The Sangh’s New Game Plan for Ayodhya

Will the ‘Hindu’ rulers use their newfound status to display a spirit of generosity or to demand total submission?

From the time of Adityanath’s first visit to Ayodhya as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, the question doing the rounds in the state was why he and Prime Minister Narendra Modi are singing such different tunes on the Ram temple controversy. Adityanath’s recent Diwali extravaganza, tom-tommed as a ‘return to treta yuga’,  has triggered a fresh round of speculation – unlike in 2014, will the BJP contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections on a Hindutva agenda, or will it remove Adityanath from his chief ministerial position before that.

This question, which has everything to do with the internal contradictions between the ruling BJP and the RSS, has gained a sharper edge in the light of several factors – the differences ‘within and without’ over the Modi government’s style of functioning and policies; the narrative of  ‘vikas going crazy’ in Gujarat; the bubble of  the so-called Gujarat model of economy bursting; and Adityanath being asked to campaign in parallel with Modi in poll-bound Gujarat. But as yet this question remains unanswered.

Political observers who have been predicting a huge churn within the BJP, have even started saying that by 2019  Modi will stumble to such an extent that his larger than life aura of ‘heroism’ will be transferred to Adityanath, and Modi himself will suffer the same fate as Lal Krishna Advani. The way these observers see it, the Gujarat election results will unequivocally demonstrate that people can’t be fooled all the time.

In any case, Modi’s ploy for an image makeover even before he was nominated as BJP’s prime ministerial candidate is still considered a mystery in Ayodhya for the manner in which he fought shy of being associated with the Hindutva tag or speaking on the Ram temple controversy, and desisted from visiting Ayodhya. It is for the same reason that Modi has not visited Ayodhya even once in his prime-ministerial tenure of more than three years. And this is despite being invited to commemorative occasions linked to leading figures of the temple movement such as Ramchandra Das Paramhans and Ram Janmabhoomi Trust president, Mahant Nrityagopal Das.

Even when Modi visited Ayodhya’s twin city, Faizabad, in 2014 to address a rally organised in support of the BJP Lok Sabha candidate Lallu Singh, he refused to open his mouth on the Ayodhya issue. As for the 2017 UP assembly elections, while he frenetically criss-crossed the state accusing the Akhilesh Yadav government of favouring graveyards over crematoriums and Eid over Holi and Diwali, he did not deign to visit Ayodhya even once to ask the people for their votes.

In direct contrast is Adityanath. After being sworn in as chief minister, he has been visiting Ayodhya on one pretext or another, sharpening the stated agenda of Hindutva on each occasion. The opposition parties are not quite sure how to read this narrative of contrary stances: as a reflection of the internal contradictions between the BJP and the RSS, or as a well-thought strategy by which Prime Minister Modi has chosen to maintain silence but given second-rung BJP leaders carte blanche to inflame the Ayodhya issue to the extent that even when they talk about resolving the matter through consensus or negotiation, it sounds like a threat.

Also read: With Modi in Crisis, Project Adityanath Goes National

Such confused reactions find favour with the BJP and the RSS for they demonstrate the Opposition’s inability to comprehend the real nature of the contradictions between these organisations. It is on the basis of such reactions that the BJP and the RSS fuel more misconceptions and succeed in masking their differences.

To ensure that these differences do not unravel, the RSS is at present bent upon ‘proving’ itself the biggest advocate of an amicable solution to the Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute in Ayodhya. In this venture their ‘honourable’ intentions can be gauged by the fact that they shrug off every question with just one reply, namely that the matter is in court. At most they make noises about building a consensus through negotiation, and awaiting the court verdict. As if the poor things had no inkling of the matter being in court on December 6, 1992 when they were razing the Babri Masjid to the ground.

At a point in time when even the apex court has suggested an out-of-court settlement of the dispute, one would expect the people of Ayodhya to rejoice on seeing organisations usually engaged in spreading animosity, ‘reform’ themselves thus. There is hardly anyone in Ayodhya who does not want a peaceful solution to the issue. But, unfortunately, these organisations have neither a history of amicable and well-meaning intentions nor experience of propagating goodwill and tolerance. Even now their antics are such as to put paid to the slightest chance of establishing peace and goodwill.

Little do they realise that efforts to bring about harmony or a peaceful agreement work only when all parties to a dispute are treated as equals in a spirit of accommodation – ‘you take one step forward and we take one step forward’ – and not by means of cunning tactics revealing an insidious desire to force the other side into abject surrender.

Babri mosque. Credit: PTI/Files

Babri mosque. Credit: PTI/Files

No wonder the entire force of their advocacy of harmony and goodwill rests on ‘persuading’ the Muslims to show magnanimity on the Ram temple construction issue. The argument being that in a Hindu-majority country, it is for the Muslim minority to be big-hearted enough to respect the faith of the Hindus. Clearly, this ‘desire’on their part does not include respect for the faith of the Muslims. They want to have the cake and eat it too, and it is due to this very attitude that the fundamental idea of a peaceful resolution itself is getting eroded.

