A conflict deferred

Print edition : October 28, 2000

The Kendriya Margdarshak Mandal of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad defers a decision on the date for the construction of a temple at Ayodhya, but it appears determined to pursue its agenda.

THE Kendriya Margdarshak Mandal (central advisory committee) of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) met at the temple town of Ramnathi, 33 km from the Goan capital of Panaji, on October 18 and 19. The conclave's prime objective was to fix a time-frame for th e construction of a Ram temple where the Babri Masjid stood in Ayodhya. However, it failed in this mainly for want of consensus among the participants. The temple question, over which the VHP is in conflict with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National De mocratic Alliance (NDA) government, has therefore been put on the backburner for the present, only to be dusted up at a convenient time. Had the conclave fixed a date, that would have raised tensions to the level of the time when the Babri Masjid was dem olished.

Vishwa Hindu Parishad president Ashok Singhal with Acharya Dharmendraji Maharaj, Ramachandra Paramhans and other sants on the dais.-RAVI SHARMA

While opinion was divided on when the construction should start, there was unanimity on one point: that the temple must come up only at the disputed site, irrespective of what the government or the courts say. The consensus also favoured building temples at the disputed sites in Mathura and Varanasi.

It was announced at the end of the parleys that samitis (committees) would be formed at the Central, State and village levels "to create awareness" among the people about the construction of the temple at Ayodhya and that the construction schedule would be decided in consultation with Hindu religious heads during the January 2001 Kumbh Mela. However, the decision to defer the finalisation of the date is an indication that there are people in the highest levels of the VHP who want to open a dialogue with the government before any decision is taken. The acting president of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, the 90-year-old Ramachandra Paramhans of Ayodhya (see interview), will be the head of the newly formed Ram Janmabhoomi Nirman Samiti. Besides fixing the agend a for the construction of the temple the Nirman Samiti will mobilise three lakh kar sevaks for a Jan Jagran (public awareness) programme.

The in camera deliberations at the conclave, which was attended by important VHP functionaries such as international working president Ashok Singhal and international general secretary Dr. Pravin Togadia and nearly 100 Hindu religious heads (the m ajority of them were from the Hindi-speaking States and from Maharashtra) were marked by bellicose speeches on issues such as "the proselytising activities of Christian missionaries", the "Church-sponsored insurgency in the northeastern region, cow slaug hter and the construction of the Tehri dam across the Ganga, besides the temple issue. The Mandal, whose decisions are executed by the VHP, urged the Vajpayee government to extend all support to the temple construction move and to initiate legislative me asures banning religious conversion. Significantly, some prominent sants, particularly those from the southern States, such as Swami Vishwatheertha of the Pejawar Mutt and Swami Vibhudeshatheertha of the Adamaru Mutt, did not attend the conclave. Also ab sent was the firebrand ideologue of the Sangh Parivar, Sadhvi Rithambara.

Coming close on the heels of the Rashtra Suraksha Shivir (national security camp) organised by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in Agra, the Margdarshak Mandal meeting was watched with some trepidation. The questions asked were whether the VHP would attempt to whip up passions over the Ram temple and take over from where RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan had left off. Sudarshan had given a call to Christians to form a "swadeshi church" and issued a veiled threat to the BJP-led government to face the "conseq uences" if it did not allow the construction of a Ram temple at the site of the Masjid. There were fundamentalist speeches, which were interspersed with Vedic chants, but the conclave stopped short of holding out any direct threat to the government.

However, the mood was unmistakably assertive. Said Acharya Dharmendraji Maharaj of Jaipur: "We will build the Ram temple only there (at the disputed site). The (BJP-led) government has to help us. Otherwise they will have to go and give someone else a ch ance. But they are not ready to do that." Speaking to Frontline after addressing a 10,000-strong crowd at the Ponda Educational Society college grounds at nearby Farmagudi, the sant said that the BJP-led government had no intention of doing anythi ng positive. "What two-thirds majority are they talking about? (Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee had said that the BJP needed a two-thirds majority in Parliament to have a Bharat of their dreams.) Mayawati (former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister and Bahujan Sam aj Party leader) could do things in Uttar Pradesh without a majority. Why can't the BJP do the same? They do not have a desire to do it. Those who live in a dream cannot rule," the sant said.

