Fuel to the fire

Print edition : December 23, 2001

The Hindu right wing seizes the opportunity offered by Prime Minister Vajpayee's assertions to try and shore up its morale and to review its temple adventure.

IF considerations of popular appeal are what determine the organisational frames of reference of the Sangh Parivar, December 2000 proved to be an inopportune time to revive the Hindutva agenda. On December 6, the day Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee held for th on a Ram temple at Ayodhya, describing it as a reflection of the national will, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), the sword arm of the Sangh Parivar, put up one of its worst shows in Ayodhya.

A view of Ram ki Pauri in Ayodhya on December 6, 2000. The Sangh Parivar's expectations of a massive congregation were dashed and normal life remained unaffected in the town that day.-VISHNU NARAIN GUPTA

The VHP had convened a meeting of 20,000 kar sevaks to mark the eighth anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid: the Parivar celebrates the anniversary as Vijay Divas (Victory Day) and Shaurya Divas (Day of Valour). Acharya Giriraj Kishore, the VHP's senior vice-president, had announced that the celebrations at Karsevakpuram, the organisation's headquarters in Ayodhya, would signal the formal launch of preparations to build the temple, and that the "kar sevaks would renew the pledge". However, as it turned out, the Sangh Parivar's expectations of a massive congregation of volunteers were dashed. The VHP had planned to mobilise kar sevaks from the twin towns of Ayodhya and Faizabad as well as from the neighbouring areas of Gonda, Sultanpur and Akbarpur. The Bajrang Dal had wanted to hold in nearby villages and towns cycle rallies, which would move to Karsevakpuram "accepting the greetings of thousands of Hindus on the way".

The plans did not materialise. Kar sevaks arrived, but in small groups of five or 10. Some Bajrang Dal workers did cycle down to Karsevakpuram, but there was no warm reception along the roads. Sangh Parivar insiders admit sotto voce that the celebrations were a VHP flop show.

At Pindwara in Rajasthan, artisans working on parts of the proposed temple. A 1998 picture.-GOPAL SUNGER

According to some residents of Ayodhya and Faizabad, the reasons for the turn of events are not far to seek. The economic interests of the twin towns had been steadily affected, and people attribute this to the militant propagation of the Hindutva agenda . "The small markets that sell traditional pottery, leather goods and agricultural produce no longer get enough buyers. The politics of communalism has virtually killed our markets. We are not going to support them (the Sangh Parivar) to embark on the co urse of disaster," an upper-caste Hindu businessman said.

These sentiments were amply manifested in the recent civic body elections in the district. Both the Ayodhya and Faizabad municipalities elected the candidates of a resurgent Congress(I).

Normal life in Ayodhya and Faizabad remained unaffected on December 6. Businessmen and traders belonging to the minority community kept shutters down and observed the day as 'black day'. Elaborate security arrangements were made by the district administr ation. All vehicles and people entering the town were subjected to scrutiny. However, pilgrims were allowed to have 'darshan' of the idol of Ram Lalla placed at the Ram Janmabhoomi complex.

Acharya Giriraj Kishore, senior vice-president of the VHP.-N. SRINIVASAN

Notwithstanding this change of mood, VHP and Bajrang Dal leaders continued with their aggressive rhetoric. Addressing the Kar Sevak Sammelan, the VHP's international president Ashok Singhal, often referred to as Field Marshal in the Sangh Parivar, asked the Union government to hand over the 70-acre (28 hectares) plot of land acquired by it in Ayodhya to its "legitimate owner", the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, the trust formed to oversee the construction of the temple. The VHP had opposed the acquisition of the land by the P.V. Narasimha Rao government soon after the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

Earlier, both Singhal and Giriraj Kishore told the media that the 'Dharam Sansad', scheduled to meet in January during the Maha Kumbh in Allahabad, would fix a deadline for handing over the land. The VHP would constitute committees in all the six lakh vi llages to recruit kar sevaks for the next phase of the programme, they stated.

