New Delhi: Despite the fight over whether a Ram temple existed at the spot where the Babri Masjid was demolished – the findings of the Archaeological Survey of India have been bitterly contested as its report about having zeroed in on the foundations of ‘an ancient temple’ was rendered suspect by many experts – junior railways minister Manoj Sinha on Wednesday said his ministry would submit a proposal to the Union cabinet to re-construct the Ayodhya railway station as “a replica of the Ram temple”.
This is regardless of the fact that not a single image exists of such a temple ever having been situated at the Babri site. Thus, in reality, there is no real blueprint that the government can look to for reference. As eminent historian D.N. Jha noted, “If it is a case of ‘belief,’ then it becomes an issue of theology, not archaeology.” Historian Vinay Lal wrote in a column in the Indian Express: “The archaeological evidence, in other words, indicates not a temple but rather the distinct possibility of a Muslim settlement at or in the proximity of the mosque from the thirteenth century onwards.”
Given that the very historic existence of Ram temple at Ayodhya is in doubt, the minister’s proposal is sure to raise eyebrows.
As of today, the railway station that already exists in Ayodhya has been modelled after a generic temple. This is in keeping with the railways’ tradition of incorporating into station architecture elements of the region’s iconic structures. This approach is evident at Varanasi, Khajuraho and Hyderabad (where the city’s historic Charminar has been emulated) and other stations.
So if a Ram temple of the sort the Sangh parivar wants to copy never existed, what will Ayodhya railway station be modelled on? According to Swarajya magazine, after the renovation, the transit point will resemble “the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s 1980s design of the Ram Mandir”.
If this is so, it is clear that politics rather than respect for local architectural traditions is driving the Modi government’s latest move for Ayodhya is home to several historical structures that could serve as a model for its railway station.
Apart from the Ram Paidi ghat on the Saryu river, one of the most prominent and iconic structures that Ayodhya boasted of till 1992 is the now demolished Babri Masjid – a structure that is etched in the minds of most as a symbol of Ayodhya. Other important landmarks include Bahu Begum ka Mukabara – the monument which was built in 1816 as the site of burial for Shuja-ud-daula’s wife Behu Begum, or Gulab Bari, the monument representing Hindu and Mughal styles of architecture. There is also the famous Hanuman Garhi temple, built by the Nawab of Oudh., and the Dashrath mahal. But the railways appears not to be interested in associating the town’s railway stations with any of these actual monuments.
Sinha made his announcement after laying the foundation stone for projects worth more than Rs 200 crore, including Rs 80 crore for the reconstruction of the railway station.
“The government is concerned about connecting Ayodhya through rail to the entire country so that Ram bhakts may visit the place,” he said, adding that the railway station would have state-of-the-art facilities. Sinha also said that Rs 1,116 crore was being spent on the double track and electrification of Faizabad Barabanki rail route and that the work would be completed in 2022.
BJP MP Vinay Katiyar, famous for his recent comments on the Taj Mahal and why Indian Muslims should pack their bags and head to Pakistan, was also present at the event. The MP, along with top party leaders like Uma Bharti, L.K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, is currently facing a criminal trial for his role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.
“The development of Ayodhya railway station was being discussed from the time of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. When its construction will be completed, then the construction of Ram temple will be started,” Katiyar said.
For the last part of Katiyar’s prophesy to be fulfilled, however, the Supreme Court would have to have ruled in the VHP’s favour in the title suit appeals currently pending before it.
Though nearly 30 years have passed since the mosque was torn down, neither case – land dispute and demolition – have reached any conclusion.
In 2010, the Allahabad high court ruled in favour of dividing the land where the Babri Masjid stood equally among three parties – the Sunni Waqf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and ‘Ram Lalla” (represented by various Hindutva outfits). Attempts are being made by pro-BJP religious leaders like Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to engineer an out-of-court deal that will allow the temple to be built but just this week, it was reported that three plaintiffs have all said that they will not accept any out-of-court settlement.
The Supreme Court will resume hearings on the Ramjanambhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute on March 13. The three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, has said that the matter will be heard as a case of “pure land dispute”.
With inputs from PTI.