Back to Ayodhya

The VHP’s Ayodhya Parikrama leaves the temple town and its twin city cold, but the Sangh Parivar presses ahead in the hope of electoral benefits elsewhere in Uttar Pradesh.

Published : Sep 04, 2013 12:30 IST

Ayodhya, August 25: Pravin Togadia, international working president of the VHP, being arrested outside the Sadguru temple at Gola Ghat. A large contingent of police with senior officers was in search of the VHP leader, who hid in temples after entering the town. He was arrested when he came out to start the Chaurasi Kosi Parikrama.

Ayodhya, August 25: Pravin Togadia, international working president of the VHP, being arrested outside the Sadguru temple at Gola Ghat. A large contingent of police with senior officers was in search of the VHP leader, who hid in temples after entering the town. He was arrested when he came out to start the Chaurasi Kosi Parikrama.

“THE only impact is the hurtful impact on our day-to-day living. For the last few days, we could not come here, open our shops and eke out our livelihood. Everything came to a standstill, and hordes of security forces had taken over this town. These political provocateurs have once again caused us material harm. It will take some time to make up this loss and move ahead.” Shopkeeper Biswanath Choubey, who sells materials for pujas and other religious rituals in Ayodhya, eagerly watched the streets slowly coming to life as he stated his views on the recent expedition of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) into the temple town. It was August 28, 2013, the day of Srikrishna Janmashtami, the first major religious festival after the VHP sought, on August 25, to launch its own version of Chaurasi Kosi Parikrama (84 Kosi Parikrama), a religious procession held periodically in Ayodhya.

The Uttar Pradesh government’s security machinery did not allow the VHP exercise, citing threats to the law-and-order situation and communal harmony. Several leaders and activists of the VHP, including its senior-most leader, Ashok Singhal, and international president, Pravin Togadia, were arrested. The VHP and other Sangh Parivar organisations, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), castigated the move as an infringement on the religious rights of the Hindu community. But all this seemed to evoke no traction in the temple town and surrounding areas. On the contrary, it evoked stringent and widespread criticism from the majority of the population. There were several people belonging to different communities who echoed Choubey’s views.

For the VHP and the larger Sangh Parivar, the message from the developments of August 25 in relation to Ayodhya was loud and clear. The Hindutva combine is nowhere close to reclaiming its heady days of dominance of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when it dictated almost everything in Ayodhya and surrounding areas. This domination had been on the wane since the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992, and correspondingly the attraction quotient of the Sangh Parivar’s brand of Hindutva had also come down. In the last decade and a half, the various Sangh Parivar outfits, especially the VHP, made periodic and generally unsuccessful attempts to revive this political stream based on communal polarisation. From the beginning of 2013, the Parivar initiated a series of consultations on reviving the Ayodhya-oriented Hindutva campaign and once again the VHP was deputed to advance it.

The planning started in January after Rajnath Singh once again became the president of the BJP, rather dramatically, when several senior leaders ganged up to scuttle the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) plan to give Nitin Gadkari a second term as party president. According to a senior RSS activist based in Lucknow, the Sangh Parivar leadership convened a meeting on January 31 in New Delhi. It was attended by an array of senior leaders, including Rajnath Singh; top leaders of the RSS, Bhaiyaji Joshi and Suresh Soni; the VHP’s Ashok Singhal, Pravin Togadia and Champat Rai; and the BJP’s Lal Krishna Advani, Sushma Swaraj and Murli Manohar Joshi. Once the task was assigned to the VHP, it started to work out specific plans. A meeting of sants and mahants supporting the VHP was held in Hardwar in the first week of February, which came up with a formal call to revive the Ayodhya Ram Mandir movement. From then on, said the Lucknow-based RSS activist, the VHP went about making preparations and it was done over a period of four months. The Kendriya Margdarshak Mandal of the organisation met on June 11 and 12 in Hardwar to finalise the plans and these were presented to a larger meeting of the central management committee held in Guwahati on July 26. The Guwahati meeting put the final stamp of approval on the August programme of “Chaurasi Kosi Parikrama”. The meeting also approved plans for a “panch-kosi parikrama” to be launched in the last two weeks of September or in early October. This is to be the follow-up of the August operation.

