The Vishwa Hindu Parishad's aggressive stance on the construction of a Ram temple raises the suspicion that the Sangh Parivar plans to spring a surprise in Ayodhya.
COME December, the country hears the rumblings of the Ayodhya issue. This year the noises from the Hindutva brigade have been louder than usual, for the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections are just round the corner. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which has been in the forefront of the campaign for the construction of a temple in Ayodhya, however, maintains that its plan to begin the construction in March has nothing to do with the elections. It has announced that the work will start any day after March 12, on a date to be announced by the Dharma Sansad. The VHP has also made it clear that it does not care if its programme leads to the fall of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government and that it is ready to face even violent consequences as it did in October-November 1990 when the Mulayam Singh Yadav government opened fire on kar sevaks in Ayodhya.
Besides mobilising opinion through programmes such as yagnas, the chanting of mantras and the distribution of miniature trishuls (tridents) in Uttar Pradesh, the VHP has launched a comprehensive public relations exercise. The confidence with which VHP leaders speak about the construction programme conveys the impression that there is more to it than meets the eye. Their confidence stems from the belief that the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government at the Centre will not dare to use force on a huge congregation of Ram bhaktas and that when it comes to the crunch Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee could do a Kalyan Singh: refuse to use force against the congregation, own moral responsibility for the failure to maintain the status quo at the disputed site, and tender his resignation. In the meantime, as per the plan, a temple will come up the same way a makeshift temple was erected during the turmoil following the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
Senior VHP leaders told Frontline that most of the groundwork for erecting the temple had been completed, with parts of the temple having been fabricated at workshops in different parts of the country. "At the workshops in Jaipur and Ayodhya most of the basic work has already been done. All that remains is transporting the carved pieces to the site and placing them in the right position. The carving for the entire basic structure has been done. The temple could be erected in a matter of hours," said a VHP leader.
Leaders of the VHP said that once lakhs of people congregated at the designated site, no force in the world could prevent them from doing whatever they desired. The VHP's vice-president, Acharya Giriraj Kishore, said: "At the most they would use force, open fire. But if you remember, all the force at Mulayam Singh's disposal could not stop kar sevaks from climbing atop the dome of the Babri Masjid in 1990 and hoisting the bhagwa dhwaj there. So this time too, what more can they do? Kill some people? We are prepared for that". After February 16, 2002, he said, 20,000 VHP workers will camp in Ayodhya for 100 days, chanting mantras and performing yagnas and other rituals. They would finally start the construction, he said. Asked about Home Minister L.K. Advani's announcement in the Lok Sabha that the government will not allow anyone to change the status quo in Ayodhya, the VHP leader said: "We do not need the government's permission to build the temple. They can say or do what they like. Our programme remains unaltered. If lakhs of people gathered in Ayodhya and surrounded the site, would the government be able to prevent them from doing what they want? When people desire, governments have to give way."
Will not any such action lead to the fall of the Vajpayee government? The VHP does not seem to be bothered about that eventuality. Giriraj Kishore said: "It is not our responsibility to ensure the government's survival. For us, it is the temple that is more important, not the government. In any case, it is not a BJP government. He (Vajpayee) is too dependent on the allies." Regarding the Prime Minister's assurance that all obstacles in the way of temple construction will be removed by March 12, the VHP leader said: "He is the Prime Minister, so we have to believe him. It is good for us that the Prime Minister himself is talking about removing obstacles in the way of the construction of the temple. I wish him luck because he has made this promise to Paramhans Ramchandra Das (chairman of the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas). He has made the promise to a brahmachari and he better fulfil it."
The VHP has launched mass contact programmes. Its volunteers have been meeting politicians of all hues, including parliamentarians, and explaining their stand. VHP leader Ashok Singhal recently met All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam general secretary Jayalalithaa.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has offered its support to the VHP's programme. Addressing a press conference on December 6, RSS spokesperson M.G. Vaidya said the Sangh would give unqualified support to the programme. Constructing temples at Kashi and Mathura was also on its agenda, he said. Asked whether the programme would not lead to a confrontation with the NDA government, which has committed itself to maintaining the status quo in Ayodhya, Vaidya said: "There need not be any confrontation. We should trust the Prime Minister, who has said that all impediments to the construction of the temple would be removed before March 12."
The government has indeed expressed its resolve to maintain the status quo in Ayodhya. Its latest public pronouncement on this issue came during the Lok Sabha debate on December 3 on the intrusion of VHP leaders into the makeshift temple on October 17. Replying to the debate, Advani said: "We are responsible for maintaining the status quo in Ayodhya as per the Supreme Court order without in any way changing, altering or adding to the existing structure. We will not allow anyone to change the status quo there. The government will ensure compliance of court orders." But then, how does one explain the kid-gloves treatment that was given to VHP leaders Ashok Singhal and S.C. Dixit after they stormed the disputed area, violating a court directive prohibiting entry? They have been booked for "obstructing government personnel from discharging their duty". Such dichotomy between words and deeds is robbing the government of any credibility it has on the Ayodhya issue, it is being pointed out. "Do you think senior government officials were not present there when Singhalji and Dixitji went inside?" asked Acharya Giriraj Kishore. His observation adds to the feeling that when it comes to the crunch, the administration will remain a mute spectator, as it did on December 6, 1992.
Also, just before the Babri Masjid was demolished, the U.P. government too had expressed its commitment to protect the masjid - in its affidavit in the Supreme Court and at the National Integration Council meeting.
The Sangh Parivar's new aggression has already vitiated the atmosphere. Various Muslim organisations have declared that they will physically intervene if the government fails to stop the VHP's plan to construct the temple at Ayodhya. But the governments at the Centre and in the State do not seem to have been prepared to deal with the VHP onslaught. If the BJP fails to win the Assembly elections in U.P., the problem will only aggravate.
IN an effort to strengthen the Hindutva agenda, the Bajrang Dal has now taken up cudgels on behalf of Hindus in Bangladesh and Pakistan. According to Bajrang Dal leaders, these countries have been converted into "concentration camps" where Hindus are raped, killed and rendered homeless. They say that atrocities on Hindus in Bangladesh have increased since the Khaleda Zia government took over. Bajrang Dal leader Surendra Jain said: "There is a 10 per cent increase in the influx of Hindus since this government took charge. We demand the government of India to take up the issue with the government of Bangladesh and snap all diplomatic ties with Bangladesh and Pakistan until the atrocities on Hindus stopped." He urged the government to cancel the bus and train services to Dhaka and Lahore. He warned that if these demands were not met, "the Hindu youth will take it upon himself to act". He has set December 26 as the deadline for the Centre to act on these demands.