October 26, 1990

To Ayodhya

Print edition : February 06, 2015

L.K. Advani begins his Somnath-Ayodhya rath yatra, which led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Photo: V.V. Krishnan

FIRST, it was the Palampur resolution of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 1989 which demanded that Ram Janmabhoomi be restored to Hindus. When the general elections came in 1989, the BJP—despite a demand from a large section within—did not make it a part of the manifesto but put it in the preamble, even as the party gave clear signals of its pro-Hindu stance by aligning itself with the militant, even belligerent, Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. In places like Gujarat it trained its guns on the Congress during the elections by resting on the shoulders of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

Now, in a cold and calculated move, the party has chosen to come upfront on the issue of the temple reconstruction programme of the VHP. It has become a major player in the dispute, taking into its strategic ambit even the cadres of the VHP which, in one shot, has broadened its base. Nowhere else was this as visible as it was in Prabhas Patan near Veraval in Gujarat on September 25, when BJP president L.K. Advani took to the road on an ornate chariot to mobilise public opinion in favour of shifting the Babri Masjid and rebuilding the Rama temple “nowhere else but there”. The decision on the arduous trip was taken on September 12 and quickly the rath was designed in Bombay on a new light commercial vehicle with an airconditioned anteroom for Advani to rest in between halts. But such opportunity to rest was rare in coming because he had to halt repeatedly even on the national highways for the “pravachan”.

When the 10,000-odd km journey across eight States and the Union Territory of Delhi commenced, the BJP was clearly sounding the war bugles. Swords, bows and arrows were not only brandished but presented to L.K. Advani, normally a soft-spoken person who would blanch at the sight of blood. When a kumbh (pot) of blood was offered at Junagadh he asked party functionaries to send out word that such offerings would be unacceptable.

Evidently, this yatra is aimed at wresting the initiative from the Janata Dal, which has brought up the Mandal Commission recommendations, in the event of a midterm election.

“If anything can overwhelm Mandal, then it is the wider canvas of Hindutva,” a BJP MP told Frontline.“We had talked of a contingency snap poll plan. We are now getting ready for the reality by setting the agenda.” In a shift of gears, the BJP moved from mere ideological support to the temple rebuilding plan to active and total participation but in stages over a fair time frame.

The response in Gujarat was not only spontaneous but made some of the organisers—including Pramod Mahajan, MP, credited with being the architect of the plan—wonder if the same enthusiasm would be in evidence down the road. Though the entourage was accompanied by the brownish grey police vans, the crowd management was handled by the Bajrang Dal which had enlisted a large number of youth as volunteers.

It may not be the case elsewhere in the country yet, but the example has been set. Each Bajrang Dal activist is given a trident during a deeksha session in which, ironically, even Jain monks participated in Gujarat. The activists have been told that their task is to protect women, temples and religion from “the irreligious”.

During the yatra the tridents were carried with impunity, the vulnerable BJP-Janata Dal coalition government in Gujarat not wanting to interfere as it might provoke a conflict. The long and sharp-edged middle prong is barely short of the size that would attract action under the Arms Act. Says the police official: “As against 6 inches (15 cm), the limit under the Act, it is 5.58 inches long.” When Advani was asked in Bombay [Mumbai] by a journalist if such a display of weapons was proper, he gently asked: “What, are they weapons in the days of the AK-47?”

Why Somnath? Because the architects of this programme saw a lesson for the present government from the pages of post-Independence history. Somnath was rebuilt in 1950 with government patronage which is now being denied to the Rama temple in Ayodhya. In his message to Advani, Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) leader Balasaheb Deoras said: “It is appropriate especially because it is starting from Somnath. By this the country can be told that immediately after Independence, with Sardar Patel's initiative and the Central government’s support, this temple was rebuilt.”

Before the rath started off, Advani quoted from the correspondence between K.M Munshi and Jawaharlal Nehru, underscoring this aspect. Advani recalled how Vallabhbhai Patel swore to rebuild that temple of one of the 12 jyotirlings, desecrated as many as 17 times starting with Mahmud of Ghazni; how Patel worked to ensure it with Gandhiji’s blessings; how, after Patel’s death, the attitude of Nehru changed and how K.M. Munshi told Nehru it was wrong to speak of the rebuilding of the Somnath temple as Hindu revivalism. “I cannot value freedom if it deprives me of the Bhagvad Gita and destroys the fabric of life.” The current rath yatra was an attempt “to bridge the gulf” between the responses of the first post-Independence government and the present one.

Also built into this exercise are other symbols, apart from the dominance of the saffron colour. One was BJP leader Sikander Bakht worshipping at the temple after the temple officials told him there was no bar on a Muslim worshipping there. Tradition and the deed of the trust headed by Morarji Desai that runs the temple permitted it.

During the yatra, Advani spoke of how Muslims have begun to accept the idea of rebuilding the temple. It is the “pseudo-secularists” who have come into the picture. “The government had itself agreed to the rebuilding, because the people have decided.”

In his first message to the nation as soon as he climbed on to the rath, with the impressive backdrop of the Somnath temple, Advani declared that his purpose was to prevent “materialism” and the cleaving of the “reverence for Rama”. “If that happens, then the nation will lose both its identity and its self-respect. This journey is to ensure and preserve the old symbols of unity, communal amity and cultural oneness. Rebuilding of the Somnath (temple) was the first chapter in erasing a national insult. The reconstruction would be the second chapter.”

The logic is simple: the Rama Shila worship and its carrying to Ayodhya is complete. The VHP has already collected Rs.8.5 crores for it. The entire country has now become devoted to Rama and all that is left is the rebuilding of the temple. As Sikander Bakht put it: “When a temple destroyed by Ghazni could be rebuilt, why cannot a temple martyred by a subedar of Babar be reconstructed?”

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