Ayodhya: Several top Bhartiya Janata Party leaders who remained in the forefront of the Ram temple agitation for years and ended up being indicted by the Central Bureau of Investigation for the crime of conspiring to demolish the Babri Masjid, have not been invited here for the mega event when Narendra Modi will perform ‘bhoomi pujan’ to launch the construction of the Sangh parivar’s temple project on August 5.
Removing all doubts about the participation of Lal Krishna Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi and Uma Bharti – all leading lights of the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation – Champat Rai, secretary of the Ram temple trust, formally declared here on Tuesday that none of these leaders had been invited for Wednesday’s ceremony.
Their absence is not connected to the fact that they are facing trial since Champat Rai of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, is also one of those accused of playing a key role in the destruction of the 16th century mosque on December 6, 1992. The head of the trust, Nritya Gopal Das, is similarly accused. A third member of the trust, Kameshwar Chaupal of the RSS, was not indicted but he admitted in a magazine interview in 2017 that the Sangh parivar demolished the mosque.
“The guest list was becoming too long and in view of COVID-19, we had to cut down the numbers, so we decided to keep the older people away”, Rai told mediapersons.
He said, “Advani ji and Joshi ji are both above 90, so it is in their interest also to remain away from such functions.”
As for Kalyan Singh, 88, who was chief minister of Uttar Pradesh when the mosque was demolished, Rai said, “I personally rang up Kalyan Singh ji and advised him not to come here on August 5. I have suggested that he should come down on any later date suitable to him.”
Uma Bharti, who was also among the frontline leaders of the temple movement during the 1980s and ’90s, has already tweeted that she would keep away from the ‘bhoomi pujan’. She said that she would be reaching Ayodhya by train on August 4, but would refrain from going to the temple function because traveling by train could expose her to the virus and she did not wish to place others, and especially Narendra Modi at risk.
In the 1980s, Advani and Joshi, with strong support from Uma Bharti, fronted the BJP’s campaign to build a Ram temple at the spot where the Babri Masjid had been standing since 1528. They claimed the spot was the “birthplace” of Lord Rama and declared this a matter of faith that was not open to negotiation or adjudication. These leaders, along with the wider backing of the RSS and VHP, mobilised lakhs of activists to Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, for what they claimed would be a symbolic ‘kar seva’ ceremony. In reality, according to the CBI’s chargesheet, Advani, Joshi, Nritya Gopal Das, Champat Rai and others were party to a conspiracy to demolish the mosque that day. The trial in the case is still going on.
After the mosque’s demolition, a makeshift temple to Lord Ram was immediately erected which remained in place even as the title suit over ownership of the land meandered over the years till the Supreme Court, in a controversial verdict last November, handed the site over to the Hindu litigants.
The government then set up a trust to oversee the construction of a temple, the Shri Ram Janmbhoomi Teerth Kshetra, taking care not to directly name Rai and Das as members so as to avoid the charge of handing the property over to those accused of demolishing the mosque which stood on the same piece of land. Instead, it left it to the other members of the trust to induct the duo and place them at the head of the body.
Within the wider politics of the BJP today, Advani, Joshi and Bharti are very much on the margins. None of them contested the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and have since expressed disquiet at their marginalisation. However, in a nod to their service to the BJP’s cause, the government has said that Advani and Joshi have been granted permission to retain their bungalows in Delhi’s Lutyens’ Zone on “security grounds”.