VIRENDER, the caretaker at Karsevakpuram, one of the main organisational bases of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS)-led Sangh Parivar in Ayodhya, is sarcasm personified. “ Bhai Saab , you have come too early seeking answers to the Ram temple question. After all, the government has just taken over. The Sangh, particularly Mohan Rao Bhagwat ji [RSS chief] and Narendra Modi ji , know very well when to take up the matter and when to build a beautiful Ram mandir here. There is little doubt now, since the BJP has a majority on its own in the Lok Sabha, that the temple will be built. But when is a decision that the Sangh will take,” Virender says amid laughter. Asked their personal opinion about the possible timing of the temple construction, Virender and a couple of senior RSS activists of Ayodhya separately expressed similar comments. They all agreed that the timing would largely depend on political considerations, primarily as to how far the move would consolidate the gains that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the RSS had made in the 2014 elections.
The more senior among the RSS activists Frontline spoke to said that the understanding at the higher echelons of the Sangh Parivar was that among the three core issues highlighted by it for decades, the uniform civil code should be taken up first for implementation. “This will be followed by either the Ayodhya Ram mandir or the abrogation of Article 370. These two could well be taken up only at the second term of the Modi government. The leaders at various levels of the Sangh Parivar are of the view that the very formulation of a uniform civil code will create such a positive political climate that in a general election following that the BJP on its own will cross the Congress’ record of 1984 when that party under Rajiv Gandhi’s leadership got 404 seats in the Lok Sabha. Taking up Ayodhya and Article 370 will not be an issue with such a mandate,” he said. Clearly, the RSS and its associate organisations have started making medium-term and long-term plans in relation to their core issues.
Barely a kilometre from Karsevakpuram, at the Ram mandir “workshop”, work on the prefabrication of the proposed temple continues apace. According to construction workers and artisans such as Chottey Lal and Bachhe Lal, the number of workers today is only a small proportion of what it was in the mid-1990s, but the work is moving ahead as planned. “The VHP, which is in charge of this operation, suspended construction work between 2007 and 2011, in all probability on account of the repeated political reverses the Sangh Parivar suffered between 2004 and 2009. But work resumed in the middle of 2011 and has been going on ever since,” construction supervisor Annu Bhai told Frontline . According to him, nearly 80 per cent of the prefabrication work is over. “Once we get the clearance, the prefabricated pieces can be assembled and the mandir competed in about a month,” Annu Bhai said confidently.
Evidently, in the new political climate there is a pronounced assertiveness in the manner and conduct of the activists of the various Sangh Parivar outfits. In the process, they have also started resolutely rejecting the compromise formulas that were discussed avidly in Ayodhya and Faizabad barely a year ago. In June 2013, large segments of the Ayodhya population addressed a compromise formula advanced by former Allahabad High Court judge Pulok Basu, who is a frequent visitor to the temple town. The formula suggested the building of a proper temple where the makeshift temple exists now. This is where the idol of Ram is currently placed and the place where the Babri Masjid stood. The formula also prescribed that a mosque be built within the 71 acres (one acre is 0.4 hectare) acquired by the Union government in 1993. The concrete suggestion was that the mosque be built about 300 metres from where the Babri Masjid stood.
The Allahabad High Court had in its September 30, 2010, judgment on the Ayodhya dispute decreed through a majority verdict that the disputed land in Ayodhya be divided into three equal parts among the parties to the dispute, namely, Ram Lalla (Infant Ram), represented by his sakha (or close friend) Triloki Nath Pandey; the Nirmohi Akhara, which has staked its claim to the property since 1885 and ran a place of worship on the premises; and the Sunni Central Waqf Board, which claimed to have had possession of the disputed structure and the land around it since the 16th century. Justice Basu’s suggestion on this was that the third portion, which would be with the Muslim community according to the court order, be left without any construction and bound by a boundary wall.