Helping them immensely in their ‘advocacy’ ploy is the Muslim Rashtriya Manch (MRM), which was founded in December 2002 on the initiative of the then RSS sarsangchalak K.S. Sudarshan. Guided by Indresh Kumar and managed by Mohammed Afzal, the MRM has projected some of its members in Ayodhya in the guise of ‘ordinary’ Muslims. They, in turn, keep issuing appeals to fellow Muslims to renounce their claim to the disputed site and lend support to the karseva, thus paving the way for temple construction.

By projecting the MRM’s machinations as sincere acts of ordinary Muslims through supportive media outlets,  various organisations affiliated to the Sangh spread the misconception that since the Muslims have also ‘agreed’ to the construction of the Ram temple, the only obstruction now is posed by pseudo-secular groups.

The way the Sangh and its affiliates see it, the fact that the BJP is in power at the Centre and in UP has made the Muslim community anxious about its future in the country. Hence the time is ripe for taking advantage of the Muslims’ troubled psyche to bring them around to supporting the temple construction with the logic that this move would put an end to riots and ensure a safe future for their children. As part of the same sequence, a ‘statement’ ostensibly issued by the Shia Waqf Board is being spread around that the Board is ready to give up its claim on the disputed site and support the Ram temple construction, provided that it is given an alternative space for the mosque. In reality, there is no such claim in existence.

It is quite evident that for all their avowed display of goodwill, the Sangh and its affiliates want to resolve the issue unilaterally. Not for these organisations an attempt to win over the other side; what they are after is total surrender. But then there is nothing new about it. This is precisely why the artful show of harmony between the RSS and the MRM is being viewed by some political observers as the Sangh Parvar’s game of ‘establishing goodwill for oneself through oneself’.

Now, if the Sangh Parivar had the slightest desire to win the confidence of those who hold a different opinion, the efforts made three decades ago by the people of Ayodhya to reach a consensus would not have proved fruitless. It was a time when both communities in Ayodhya and its twin city Faizabad had come together to outline a ‘win-win’formula for the resolution of the issue.

Also read: Past Continuous: Twenty-Five Years on, Tremors of Babri Masjid Demolition Continue to Be Felt

For a better understanding of the issue it is important to put things in context. Prior to 1984, when the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) organised a rath yatra from Sitamarhi to Ayodhya calling for the ‘liberation of Lord Ram who was locked in captivity’, the residents of Ayodhya had little interest in the issue and treated it as any other land dispute.

But as soon as the locks on the gates of the disputed structure were opened in 1986 and the issue started festering, the residents of Ayodhya and Faizabad became proactive in their search for a peaceful solution, for they were well aware that they would have to bear the brunt of the heightening dispute. With a view to forging a comprehensive out-of-court settlement, they set up the Ayodhya Gaurav Samiti. The president of the committee was Mahant Nrityagopal Das, with Sheetla Singh, the much-respected veteran editor of the local daily Janmorcha, as its secretary. The committee comprised former Faizabad MP, Nirmal Khatri, and the Ayodhya royal family scion, Bimlendra Mohan Pratap Mishra, as well as almost all the prominent sadhus and priests of Ayodhya. Vinay Katiyar and a few others of the Sangh Parivar were kept out. Being an outsider Katiyar was not eligible to be on the committee in any case. A trust was also set up on behalf of the committee.

Interestingly, the then Samiti president, Mahant Nrityagopal Das, is currently the president of VHP’s Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas. At the time it was under his helmsmanship that a formula for settlement between the disputing parties was arrived at in the premises (Digambar Akhara) of litigant Ramchandra Das Paramhans. It was agreed that the disputed structure would be surrounded on all sides by high walls and the temple would be constructed at the Ram Chabutra adjacent to it.

So palpable was the goodwill that the Muslim groups said they did not feel the need to ask as to where in the wall constructed around the structure, would the entrance be placed. They had only one condition, namely that the Hindus should refrain from claiming that the settlement was a victory for them or that they had seized control of the disputed structure.

The proposed settlement was welcomed not just by the then head of Gorakshpith, Mahant Avaidyanath, Paramhans Ramchandra Das and Hindu leaders like Justice Deoki Nandan Agarwal and Daudayal Khanna; Muslim leaders such as Syed Shahabuddin, Salahuddin Owaisi, C.H. Mohammed Koya and Ebrahim Sulaiman Sait, too, were in favour of it. The Muslim leaders were of the view that reconciliation as a basis for the construction of the Ram temple was in the interests of the Muslims as it would help them to continue to be part of the national mainstream and deal with the threat of isolation.

 Sheetla Singh recalls that following the agreement, Sangh mouthpieces Panchjanya and Organiser announced (perhaps in their December 1986 editions) that the Ayodhya issue had been resolved, Lord Rama had won, and that the way for temple construction was now clear. VHP leader Ashok Singhal also welcomed the formula for the resolution of the dispute.