Clearly, these plans are a lot more extensive and detailed than the Sangh Parivar’s Ayodhya initiatives of the last few years. The reasons for this pointed focus are evident. The 2014 Lok Sabha elections are coming up, and as in all such general elections, the Sangh Parivar wants the value addition from a polarisation of the Hindutva-oriented vote. According to the Lucknow-based RSS activist, this factor is even more important in the 2014 scenario because the party is planning to face it under the leadership of Narendra Modi. The Gujarat Chief Minister has already been made the head of the campaign committee and it is only a matter of time before he is formally appointed the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. Modi also goes by the sobriquet of “Hindu Hriday Samrat”. Given the charges against him in relation to the 2002 anti-Muslim riots in Gujarat, it is not possible to build up any campaign to attract minority votes using his political personality. “So, it makes sense to go all out for a Hindutva consolidation and that is the logic behind the new pointed focus on Ayodhya and the virtual reinstatement of the VHP in the Sangh Parivar's larger scheme of things,” the RSS activist said.

Of course, he added, the top leaders of the BJP would not play an active role in this campaign. “They will highlight the infringement of Hindu religious rights, but they will not take any aggressive postures. Their task is to focus on the failures of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance [UPA] government and highlight Modi’s ‘development personality’. But, obviously, this will be supplemented with the polarising Hindutva campaign of the VHP and its associate organisations,” he said. As for the VHP, many of its leaders, including Togadia, are persistent adversaries of Modi not only within the Parivar but also in public forums. But this has not prevented them from carrying out the RSS diktat, partly because the organisation, which has been sidelined for a decade or so, now has found an opportunity to get back some of its political clout within the Parivar and the larger polity.

But the August exercise has not evoked the kind of response that the VHP and the Parivar wanted. In practical terms, the Chaurasi Kosi Parikrama traverses approximately 300 kilometres around Ayodhya, passing through various villages and small towns (one kos is considered to be 3.2 km and as per that calculation a Chaurasi Kosi Parikrama should cover 268.8 km, but it is generally accepted among the sants and mahants that this is actually a little over 300 km). Travelling through three of the six districts through which the parikrama was to pass, this correspondent found that the Hindutva agenda had found no traction at all in the targeted population. Apart from the economic reasons cited by those like shopkeeper Choubey, many religious factors also seem to have contributed to this failure.

The most important is that the VHP planned a Chaurasi Kosi Parikrama well past its scheduled period for this year. Talking to Frontline , Bijayanath Mishra, the main sant at the Sree Guru Vasishta Ashram in Ayodhya, pointed out that according to the Hindu astrological calendar, Chaurasi Kosi Parikrama was to be made between Chaitra Purnima and Janaki Navami. “The corresponding dates in the Western calendar fall between April 25 and May 19 for 2013,” Mishra told Frontline . According to a number of sants and mahants who interacted with Frontline , including Acharya Satyendra, the priest of the makeshift Ram temple at the site of the demolished Babri Masjid, this has upset many devout persons. Mahant Hardayal Sastri pointed out that the organisation was playing this game now because the dates of the next Chaurasi Kosi Parikrama would not suit the VHP’s political agenda as they would be closer to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, expected to be held in May. “They want to gain the political mileage before the elections. Hence, this ludicrous effort, blatantly violating the religious calendar,” Sastri said.

Frontline met Sastri at the house of the local Muslim activist Haji Mahboob Ahmad, president of the Anjuman Mahafiz Masjid. The two religious leaders said that the VHP moves had prompted them to call a meeting of all Hindu sants and mahants and leaders of other religious communities to work out an out-of-court settlement of the Ayodhya dispute.

Sastri told Frontline : “Out of the 7,000-odd Hindu religious centres in Ayodhya, the VHP has the backing in hardly 50, and it claims to represent Ayodhya. We have been pointing to this travesty for long but there are not many who heed to it. We have had enough of this parikrama farce, advanced basically by outsiders. Hence, our effort to launch yet another exclusive initiative of Ayodhya residents.”

They have not yet finalised a date for this meeting, but they said that it must be held before October, when the VHP is expected to come up with its follow-up to the August programme.

With Ayodhya and its twin town of Faizabad slowly returning to normal, there is a general feeling among the people that new efforts at a mediated settlement will be made before October, when the VHP comes up with its second phase. Already, there are about four compromise formulas circulating in the twin towns. However, there are no great expectations about the success of any of these or of the expected new ones. In the meantime, the VHP and the Sangh Parivar are preparing for the next round with the firm conviction that though there is not much positive response from Ayodhya and nearby areas, the Hindutva communal polarisation agenda will fetch them benefits in other parts of the increasingly communally sensitive Uttar Pradesh.

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