The idea moved by Justice Basu and his associates such as Mahant Janmejay Sharan and Manzar Mehdi was to collect signatures in support of this formula and present it to the Faizabad Commissioner, who is in charge of the acquired land, and the Supreme Court as a proposal for arbitration. During the early rounds of the discussions on the proposal last year, the VHP seemingly responded positively to the formula. However, that did not last long. By December 2013, the VHP and the Sangh Parivar made it clear that they would not go along with what they termed a “Congress plan”. Muslim organisations, too, disengaged themselves from the agreement later.
The VHP’s argument while rejecting the Justice Basu formula was that the majority High Court verdict had clearly stated that the place under the central dome of the demolished Babri Masjid was the birthplace of Ram according to the faith and belief of Hindus and hence should belong to Hindus as represented by Triloki Nath Pandey, who represents the Sangh Parivar side in the case. It also held that since there was unanimity that Ram Lalla was a juristic person and that this entity could have possession and, hence, the title, the only point of dispute was in giving away one portion of the disputed area to Muslims. The VHP further argued that in the background of the majority court verdict, there should be no place for a mosque anywhere in the 14 Kosi Parikrama of Ayodhya. In real terms, this meant that the VHP was not ready to have a mosque anywhere within 8 km of Ayodhya. The circumference of 14 kos would be approximately 45 km as one kos is considered to be 3.2 km.
There is a line of argument in the Sangh Parivar that if a compromise on these lines is not worked out, the Union government could enact a law taking over the land required for the construction at an appropriate juncture. This stream of thought also holds that the majority the BJP and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by it has in the Lok Sabha would facilitate the enactment of such a law. A senior RSS activist based in Lucknow told Frontline that such an enactment could be supported by potential allies such as the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK).
Appeal in Supreme Court
Obviously, it is with this argument which seeks total control of Ayodhya that the VHP will fight the appeal it has filed against the High Court verdict in the Supreme Court. Talking to Frontline , Madan Mohan Pandey, the lawyer for the VHP side, stated that their objection to the High Court verdict was only to the apportionment of land to the Muslim community. The Nirmohi Akhara, the non-VHP Hindu side in the dispute, has also gone on appeal claiming that the entire disputed property should be handed over to it since it has been running a Hindu worship place in the structure for ages.
However, Renjithlal Verma, Advocate of the Nirmohi Akhara, is of the view that the legal proceedings in the Supreme Court could go on for decades just the way it did in the High Court. “Of course, a negotiated settlement is the best way out. And that cannot happen the way the VHP wants it. The views and interests of the Muslim community will have to be addressed. Trying to push the mosque out of Ayodhya is tantamount to marginalising the community itself. This could have dangerous implications,” he said.
Verma added that the enactment of a new law for a temple would be clearly extralegal. “There is no provision in our legal framework to snatch the property of anybody by creating a new law and that too for a religious centre,” Verma said.
The Muslim side, too, has filed an appeal in the Supreme Court repeating the argument that the Sunni Central Waqf Board has had the title and possession of the disputed structure and land around it since the 16th century. Six persons, including the original litigant in the case, Mohammed Hashim Ansari, have filed separate appeals in the Supreme Court advancing similar arguments.
Khaliq Ahmed Khan, a resident of Faizabad who has been active in defending the rights of the minority communities, also agreed that the case could go on for long in the Supreme Court. He echoed the views expressed by Verma that any negotiated settlement would have to take the Muslim interests into consideration and that the enactment of a law to build a temple would be extralegal.
But beyond all this, the fact remains, as Mohammed Hashim Ansari himself admitted to Frontline , that in the current political climate the minorities do feel marginalised. “We do hope and pray for justice, but the way the social and political climate has evolved in recent times we are not sure how far our prayers will be heard and hopes will be fulfilled,” he said. Hashim’s expressions when he said this were indeed a counterpoint to Karsevakpuram caretaker Vijender’s.