Later, however, in a mysterious turn of events, VHP leader Vishnu Hari Dalmia expressed a desire to be made a member and trustee of the Gaurav Samiti. When he was informed that only residents of Ayodhya and Faizabad were eligible for membership, he called a meeting of the RSS at its office, Keshav Kunj, in Delhi’s Jhandewalan Extension, and severely reprimanded Ashok Singhal for having welcomed the settlement formula. Emphasising that there were enough Ram temples in the country, Dalmia stated that instead of being preoccupied with the construction of the Ram temple, it was time to capitalise on the mass mobilisation made possible by the temple movement, to seize the reins of power in the country.

Ultimately, the VHP ignited another furore by questioning the endeavour of the people of Ayodhya and Faizabad on the grounds that it did not clarify where the garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) of the temple would be built, for they were in favour of commencing the temple from there. Not only that, the VHP went so far as to discredit the committee’s secretary, Sheetla Singh, saying he could not be trusted because of his communist past.

After that the situation reached such a pitch that a dispute involving a small piece of land was given the shape of a controversy involving a monumental clash of faiths. The same people who had taken their dispute to court began claiming that the matter was beyond any court of the land, although they were careful not to say this before the court. Another reason why a settlement seemed elusive was the fact that neither of the organisations linked to the issue could claim to represent Hindus or Muslims in their entirety or hold sway over them. The dispute pending in court in this connection is also of a representative nature.

File photo of Ayodhya. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

It goes without saying that those who sought to capture power by cashing in on the issue have succeeded. The shape of any future talks on the issue, of which Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s proposal is the latest installment, will now hinge on one crucial factor – will the ‘Hindu’ rulers use their newfound status to display a spirit of generosity in working towards an agreement or demand nothing less than total capitulation from the other side?

The present preoccupation with building a general agreement on the Ram temple construction in the guise of‘good faith’ while seeing to it that the demolished Babri Masjid does not come up anywhere in the area within Ayodhya’s chaudah kosi parikrama (pilgrim route) is also intended to conceal an important fact – no initiative to resolve the Ayodhya dispute can now succeed without parliament’s consent.

The facts are as follows:

On January 7, 1993, a month after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the Central government acquired 71 acres in and around the disputed site in a bid to maintain public order and social harmony, ordering the abatement of all suits and legal proceedings concerning the Ayodhya dispute. The then Narasimha Rao government first issued a much-discussed ordinance for it and followed it up with the enactment of the Acquisition of Certain Area at Ayodhya Act (ACAA) on April 3, 1993. The validity of the law was challenged in the Supreme Court (Ismail Faruqui vs. Union of India, 1994) on the grounds that the government could not acquire a religious site. Rejecting the argument the apex court held that the government’s right of acquisition was unlimited.

At the same time, the Supreme Court revived the ownership lawsuits that had ended with the acquisition of land in and around the disputed site. It did so on the grounds that the government had not put in place alternative arrangements for the disposal of those lawsuits, which is necessary as per the principles of natural justice.

Also read: Photo Feature: Life in Ayodhya, 24 Years After the Babri Masjid Demolition

Under the ACAA Act, a provision has been made for five types of structures – a temple, mosque, library, museum, and a public facility. But their location has not been decided. Moreover, parliament, or the government formed with a majority, and the court, which has the competence to direct it, have a far more significant role to play in deciding the location of these structures than either of the parties to the dispute. The Supreme Court has suggested that the party which wins the ownership lawsuit may be given a larger share of land for the construction of their place of worship, with the smaller share going to the losing side to build theirs. Since the power to bring about a change in this scheme of things rests with parliament, the issue is related to its will.

It is absolutely clear that there is no need for the enactment of a law for the construction of the Ram temple as the Sangh Parivar keeps demanding, for such a law is already in place. In fact the Sangh’s political front, the BJP, has also had a role in the making of that law – at least to the extent that in its attempt to mitigate the disgrace brought upon it by the Babri Masjid demolition, the political party raised no objection to the bill in parliament, thus ensuring its unanimous passage.

The dilemma before the Sangh is that the law provides for the construction of places of worship for the winning as well as the losing side. But what the Sangh wants is just the temple; the idea of a mosque is not acceptable to it under any circumstances. How can the Sangh ‘tolerate’ the fact that even after losing the Muslims would get a portion of land, even if a small one, for the purpose of building a mosque? How would the Sangh explain this to its followers? What would become of its concept of ‘Hindu Rashtra’? It is at this point that the hollowness of the Sangh parivar’s efforts in ‘good faith’is exposed.

Considering that the apex court has declared the acquisition of the land in and around the disputed site as valid, it is important to remember that whenever there is a decision on the ownership issue, the winner will only be entitled to compensation for the land on which its ownership has been established. Further, the acquired land cannot be used for any purpose other than that specified at the time of acquisition by the government. The Supreme Court has already stated that the government has unlimited right of acquisition for its purposes, but what it cannot do is acquire one community’s land and hand it over  to another.

Therefore, it is important to understand that when the Sangh talks about the enactment of a law for the construction of the Ram temple, what it is possibly seeking is an amendment to the 1993 ACAA Act to remove the provision for the construction of a mosque at the site. The danger this poses should be realised while there is still time.

Krishna Pratap Singh is a senior journalist based in Faizabad, Uttar Pradesh.

Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman and Chitra Padmanabhan. Read the original here.