration of its 1994 judgement stand that a mosque was not integral to Islam, decks appear have been cleared for an early decision on the Ramjanmbhoomi issue.

The SC, which is hearing a clutch of petitions filed against the 2010 verdict Allahabad High Court, which advocated for giving the disputed land in three parts one to deity of Ramlala Virajman, another to Hindu sect Nirmohi Akhara and a third to the Muslims, will begin day-to-day hearing of the matter on October 29.

There is a general perception that last month’s SC order on has come as a shot in the arm for the BJP which is hopeful of a decision in favour of the Ram Temple, something on which it could go to the people in 2019. While the Muslim side is also hopeful of the judgement going in their favour, the Sangh Parivar and other Hindu organisations have already started building up the moment.

The Friday VHP meeting comes in the wake of a clear stand espoused by the outfit that something new will be planned if no headway was made on temple construction issue by September 2018.

Not surprisingly, the resolution passes talks about plans in October and November to build momentum for the temple. Their “considered view” is that the representatives of social and religious institutions of all states will meet the governors to apprise them of the “feelings of Ram devotees” in their states and urge them to convey it to Centre to “pave the way for construction of Ram temple by making a law”.

On Gita Jayanti, which falls on October 18, VHP has lined up programmes in mutt-mandirs, ashrams, gurudwaras etc for Ram temple construction. In November, the group plans to organise public meetings in each Parliamentary constituency in which large delegations led by regional saints will meet the BJP MPs. Plans have come just ahead of the Assembly elections in five states, which will conclude in mid-December.

While larger Sangh Parivar believes that the matter is dragging on in the court for a long time, even among the core BJP voters, a feeling is growing that the party reaped political dividends by raking up Ram temple issue but did not deliver on the promise. So while the top rung is talking of ‘Vikas’, cadres are freely raking up ‘aastha’.

The earlier three BJP-led NDA (two were short-lived) governments led by A B Vajpayee had the constraint of dependence on allies. This is the first that BJP has a brute majority in Lok Sabha. As such, the party may find it difficult to offer any excuse this time.

RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat batted for Ram temple “at the earliest”, maintaining that it was a “fact” that Ram mandir was “demolished”. Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray plans to visit Ayodhya post Dussehra festival, invited by the Ram Janmbhoomi Mandir Nirman  Nyas. He announced that he would lay the brick for temple construction there.

Swabhiman Yatra

The Hindu Mahasabha plans to take out a Hindu Swabhiman Yatra from Lucknow to Ayodhya. A ‘shila poojan’ at the birth place of Ram and ‘bhandara’ (community meal) in Ayodhya is also on their menu.  Praveen Togadia, VHP’s erstwhile face and now a rebel, plans to take Ayodhya March with his supporters no October 21. Last week a senior Hindu seer in Ayodhya, Mahant Paramhans, the head a religious mutt Tapasvi Chavni went on indefinite hunger strike.

The Ram Temple issue is also likely also figure at the annual ‘Diwali Baithak’ of the Sangh called Akhil Bhartiya Karyakarini Mandal in November which is being attended by top office bearers of both RSS and BJP. Bhagwat recently said not even Opposition parties can oppose the construction of Ram Temple. In fact barring Left, no other Opposition  party including Congress can afford the electoral risk of being seen as opposing Ram temple construction at a time of polarised politics.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi has taken to temple hopping to counter the impression of the Congress as a Muslim party (something which A K Antony Committee, which had gone in the cause of disastrous drubbing of Congress in 2014 general elections, had pointed out as a reason for shock 44 seats of the party). Temple visits and donations to Puja samitis is now part of most party’s political reach out.

Congress is limiting its attack to “BJP’s hypocrisy” on the matter, calling BJP and RSS are “Kaliyug’s Kaikeyi), who remember Lord Ram before every election and then send him to exile.

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A now or never moment?

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