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An aggressive action plan

Print edition : Mar 14, 2003

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The Dharam Sansad organised by the VHP charts a staggered course of action to force the Union government to allow the construction of a temple at the "Janmabhoomi" in Ayodhya by 2004.

in New Delhi

THE Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)-sponsored Dharam Sansad of religious leaders held in New Delhi on February 22 has announced an elaborate programme to force the Central government to hand over to it the 67 acres of acquired land in Ayodhya for the construction of a Ram temple. The Sansad decided to launch a countrywide jan jagran (public awakening) campaign beginning February 27, which would continue until March 27 when the religious leaders would regroup in Delhi to launch a satyagraha to pressure the Centre.

The Sansad pledged that a "grand temple for Lord Ram" would be erected at the Janmabhoomi site by December 6, 2004, even if it meant using force.

"We only have to exhibit the same resolve and fervour as the one witnessed on December 6, 1992, when the structure (Babri Masjid) was demolished. If thousands of Hindus force their way, no power on earth can prevent the temple from being built," declared Jagadguru Ramanujacharya, while moving the resolution pledging the construction of a temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya. He suggested that "the sants launch such a militant campaign that the government would be forced to agree to the demand for a temple. The government can get a law enacted to hand over the Janmabhoomi land to us so that the temple can be built," he said.

But if the government did not give permission, Ram sevaks should exhibit the same "will power" that was displayed on December 6, 1992, and force the temple construction, he exhorted the assembled sadhus and sants. Ramanujacharya said the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya was the most basic prerequisite for establishing a Hindu Rashtra. Once this was achieved, the Hindu Rashtra would come into being on its own.

Especially targeting Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, he said he should not forget that he was occupying the high post by the grace of Ram and if he betrayed him, he would have to pay for it. "The Prime Minister said in Shimla that he wanted a Ram temple built in Ayodhya. Then what prevents him from getting legislation passed in Parliament? Parliament can even reverse the Supreme Court order (of March 2002 when it decreed status quo in Ayodhya), so why is he talking of the court order," he asked.

Interestingly, the Sansad made it clear that it did not expect a favourable court judgment (whenever it may come) notwithstanding the bravado of having conclusive proof about the existence of a temple at the disputed site. Hence the emphasis now on getting legislation passed in Parliament.

The religious heads lashed out at the government for deceiving them on the temple issue, saying: "We were misled into believing that they (the BJP) are one of us and so would give us the land on their own. But that has not happened. They have betrayed the cause of Ram which would not augur well for them."

Other religious leaders, including Swami Parmanand, Mahant Avaidyanath, Mahant Nrityagopal Das, and Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas president Ramchandra Das Paramhans, who have all been in the forefront of the temple movement, declared that until a temple was built in Ayodhya the country would not rest in peace. They called upon the secularists and other political parties to give up their opposition to the Ram temple, warning that in failing to do so they too would have to pay the price.

However, they also made it clear that they were in no hurry to force the issue and set no date for temple construction. Rather, they expected the temple to be completed by December 6, 2004. The Sansad announced a staggered agitational programme, consisting of dharnas and demonstrations, public awareness campaigns and a satyagraha.

In fact, their entire programme of action has been timed to coincide with the Assembly elections in Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi later this year and the general elections in October next year.

In selecting February 27 to begin their awareness campaign, the religious leaders gave away their game plan. February 27, they said, would also commemorate the "sacrifice by Ram bhaktas in Godhra". Considering the role that Godhra played in the Gujarat elections, invoking its name conjures up images of communal frenzy that can be translated into votes later.

Actually, the Sangh Parivar has left no one in doubt about its intentions, at least on the temple issue. It has made it clear that aggressive Hindutva, as represented by the temple issue, would be its poll plank in the coming elections. The fact that the government was toeing the Sangh line was clear when it filed an application in the Supreme Court on February 6 seeking the lifting of its ban on religious activities in the "undisputed area" (67.703 acres around the disputed site) and praying for an early hearing on the issue. The Centre's application came in the wake of a demand by the VHP to hand over the undisputed land to them for temple construction by February 22.

