Back to Ayodhya

Published : Jun 24, 2000 00:00 IST

The VHP's aggressive mobilisation on the temple issue appears to have two purposes: one, to revive the sagging fortunes of the Parivar and, two, to serve notice on A.B. Vajpayee against ignoring the core Hindutva agenda.


THE Hindutva agenda, particularly the priority for the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya, has come to the fore in the political scheme of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar after a gap of nearly two years. A series of events ha s signalled this. The various formations of the Sangh Parivar, especially the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal, plan to go ahead on this with an elaborate programme. The VHP gave the programme a new impetus when it decided in April to buil d a huge model of the proposed temple and consecrate it at Karsevakpuram in Ayodhya. A month later, Mahant Ramachandra Paramahans, chairman of the Sri Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas, the VHP-controlled trust that is supposed to oversee the construction of the templ e, was injured in a mysterious bomb blast near the district hospital in Faizabad, where he had been admitted with common ailments. Although Paramahans did not suffer any grievous injuries in the blast, the event was used by the VHP and the Bajrang Dal to whip up a campaign in northern India against "Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and Islamic fundamentalist organisations in India receiving help from the ISI". The campaign acquired a crassly communal colour in several areas and the spectre o f disorder returned to the twin towns of Ayodhya and Faizabad.

Even as demonstrations against the "attack on Paramahans" continued, Acharya Giriraj Kishore, senior vice- president of the VHP, announced that the model of the temple, which was being put together in Jaipur, would be taken in a procession to Ayodhya in or after September for consecration. The VHP choosing to give such advance publicity to the matter indicated that it obviously did not want to let go of the opportunity provided by the charged atmosphere following the blast. Other events planned by the o rganisation include meetings of its Prabandhak Samiti (programme committee) in July in Agra and the Marg Darshak Mandal (the guidance committee comprising sanyasins) in October in Goa. According to VHP leaders, these meetings will discuss concrete plans with regard to the Ayodhya issue. In early 2001, the Dharma Sansad (religious parliament comprising sants and mahants as well as VHP activists) would assemble in Allahabad during the annual Kumbh Mela.

In all probability, the Sansad would announce the date for starting the construction of the Ram temple at the site of the demolished Babri Masjid. Although it is not clear indications as to when this exercise would begin, VHP insiders told Frontline that it could be in the latter half of 2001. Significantly, the pace of fabrication of pillars and other stone components for the proposed temple has picked up at the mandir nirman karyashalas (temple construction workshops) in Ayodhya and Pind wara in Rajasthan. According to VHP leaders, pillars for the garbha griha (sanctum sanctorum) and stones for the plinth and the ground floor structure are ready.

The Sangh Parivar plans to use the Jaipur-to-Ayodhya yatra carrying the model, and related programmes, including meetings of the Marg Darshak Mandal and the Dharma Sansad, to whip up Hindutva sentiment and develop a political discourse around it. That th e Sangh Parivar has planned all these with a political motive is clear from the way events have developed. For instance, no arm of the Sangh Parivar talked about building a model of the Ram mandir until April. Obviously, that idea was not on the Parivar' s religious or organisational agenda. But suddenly, the VHP discovered the need to make a model and carry it to Ayodhya in a yatra. Asked about its significance, the VHP leadership had no clear answer. Acharya Giriraj Kishore merely claimed that "it (cre ating a model) is usually done in all religious places and that it is not special for Ayodhya."

Indications from Sangh Parivar constituents are that a number of factors have led to the present attempt to revive the Ayodhya issue. These range from political perceptions to battles within the Parivar to changing power equations in the RSS. According t o activists of different groups within the Parivar, one determining factor has been the change in the top leadership of the RSS. With the elevation of K.S. Sudarshan to the post of Sarsanghchalak in place of Prof. Rajendra Singh, there is a growing feeli ng within the Parivar that core Hindutva issues would get priority. The VHP and the Bajrang Dal are apparently trying to use the opportunity to emerge from the sidelines and occupy centre stage in Parivar and national politics.

