IN June 1998, when the prefabrication work for the proposed Ram temple at Ayodhya generated a furore, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal leaders, refuted the argument that the work went against the Supreme Court order to maintain the status q uo at the disputed Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi site. They said that they were bound only by faith and the diktats of the dharmacharyas (religious heads). "The prefabrication work has been going on since 1991 as per the directions of the dharmacharya s and we will even increase its pace if the dharmacharyas order it" was the position of leaders of the VHP, the Bajrang Dal and the Sri Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas, the trust that supposedly oversees the construction of the temple.
Two years hence, artisans at the mandir nirman karyashalas (temple construction workshops) at Ayodhya and Pindwara in Rajasthan are working faster. In Ayodhya, the VHP-controlled trust acquired three acres of land adjoining the workshop to accommo date more artisans. In Rajasthan, the workshop at Makrana, near Pindwara, is a new addition. The two workshops at Ayodhya are situated hardly 2 km from the Babri Masjid site. The workforce at these workshops have increased in number. Thirty-five workers are engaged in the new workshop, while 100-odd workers are making pillars and cutting stones at the original karyashala, which is on a 10-acre (four-hectare) plot of land at Ramghat Chauraha near Karsevakpuram, the Ayodhya headquarters of the VHP. It was at Karsevakpuram that Sangh Parivar activists camped during the tumultuous days of the Ayodhya agitation. The karyashala started functioning in 1989.
In 1998, Nagendra Upadhya, the superviser of the karyashala, told this correspondent that the pillars for the temple would be ready in five years. Now, the work having picked up momentum with the increase in the size of the workforce, he is confid ent that the pillars will be ready ahead of time. The use of stone-cutting machines, whose number has gone up to three, has also helped speed up the work. While 50 pillars were put together by joining stone blocks between 1991 and 1998, during the last t wo years 56 pillars were fabricated. According to Upadhya, the temple construction will start with from the garbha griha (sanctum sanctorum) and the rang mandap. According to him, pillars meant for these two structures are ready.
Apparently a total of 212 pillars will be needed for the two-storeyed temple. The remaining 106 pillars need be ready only after construction begins at the site. The temple will have three types of pillars - two sets of 72 pillars each with heights of 16 .6 feet and 14.6 feet respectively and a third set of 68 pillars, with heights ranging from 3.63 feet to 12.9 feet. According to VHP leader Acharya Giriraj Kishore and Nyas chairman Ramachandra Paramahans, apart from making the pillars the artisans have chiselled enough sandstone blocks to complete the construction of the garbha griha. About 25,000 cubic feet of stone is needed for the garbha griha, whereas the entire temple complex would require 1,75,000 cubic feet. According to Paramahan s, the stones that have been readied will be sufficient for the plinth of the temple.
Champat Rai, VHP joint general secretary, told Frontline that a tentative construction schedule had been drawn up, but he was not prepared to talk about the specifics. He said that the date of the start of the work would be decided by the dharmach aryas. However, Sangh Parivar insiders say that construction would begin after mid-2001.
The preparations for an early start of work on the temple are evident not only at the workshops but at Karsevakpuram. Two new buildings are coming up in the sprawling compound. One of them is a temple where the model of the proposed Ram temple, which is expected to reach Ayodhya from Jaipur after September, will be consecrated. The second building, bang in the middle of the compound, is a huge structure and is apparently meant to accommodate at least 200 persons. Its construction acquires significance i n the context of the training programmes that have been going on at Karsevakpuram for two years.
According to Paramahans, the VHP and the Bajrang Dal have conducted at least 15 camps to teach Hindu philosophy, polemics and yoga and other Indian systems for physical well-being. However, since the organisations involved are the VHP and the Bajrang Dal , which are known for extra-legal enterprises like the demolition of the Babri Masjid, there are doubts whether the training was as innocuous as Paramahans made it out to be. Before the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992, the Bajrang Dal had trained its volunteers in places such as Kanpur and Mathura on how to pull down old, strong structures. According to a Bajrang Dal insider, at least half the training programmes conducted at Ayodhya in the last two years involved such "constructive prog rammes". Apparently, the focus was on how to carry on with the construction of the temple, or at least make a forceful show of attempting to construct it if the government and its security agencies curbed it.
When it was pointed out that the temple construction, unlike the demolition of the mosque, could not be a one-day exercise and that the security forces would have ample time to prevent any illegal construction activity, Champat Rai asserted that the kar sevaks would find ways and means to keep "opponents" at bay. He claimed that geological studies commissioned by the VHP had shown that it would not be difficult to construct on the land in and around the disputed site. "We need not dig deep to lay the fo undation. We are planning to go in for a raft foundation, and the platform built during the July 1992 kar seva will help us adopt this process," Rai added.
Clearly, as the VHP and Bajrang Dal leaderships have maintained amidst the Sangh Parivar's multiple-speak on the Ayodhya issue, the work on the construction of the temple is going on at a steady pace. The question that remains is when these extremist com ponents of the Hindutva combine will get into an adventurist mode. By all indications, the turn of the year will provide them the opportunity.