“IT is deja vu raised to the n-th power for Ayodhya. It witnesses the same combination of fervour and fear on these excursions. We have been seeing these thrust-and-parry games in the name of the construction of Ram mandir, disturbing everyday life for so many years now. This time, there are multiple programmes by both the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Shiv Sena and they have got more people to participate. Consequently, the troubles for people have also gone up in scale. Wish somebody would put an end to this or at least ask them to keep quiet till the Supreme Court gives its verdict on the dispute,” said Ajoy Pathak, a postgraduate student in Ayodhya, reacting to the situation in the temple town on November 25, the day the VHP organised a Dharma Sabha ostensibly to decide the date to begin construction of the Ram mandir at the spot where the Babri Masjid stood.
Pathak’s observation on the combination of fervour and fear spreading across the temple town was getting substantiated in almost every nook and corner. The excited fervour was mostly among the cadre that the VHP and other outfits of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) had brought in from across Uttar Pradesh, while the fear was conspicuous among the citizens of Ayodhya, particularly those belonging to the minority Muslim community.
Gaurav Trivedi, who was brought in a bus from Gorakhpur by the VHP, was excitement personified and proclaimed his conviction that the sants and mahants were making concrete moves in the end game. “We have waited for 26 years for the courts and the system to come our way. Now, the sants and mahants have made it clear that they will not wait any more. We are going to decide the date soon and we will build it even before the date.” But Rajesh Thakur, a trader in the city, did not share the excitement. He felt that people of Ayodhya have seen many such conclaves and that nothing good has come out of them. He was not particularly fearful of the situation but said that many Muslim families in Ayodhya were terrified and had fled their homes and taken shelter in towns and villages nearby.
Iqbal Ansari, son of late Mohammed Hashim Ansari, the original petitioner in the Ayodhya title dispute case, confirmed Thakur’s statement, saying that around 3,500 Muslims had left for other places fearing for their safety. Some neighbours and associates of Ansari said that they feared activists brought in by the VHP and Shiv Sena from other places. “We do not fear local Hindu residents. They live amicably with us. As in 1992, when the Babri Masjid was brought down, it is outsiders who assault and attack,” said Alam Khan. Ansari said that all those who had run away would be brought back and given protection.
Zafaryab Jilani, the Lucknow-based convener of the Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC), told Frontline that while the thrust-and-parry games of the Sangh Parivar had been repetitive annual affairs since the demolition of the Babri Masjid 26 years ago, Muslims in Ayodhya were more disturbed now because there was a sense that the Sangh Parivar would do something extreme this time.
“The BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] has failed in all areas of governance both at the Centre and in the State and they have no achievements to show. The pressure from its ally Shiv Sena, which too has decided to play a ‘more aggressive than thou” politics on Ayodhya, is putting the BJP-Sangh Parivar leadership in such a spot that they may be forced to do something extreme. The combination of all these factors has aggravated the feeling of vulnerability among Muslims. The Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government has not taken a single step to allay the fears of the minorities,” Jilani pointed out.
A small group of Muslims with whom Frontline interacted in Faizabad, Ayodhya’s twin town, also said that competitive communal sloganeering by the Sangh Parivar outfits on the one side and the Shiv Sena on other had certainly added to the fear quotient. Speaking at the party’s annual Dussehra rally in October, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi and challenged him to announce a date for the commencement of temple construction.
The VHP response was relatively restrained but had its moments of drama too. For the record, the VHP affirmed that it had faith in the Modi government’s commitment to build the Ram temple and demanded either an ordinance or legislation to build the temple. But one of the sants in its fold, Swami Paramhans Das of Tapasvi Chavni of Ayodhya, announced that he would immolate himself on December 6 if the government did not take steps to construct the temple by December 5. He even prepared his pyre in Tapasvi Chavni.
While all this was perceived as providing comic relief by some observers, members of the Muslim community were cautious. “They may seem to be playing political games against each other at this point of time, but when it comes to the crux, these Hindutva organisations would come together, just as they did in 1992. Moreover, both the parties are getting into campaign mode in preparation for the 2019 Lok Sabha election,” said Shanavas Hussain, a resident of Faizabad.
Clearly, with the Dharma Sabha, the VHP and the Sangh Parivar have heightened the apprehensions and tensions in and around Ayodhya. The so-called prefabrication activities for the temple have also gathered some speed in the Karsevakpuram workshop, though there have been no additions to the two truckloads of sandstone that were brought in June 2017.
At that time it was said in the VHP-Sangh Parivar camps in Ayodhya that the work of putting together prefabricated pieces and structures would begin in July-August 2017. But it did not happen. Mahant Dharam Das, one of the main advocates of this July-August action plan, now says that the time for the work to start will be decided by Yogi Adityanath and senior VHP leaders. He also said that the prefabrication had progressed to such a level that it would take just 10 days for a reasonably good structure to come up at the site.
P olitical drama?
Khaliq Ahmed Khan, a resident of Faizabad who is associated with the BMAC and has been actively involved in the legal dispute, said that the current manoeuvres did not really add up to anything and were merely part of a political drama being played out by the BJP-Sangh Parivar leadership, including Modi and Yogi Adityanath. “There is no way that the things they are talking about, such as ordinance and legislation, can be done bypassing the Supreme Court. The law has to take its own course. The Muslim entities that are part of the dispute, the BMAC and the Sunni Waqf Board, are clear that the claim dispute needs to be settled first,” he told Frontline .
There are as many as 14 appeals from various sides in the Supreme Court. They are, broadly, from the Sangh Parivar side that represents the deity, the Muslim side represented by various individuals and organisations, and the Nirmohi Akhara, which controlled worship on Ram Chabutara—a platform outside Babri Masjid which was demolished along with the masjid in 1992—since the time of the Mughal emperor Akbar. Khaliq Ahmed Khan said, as he had done many times in the past, that the Nirmohi Akhara, which is seeking total rights over the disputed property, would not become a party to the Sangh Parivar manoeuvres.
As this debate continues, the talk within the Sangh Parivar revolves around evolving new strategies and new plans of action to build the Ram mandir. But, barely 200 kilometres away in Varanasi, large-scale demolition is already under way around the Kashi Vishwanath temple-Gyanvapi mosque complex, raising the fear quotient in that town too (see separate story on Varanasi developments). Evidently, a sense of foreboding envelops eastern Uttar Pradesh, though there are people who see the recent developments in Ayodhya with a sense of deja vu or as business as usual.