THE present initiative is premised on the belief of a section of the Parivar, which includes the VHP, the Bajrang Dal, and some leaders of the RSS and the BJP, that the time has come to end the business of "presenting a moderate face, bypassing the core issues of the Parivar, and being dependent on whimsical allies in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)." According to this section, if the present situation in the NDA is allowed to persist, the Parivar and its political arm, the BJP, will never get a chance to bid for power on their own at the national level. In its view, the Hindutva agenda is the only sure recipe to capture power single-handedly at the Centre, and driving home the demographic advantage of Hindu society in Hindustan is the only sens ible socio-political plan of action.

Leaders of this section point out that coalition politics and dependence on allies have had disastrous consequences in Uttar Pradesh, where the Parivar was once all-powerful. Assembly elections are due in the State in 18 months. This section asserts that the BJP will be reduced to a poor third unless the moderate strategy is given up. In the opinion of its leaders, the revival of Hindutva alone will help the party retrieve lost ground, particularly the backward-caste vote lost with the expulsion of form er Chief Minister Kalyan Singh.

While the entire VHP and Bajrang Dal leadership is of this view, the BJP is divided on the issue. Only leaders such as Union Human Resource Development Minister Murli Manohar Joshi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Ram Prakash Gupta agree with this. Other BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, have tried to distance themselves from core Hindutva programmes in the interest of remaining in power. The Chennai conclave of the BJP's National Executive had announced that the BJP was at pre sent committed to the NDA's agenda and not to core Hindutva goals; leaders such as Sushma Swaraj have, in recent times, stated that Ayodhya is a political issue, which should not be seen as a social or religious question. Obviously, the consideration of retaining power is more important for these leaders.

That Vajpayee and Ram Prakash Gupta hold different views on this issue was evident by last year. During a visit to Ayodhya in December, Gupta stated that the construction of a Ram mandir was on the BJP's agenda, although not on the NDA's. This caused Vaj payee much embarrassment in Parliament and within the NDA, so much so that he had to deny that the construction of a Ram mandir was on the BJP's agenda. The current clash of views is a logical extension of that spat. Considerable debate has taken place i n the recent past within the Parivar on this clash of perceptions. BJP members of Parliament belonging to the VHP-Bajrang Dal school of thought, such as Vinay Katiyar, questioned Sushma Swaraj's formulation. D.B. Rai, former BJP MP from Sultanpur, who wa s the Senior Superintendent of Police in Faizabad when the Babri Masjid was demolished on December 6, 1992, even suggested that the VHP sever ties with the BJP leadership. "When the BJP has dropped the core issues from its ideological plank, why should t he VHP continue to support it?" he asked.

Although the leaderships of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal do not completely agree with Rai's proposition officially, it has come to the conclusion that the change of guard in the RSS has provided the opportunity to hit back at the moderate leadership of th e BJP, headed by Vajpayee. Sudarshan's hawkish postures suit VHP-Bajrang Dal internal organisational plans, although the Sarsanghchalak has not given the green signal. VHP and Bajrang Dal insiders point out that certain recent pronouncements of Sudarshan have been extremely encouraging. According to these sources, addressing the RSS' officer's training camp on June 10 at Nagpur, the Sarsanghchalak gave a stern warning to the Vajpayee government to correct its anti-Hindutva, anti-swadeshi policies at the earliest. Sudarshan reportedly thundered that the RSS would give the Vajpayee government only six more months to "come back to the nationalist path" and "if it failed to do so" the Sangh Parivar "would be forced to take an openly adversarial role". The six-month deadline ends just before the start of the Dharma Sansad in January. "This time-frame fits in with our plans on the mandir front," a senior VHP leader said.

Sudarshan has not been happy with the basic policy directions of the Vajpayee government. In December 1998, he initiated an exercise within the Sangh Parivar to debate the issue. This was in the form of a Chinthan Baithak (introspection meet), which took place in Nagpur between December 8 and 13, 1998. The RSS top brass and representatives of all Sangh Parivar organisations attended it. Sudarshan, then the RSS joint general secretary, stated during the course of the meetings with uncharacteristic candou r that the Parivar was unhappy with the functioning of the government. He specifically pointed to moves such as the one to introduce the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority (IRDA) Bill, and termed them retrograde. His complaints against the Va jpayee government have only intensified since then. He reportedly took umbrage at several of its initiatives, such as the controversial telecom deal, the Sankhya Vahini project and the decision to allow 100 per cent Foreign Direct Investment in business- to-business e-commerce ventures.

