Ayodhya project

Mandir manoeuvres

Print edition : July 21, 2017

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in Ayodhya, being garlanded by Mahant Nrityagopal Das, the current president of the Rama Janmabhoomi Nyas, on May 31. Photo: PAWAN KUMAR/REUTERS

Not much is actually happening in Ayodhya, but the fact that the BJP is now in power in Uttar Pradesh stokes the hopes of those seeking to build a Ram temple there.

With the arrival of two truckloads of sandstone at Karsevakpuram in Ayodhya on June 19, the Sangh Parivar, led by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), launched one of its periodic exercises to keep its Ram Mandir agenda alive. Over the 25 years since the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992, different outfits of the Parivar, such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal, have come up with several such exercises. In the last three years alone, the VHP had on three different occasions “celebrated” concrete moves to complete the construction of the Ram Mandir. In 2014, immediately after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) swept to power at the Centre, the VHP organised a conclave to advance the temple project. In 2015, the VHP organised not only a conclave but also a parikrama (ceremonial perambulation) of the temple town and topped it up by bringing in two truckloads of stones to Ayodhya. The objective of all such manoeuvres is primarily to rekindle the Ram Mandir construction agenda in the temple town in such a manner that it also heightens communal tensions, at least among some sections of the population in Ayodhya and in Faizabad, its twin town located approximately eight kilometres away. The responses and ramifications that such developments in Ayodhya generate in other parts of Uttar Pradesh and the rest of the country also add value to the political and organisational objectives of the outfits in the Hindutva combine.

In spite of this “business as usual” aspect of the June 19, 2017, exercise, there is little doubt that the current move has generated relatively greater than usual fervour and enthusiasm among sections of Sangh Parivar supporters in Ayodhya. One such highly excited “Hindutva warrior” is Mahant Dharam Das, who was present at the “Ram Mandir workshop” at Karsevakpuram when Frontline visited it in late June. The workshop, where the prefabrication of the Mandir is apparently being carried out, has been functional under the VHP since 1993, a few months after the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Dharam Das told Frontline: “Now, this is not like earlier initiatives. This is the beginning of the final manoeuvres. There has not been a better time than this to complete the work of the grand temple. The political and social climate is just right. The Hindutva forces have our own governments both in the State and at the Centre, and that too with massive majorities. Along with it, the people across the country are energised by Hindutva fervour and values.”

Asked when he expected the actual construction to start, he had no doubt that things would start moving in late July. “Yogiji [Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath] is expected to be here in the last week of July, and that visit will give a fillip to the work.”

However, not all those associated with the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, the VHP-controlled trust that has campaigned for the Ram temple since the 1980s, shared this optimism. Swami Haridayal Mishra, one of the defendants in the Ayodhya title suit case, felt that since the original dispute was under the consideration of the courts, there was need for interventions beyond the efforts of the Hindutva organisations and the executive. He is of the view that the Supreme Court’s recent suggestion that it could act as a mediator, invoke Section 89 of the Code of Civil Procedure (CPC), and bring about a settlement between the different sides in the dispute could be pursued. Mishra also said that he was in discussions with several persons involved in the case from the Muslim side. However, he was not ready to disclose how far these discussions had gone. Mahant Nrityagopal Das, the current president of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, did not want to go into all this. All that he would say was that whatever the route and the modus operandi, the construction of the Ram temple would start by the end of 2017.

The other side

Khaliq Ahmed Khan, a resident of Faizabad who is associated with the Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC) and has been actively pursuing the legal dispute, said that everything currently under way, such as the arrival of the consignment of stones in Ayodhya and the talk of negotiations to build a temple, was part of a political drama being played out by the Sangh Parivar. “There is no way that the Supreme Court can bring about a negotiated settlement. The law has to take its own course, and those with whom the VHP and the Nyas are apparently speaking are people with no acceptance in the Muslim community. The important Muslim entities that are part of the dispute, the BMAC and the Sunni Waqf Board, are clear that the claim dispute needs to be settled first,” he told Frontline.

There are as many as 14 appeals from various sides in the Supreme Court. These are, broadly, the Sangh Parivar side that represents the deity, the Muslim side represented by various individuals and organisations, and the Nirmohi Akhara, which had controlled Hindu worship on Ram Chabutara—a platform outside Babri Masjid, which was demolished along with the masjid in 1992—since the time of the Mughal emperor Akbar. Khaliq Ahmed Khan held that the Nirmohi Akhara, which is seeking total rights over the disputed property, would not become party to the Sangh Parivar manoeuvres.

The Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha and the Nirmohi Akhara are opposing the claims of the VHP-led parties. There are six Muslim parties to the case—the Sunni Central Board of Waqfs; Hashim Ansari, deceased and now represented by his son Iqbal Ansari; the Jamiat-ul Ulema Hind; Misbahuddin; Farooq Ahmad, deceased and now represented by his son Mohammad Umar; and Maulana Mahfuzurrahman, represented by Khaliq Ahmed Khan; and all these want the title of the Babri Masjid land to be awarded only to the Sunni Central Board of Waqfs. In this context, the fresh consignment of stones does not appear to signal any concrete or immediate plan. But as followers of the former Nyas president, Ramachandra Paramhans, at the Digamber Akhara told Frontline, all the multiple narratives around temple construction had their value and might well converge to come up with a decisive strike at an opportune moment. “You will indeed be here, or you will be called to witness that,” said a group of mahants who had gathered at the Akhara. However, they admitted that the two truckloads that had come in by themselves did not add up to much in terms of construction. But then they recalled how the Nyas’ attempts to bring in stones regularly since December 2015 (when two truckloads of stones were brought) were blocked by the Akhilesh Yadav government, which withheld the Commercial Tax Department’s “form 39”. With a BJP government now in place, they pointed out, such obstructions would no longer be encountered.

Such contentions notwithstanding, the fact is that not much work is being done at the Mandir workshop near Karsevakpuram. There are only a couple of artisans at work, and Nagendra Upadhya, the main supervisor, is not on full-time duty. This is in sharp contrast to the situation that existed in the 1998-2000 period when as many as 135 workers were engaged in carrying out different tasks. At that time, the VHP boast was that all the pillars of the temple would be completed in five years. Another decade has passed since, but now no such claims are made. Three years ago, the supervisor did state that nearly 80 per cent of the prefabrication was over, but many in the Nyas itself raised doubts about this statement.

As things now stand, the latest stone-transporting exercise looks more like a publicity gimmick than anything else. And yet, as many “Hindutva warriors” based in places such as Digamber Akhara hope, the Sangh Parivar can change all this in a matter of days through militant moves of the kind that it is capable of. And then what? Perhaps the political climate that develops in the country in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha election will hold the answer to that question.

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