The Supreme Court has fixed March 6 for hearing in the matter, by a five-Judge Constitution Bench (see accompanying story). The apex court has allowed the Babri Masjid Movement Coordination Committee (BMMCC), which has opposed the Union government's plea, to intervene in the matter. BMMCC convener Syed Sahabuddin, in his application, said, "The legal position remained unchanged since March 2002. Further, there is no change in the ground situation in the acquired areas and therefore, there appears to be no justification for the prayers made by the Union government."

Although the Sangh Parivar has pursued its Hindutva agenda unabashedly, with the Bharatiya Janata Party remaining a willing accomplice, the constituents of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) seem content with the government's explanation that it is bound by the NDA's agenda for governance.

Except for a few feeble voices, the BJP's allies have chosen to ignore the government's tacit support for the temple construction programme. The BJP declared early this month that the Ram temple, a common civil code and Article 370 remained very much on its agenda for the elections to the State Assemblies as well as to the Lok Sabha. Then the Prime Minister declared in Mandi, Himachal Pradesh, while campaigning for the February 26 Assembly elections, that the BJP had conclusive historic proof of the existence of a temple at the disputed site and that he personally was in favour of getting the temple built there.

Although all such statements have inevitably been suffixed with "the government remains committed to the NDA agenda", in reality it amounts to prejudging the issue, in fact influencing the court proceedings to decide on the title suit. However, some Members of Parliament, like Devendra Prasad Yadav of the Janata Dal (United), have criticised the government on this issue, even inside Parliament. Telugu Desam Party leader N. Chandrababu Naidu has cautioned the government against dabbling in controversial issues and advised the Prime Minister to await the court ruling since "political parties have failed to resolve the issue". But these voices of protest, at the moment, are too feeble for the government to pay any attention. Besides, post-Gujarat, Sangh Parivar strategists have come to the conclusion that aggressive Hindutva pays electorally, so whatever modicum of restraint was shown on the temple issue has now been done away with.

MEANWHILE, the shape of things to come has already been indicated by the rabble-rousing speeches of VHP international general secrtary Pravin Togadia, who called for renaming India as Hindustan. Another VHP leader, Acharya Dharmendra swore that those opposing Hindutva would "be chopped to pieces".

On February 24, the third and concluding day of the Dharam Sansad, thousands of emotionally charged VHP activists and sadhus marched towards Parliament House, chanting `Jai Sri Ram' and `mandir wahin banayenge' (we will build the temple there itself), amidst the blowing of conch shells and the beating of jhal and manjira.

The marchers were, however, not allowed to reach Parliament House, so the march was converted into a dharna at Jantar Mantar, where the religious leaders resolved to continue their struggle until the temple was built and threatened to intensify their agitation if the undisputed land was not returned by March 25. With their arms raised, fists clenched, trishuls swinging in the air, and conch shells resonating, the scene at Jantar Mantar looked as if the fever pitch of 1992 was about to return.

Ramchandra Das Paramhans said on the occasion that a mosque would never be allowed to be built at the disputed site in Ayodhya, meaning that if the court judgment went in favour of Muslims, they will not obey it. Acharya Dharmendra read out a pledge and asked the sadhus to repeat it after him. The pledge was that they would devote the entire month of March to create "jan jagran" among Hindus for the construction of the temple and that they "will not sit in peace until the temple was built".

Hundreds of police and paramilitary personnel in riot gear ensured that there was no disturbance. However, the belligerence witnessed at the rally and dharna does not augur well for communal peace. Ironically, the march was supposed to press the government to pass legislation to facilitate the temple construction. The leaders declared that they would not wait for the govenrment's decision after March 25. They said they would make the Hindu awakening so militant that the present government would be forced to bow out, making way for a pro-temple government. The VHP leaders were especially critical of Vajpayee and Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani, whom they described as "secularists" who had betrayed the cause of Ram for the sake of power. It is a queer twist of events because not so long ago Advani and Vajpayee used to breath fire and venom against so-called "pseudo secularists" who were opposed to the Hindutva agenda. The mood that was evident in Delhi on February 24 indicated that the country would have to brace itself for more turbulent times as far as the temple issue is concerned.

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