At the organisational level, Sudarshan continued with his anti-Vajpayee moves at the Akhil Bharatiya Prathinidhi Sabha (national executive) of the RSS in March 1999. At that meet, he prepared a blueprint to pursue three issues irrespective of the NDA gov ernment's declared position on them. These were: a movement against the conversion of Hindus, especially to Christianity; an agitation against Western-oriented economic liberalisation policies that militate against swadeshi economics; and moves to revive the Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura temple agitations. According to Sangh Parivar insiders, the unpublicised sub-text of these slogans pointed to an attempt to unseat Vajpayee from the top post and replace him with a more amenable candidate.

But all these did not materialise for two reasons. First, the soft corner that Sarsanghchalak Rajendra Singh had for Vajpayee, and, secondly, Pakistan's armed incursion in Kargil and the way it was handled by the Army. Kargil conferred on Vajpayee the ha lo of a war hero. This demolished the plans of the core Hindutvadis as the Lok Sabha elections were fought once again on Vajpayee's personal image. The reduction in the BJP's tally of seats and the increase in the allies' strength made the RSS position w eaker, even as Vajpayee grew in strength on account of his level of acceptance among the allies.

Vajpayee soon started asserting himself. This became evident in various ways, starting with the manner in which controversial proposals, such as those relating to the IRDA and Sankhya Vahini, were pursued. Even within the BJP, Vajpayee began to call the shots. He successfully removed Kalyan Singh, first from the chief ministership of Uttar Pradesh and later from the party itself. Obviously, Vajpayee used there-is-no-alternative (TINA) factor to his advantage both in the government and in the party.

THROUGHOUT this period, the VHP leadership was seething. During Vajpayee's spat with Ram Prakash Gupta on the question whether the Ayodhya temple issue was on the BJP's agenda, a senior VHP leader told Frontline that the Prime Minister could be pu shing his advantage to the limit by making statements to the effect that the construction of a temple was not on the agenda. If the Prime Minister went on in this vein, he added, the sant samaj could throw a challenge by embarking on the temple construct ion. By all indications, that is what is being planned now, with definite dates and proposals.

Paramahans told Frontline that "no Constitution, no laws, no government and no Prime Minister can stop our work" and that the Sri Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas was committed only to the dharma and the Dharmacharyas. There is no doubt that the extremist outf its can embark on an adventurist exercise at any point of time. According to Parivar insiders, the VHP's international president Ashok Singhal (he is referred to as field marshal in the Parishad for his superior skills in organising adventurist activitie s such as the kar seva and the demolition of the Babri Masjid) has already worked out plans to "cut off" Faizabad and Ayodhya from a distance of over 25 km in case of intervention by the government and the security agencies.

If the VHP's scheme for Ayodhya gets the go-ahead from Sudarshan and the rest of the RSS top brass, it looks certain that Vajpayee and his moderate supporters will fall in line. That is how the dynamics of the Sangh Parivar have worked traditionally.

However, there is a stream of opinion among BJP and Sangh Parivar observers that both the Vajpayee and anti-Vajpayee groups could be the creation of the RSS top brass itself and that the two groups could be working in tandem. They also say that the fight between the two groups could be a ruse to pull the wool over the eyes of other NDA constituents and push the real Hindutva agenda. After all, they point out, deception comes naturally to the Hindutva combine as established by the events that preceded th e demolition of the Babri Masjid. The Hindutva combine had assured both the Supreme Court and the National Development Council that no harm would come to the Masjid.

Whether this perception is true or not, one thing is certain. The games within the Sangh Parivar are entering a new stage with the recent events related to Ayodhya. Indeed, the next stage holds out ominous portents for the NDA government and the country.

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