Giriraj Kishore told Frontline that "the Dharam Sansad would also announce the date of the kar seva. From then on the preparations would begin in full swing." The fabrication work for the temple was progressing at the mandir nirman karyashalas (temple construction workshops) at Pindwara in Sirohi district and Makrana in Nagaur district of Rajasthan and at Karsevakpuram. So the actual kar seva would essentially involve transporting these pre-fabricated pillars and other parts to the site of construction and assembling them. Giriraj Kishore said that 5,000 cubic feet of completed stone work, to be used in the garbha griha (sanctum sanctorum), had already reached Ayodhya from Pindwara. The pillars and other parts would be kept at thre e different places in Ayodhya, including Karsevakpuram. Up to 60 per cent of the ongoing stone work in the workshops in Rajasthan would be completed by March 2001. "We are prepared to build up to the first floor of the grand temple," he asserted.

According to Giriraj Kishore, the VHP has been moving in that direction since last April; meetings of the Prabandhak Samiti (programme committee) were organised in July in Agra and that of the Marg Darshak Mandal (the guidance committee comprising sanyas ins) in October in Goa. Both meetings evolved concrete programmes. Around 200 saints, mahants, acharyas and sanyasins attended the meeting in Goa, and apparently, prepared the blueprint for the temple.

However, sections of the Sangh Parivar point out that the VHP and the Bajrang Dal have not been able to make any systematic progress with regard to the schedule prepared in April. A senior VHP leader from Uttar Pradesh cited Giriraj Kishore's failure to carry out his programme for July of taking out a yatra from Jaipur to Ayodhya with the model of the temple created in Jaipur. The model was to have been consecrated in the Sarayu river before being placed at Karsevakpuram.

The yatra was conceived to "revive the Hindutva fervour" in northern India and provide a launch pad for the "final kar seva" - that of building the temple. Until Vajpayee's controversial statement of December 6, there were indications that the yatra had been shelved; Sangh Parivar activists were of the view that even if the yatra was held it would not be a high-profile event. But Vajpayee's statement has given the necessary fillip to the VHP to go ahead and make the yatra a big event.

Enthused by the situation, Sangh Parivar insiders say the timetable for the final kar seva would be rescheduled so as to start the run-up in July-August 2001 instead of March and end by November-December. The factors that prompted the Rashtriya Swayamsev ak Sangh (RSS) to suggest a revised schedule were mainly related to the logistics of the "adventurous kar seva". The logistical problems in undertaking the task between March and May apparently include climatic conditions, difficulty in getting the organ isational set-up in place and lack of clarity in naming the commander-in-chief of the operations. The agitation between 1989 and 1992, which culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid, was led by Ashok Singhal and his second-in-command Vinay Katiyar, who was then chief of the Bajrang Dal. The state of health of Singhal and Giriraj Kishore, number two in the VHP, do not permit them to command such a massive operation. The RSS is weighing the strengths and weaknesses of younger leaders like Vinay Ka tiyar and Praveen Togadiya. Political factors are bound to complicate these logistical problems, though.

The Sangh Parivar earlier feared that Bharatiya Janata Party leaders close to the Prime Minister would oppose the kar seva as an exercise that would break the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) at the Centre. But clearly, that threat seems to have receded since December 6. For the time being, however, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal would basically attempt to keep their flock together until a concrete plan of action is announced.

Ashok Singhal, VHP president.-RAVI SHARMA

There is already an indication as to what direction the "many moves" to retain the flock would take. Vinay Katiyar, the BJP's Lok Sabha member from Faizabad and a secretary of the VHP, told Frontline that he proposed to initiate a dialogue with Mu slim leaders to find a solution to the stasis. According to him, there are two ways to resolve the Ayodhya issue; one is to introduce legislation to construct the temple. This may not be possible at the moment as there was no unanimity in the NDA on the issue, he said. "Hence dialogue is the only option and I am going to initiate it."

However, Vinay Katiyar clarified that giving up the temple idea would not be one of the parameters of the dialogue. He asserted that the temple would come up at Ram Janmabhoomi. "We are ready to offer another spot in Ayodhya for building a mosque. Muslim s have to accept it because with the construction of the Ram mandir, the towns of Ayodhya and Faizabad would spring to a new life, socially and economically. There would be greater attention on the two towns and a lot of good would come out of that. Righ t now there is only despondency there and we need to change that for the betterment of the economic life of even Muslims."

Clearly, Vinay Katiyar is getting ready to make a new move in the many games played by the Sangh Parivar, which is all geared to launch new enterprises in January.

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