Sadananda Kakade VHP general secretary said: "The BJP-led government does not get involved in the construction of the Ram temple because it is worried about its own survival. They are not worried about Hindu society. But we will not stop work on the Ram temple, and the government and other political parties should not interfere in the religious activities or in the building of the temple." Kakade added: "If they want to run their government, they should help Hindu society."

Others such as Ramachandra Paramhans were more considerate to the Vajpayee government. Asked why the BJP did not refer to the Ram Janmabhoomi issue these days, Paramhans replied that perhaps in keeping with the Hindu wives' tradition of not calling their husbands by name the BJP did not want to mention "Ram Janmabhoomi". According to Swami Bangovinda Parampanthi of Viraj Ashram of Dibrugarh (Assam) a number of delegates credited with "orthodox thinking" expressed the view that a "dialogue should be open ed" with the government on the one hand and with Muslims and Christians on the other in order to avoid any confrontation.

Citing the government permission given 50 years ago to restore Somnath temple at Dwaraka in Gujarat, the conclave said that "the time was ripe" for the Vajpayee government to take legislative measures in order to pave the way for the construction of the temple at Ayodhya. Said Singhal: "The time has come for Parliament to debate and pass legislation to the effect that Ayodhya is Lord Ram's birthplace. All Hindu members of Parliament can do this." Angry over the Vajpayee government's stand, the VHP's key functionaries claimed that the BJP was not part of the Sangh Parivar.

ASKED whether the VHP did not put pressure on the Vajpayee government, Singhal said: "There is pressure on all Hindus. Hindu sadhus will somehow get whatever permission is needed for the construction of the temple. We do not want to fight the government. " He elaborated: "The pressure is not on the government. The entire country wants the Ram temple to be built. When they want it, who can stop them?" He, however, clarified that "the delicate balance that the BJP finds itself in will not be disturbed." "E ven our acharyas do not want the government to be embarrassed, but they also know that the Ram Janmabhoomi temple has to be built."

Asked what the next move would be if the government did not grant such permission, Singhal said: "You do not know the kind of pressure that Hindus can mount. Even those people who seem against the temple will become in favour (of it)." He also warned, "N o (political) party can annoy Hindus anymore. Many parties will come to fulfil their demands."

Among the resolutions passed was one that asked the government to "hand over the disputed site for the building of the Ram temple without hindrance", since it was "clear that the permission given by the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi for Shilanyas in N ovember 1989 had once and for all resolved the issue over the location of the temple." Parmahans claimed that a Ram temple already existed at Ayodhya.

The meeting came down strongly on what it called forced conversions by Christian missionaries in the northeastern region. Togadia alleged that the Church indulged in "religious extremism" and was pioneering a secessionist movement with the help of the Tr ipura National Liberation Front (TNLF). He claimed that part of the TNLF's manifesto was to fight for an independent Tripura nation where Christianity would be the state religion. However, Togadia could not name the Church denomination he referred to. "I s this not Church-backed separatism?" he asked and added that the Church had misunderstood the meaning of right to religion. "The right to propagate does not mean the right to convert. The Church is doing it in order to wipe out Hindu samaj," Togadia sai d.

Kakade said: "A convert from Hindu society is an enemy and traitor to this nation. We are seeing this in the northeastern region. Conversions should be stopped by law. We have to throw the foreign missionaries out and stop foreign funds to the tune of R s.15,000 crores, which come in every year mainly for proselytising activities." He charged Christian missionaries with helping separatists in the northeastern region with arms and ammunition. "Why can't Christians have a separate Church for India? Why ob ey his (Pope's) orders?" he asked.

Explaining the VHP's attack on Christian missionaries, Ashok Singhal later told Frontline: "We do not want our people to be converted to other religions. Our people have been living a very pious life but when they are converted their purity goes." He added: "When our acharyas go to areas where people have been converted. These converts will come back to Hinduism."

A resolution sought a complete ban on cow slaughter by amending, if necessary, the Constitution.

The choice of Goa as the venue did not go down too well with many in the State's Christian community. Eduardo Faleiro, a Congress(I) MP from Goa, said that the arrival of sadhus and VHP functionaries would disturb the peace in Goa. For the VHP the choice appears to be deliberate. As Parishad functionaries repeatedly stressed, it was meant to send out the message that Goa - where one-third of the population is Christian - is not a "Christian State".

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