Ayodhya’s Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust finds itself in a fresh controversy after it was accused by the Naga sadhus of the Hanuman Garhi temple of attempting to fraudulently grab land at Angad Tila.
Two years ago, the Trust was accused of corruption in land deals. Similar allegations have once again surfaced now and this time, it is not any political party or leader but Hanuman Garhi locals who have levelled the allegations.
The Naga sadhus of the Hanuman Garhi temple have opened a front against the Trust for allegedly attempting to fraudulently grab land at Angad Tila (a small hillock) claimed by the Garhi, and have also threatened to carry out a major agitation.
The sadhus allege that after the Trust’s attempt to occupy the said land by pressuring the Garhi failed, it used its influence on the local administration to get this land declared as ‘nazul land’ (non-agricultural government land).
They claim that the land in question has been in the ownership of the Garhi since the 13th century, for which documentary proof is also available.
In a clarification issued in response to the allegation, the Trust said that the action of the administration is beyond its control and hence it cannot be held responsible for the decision.
But the Garhi’s sadhus insist that the only purpose behind declaring the said land as nazul is to facilitate its transfer to the Trust and allege collusion between the administration and the Trust.
In June 2021, the Trust was accused of corruption in land deals by opposition parties, and amid vociferous demands for an investigation, it could not even muster a clarification.
As per the allegations, the Trust had extensively used its influence in the incumbent government and administration to carry out the alleged corruption. The names of a BJP MLA, the Ayodhya mayor’s nephew and a government official also surfaced in this connection.
In one of his reports, a local journalist quoted a property dealer as saying that Ayodhya’s (then) district magistrate Anuj Kumar Jha had visited him three or four times in connection with a land deal.
But it seems that the Trust did not bother to learn any lesson from the entire episode.
Now, when preparations are being made for the installation of Ram Lalla – the statue of a child Ram – in the newly built Ram temple amid much fanfare, the Trust has been forced to issue a clarification after getting embroiled in this dispute over ‘grabbing’ 1.6 acres of land at Angad Tila adjacent to the temple premises.
According to the Naga sadhus, the Trust is trying to annex the land at Angad Tila by hook or by crook as part of its plan to expand the Ram temple complex.
Currently, a portion of Angad Tila is inside the Ram Temple complex, while the remaining part is outside its barricading. The Naga sadhus claim that the Hardwari belt of the Garhi has been cultivating flowers on this land for a long time.
According to sources, the Trust has been pressuring the claimants of the Garhi to hand over the said piece of land and has also been getting some construction done facing towards the Garhi. The Trust also tried to install a gate in the double barricading of the temple complex in their direction.
But instead of talks resolving anything, the matter got complicated, and when the Garhi expressed its intention to build a shelter for 45 sadhus who were made homeless after many shelters of sadhus on the said land came under the control of the Ram, Bhakti and Janmabhoomi Paths, it was found that the local administration had declared the said land as nazul land in government documents.
Angered by this, the Naga sadhus reached the said land and not only started religious rituals, prayers and a langar, but also demolished whatever structures the Trust had erected there.
The Naga sadhus have been camping at the site since September 23. As a result, the activities of the Trust at Angad Tila have come to a standstill, while the administration’s efforts to pacify the Naga sadhus through a magistrate remained inconclusive.
Mahant Sanjay Das, the national president of the Sankatmochan Sena, which is affiliated with the Hanuman Garhi temple, rejected the Trust’s claim that after a deadlock in talks with the Garhi regarding the land at Angad Tila, it had distanced itself from the matter and has nothing to do with the said land being declared as nazul.
Das alleged that it was quite clear who prompted the administration to suddenly declare the said land as nazul.
Question on benches installed on Janmabhoomi Path
Meanwhile, the chairman of the building construction committee of the Trust, Nripendra Mishra, recently alleged that the benches installed by the public works department (PWD) for the convenience of pilgrims on the Janmabhoomi Path from Birla Dharamshala in Ayodhya to the Ram Janmabhoomi are substandard. However, the controversy was short-lived.
The 600-metre stretch is being constructed by the PWD. Questions have been raised regarding its quality and action has been taken in many cases.
However, according to details received during one of his inspections, Mishra found the pink sandstone benches installed along the Janmabhoomi Path to be ‘slimmer’ than expected, so he summoned the concerned architect and asked him about the thickness of the stones approved for the benches to be installed.
After he was told that it was six to four-and-a-half inches, Mishra further asked why thinner stones with a thickness of less than three inches were installed on the benches’ seats, and whether any decision had been taken regarding changes in thickness or design and at what stage.
When the architect’s reply failed to satisfy him, he summoned the entire file from the chief engineer of the PWD, Dharamveer Singh, and asked him to ensure accountability.
Mishra also sought information as to how many such benches have been installed in total. He was informed that the installation of a total of 70 benches was proposed on both sides, half of which had been installed.
Meanwhile, reports of corruption in the installation of benches soon spread and caused a stir, but later, Singh ended all speculation by claiming that Mishra had been handed a complete test report along with the approved design of the benches as per his demand and that he was ‘satisfied’ with it.
According to sources, the building construction committee headed by Mishra also endorsed his approval.
What about local journalists?
In Ayodhya, preparations for the proposed consecration of Ram Lalla in January 2024 are in full swing. Amidst all fanfare, many journalists recently quoted Champat Rai, the Trust’s general secretary, as saying that during the installation ceremony of Ram Lalla, the sants and mahants will not be able to enter the Ram temple premises with religious items such as dand, chhatra, chanwar, paduka, etc.
According to reports, Champat Rai said that this decision has been taken keeping in mind the tight security of VVIPs arriving at the function. He added that in order to follow safety standards, guests may have to walk one or two kilometres.
In view of this, he also appealed to elderly people who have lost the ability to walk or sit up not to attend the consecration ceremony, as due to tight security arrangements, they will have to sit at the venue for three to four hours.
He also said that only after Prime Minister Narendra Modi leaves will the people sitting inside be able to catch a glimpse of the Ram Lalla idol.
It was expected that sadhus and sants would be the first to react to the news, formally or informally, because dand, chhatra, chanwar and paduka are a part of their identity. But the reaction came from local journalists instead.
A controversy erupted when a senior journalist referred to the above news in the WhatsApp group of the local press club and asked – “And what about the local journalists? What if they try to enter?”
The journalist intended to ask about the conditions for local journalists to gain entry and whether or not they would be allowed.
The backdrop for the question was the recent refusal to permit local journalists to attend chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s programme in Ayodhya recently. The officials of the Press Club were expected to respond to the question or at least ask the journalist to take up the matter with the administration.
But the matter remained limited to the reaction of a journalist associated with an English newspaper who said, “Some journalists are dear to Babu ji. These journalists bow down to Babuji.”
According to the journalist who raised the question, many journalists who spoke to him considered his question relevant but refused to take any public stand on it.
On the other hand, according to experts, the BJP does not depend on local journalists for its campaign in Ayodhya anymore, as the topmost media houses manage its programs and events and local journalists have no role in it. Therefore, neither the party nor the administration pays them much heed.
The writer is a senior journalist.
Translated from the Hindi original by Naushin Rehman.