A proclaimed champion of Hindutva, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is struggling to protect its saffron image – tarnished after the alleged multiple crore land purchase scam in Ayodhya.
While the party is also facing sharp criticism from different quarters for its mishandling of the catastrophic second wave of COVID-19, these allegations of fraud in land purchased for the Shri Ram Temple have added more woes for the BJP.
The opposition parties, including Congress and Aam Aadmi Party, have levelled allegations that the trust that was formed by the BJP government purchased lands in Ayodhya at much higher prices. "Nazool" lands (which have already been escheated to the state government) have also been purchased by the trust, the opposition alleged.
The allegations against the trust, whose key members are from organisations affiliated with the BJP, have assumed more significance with the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh fast approaching in 2022.
Meanwhile, despite the evidence of alleged financial embezzlement against the "Shri Ram Janmbhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust" being in the public domain, the BJP government has not taken any step to probe into the matter. Instead it has made several attempts to defend the trust. Deputy CM of UP, Keshav Prasad Maurya, reportedly said, “People whose hands are full of blood of Ram devotees, should not teach us a lesson on the construction of the Shri Ram Temple.”
On June 13, the opposition parties targeted the trust for the first time and alleged that the trust purchased land worth Rs 2 crore at a much higher price of Rs.18 crore. The land deal was done with the consent of the trust’s general secretary Champat Rai, the opposition alleged.
Former IAS Vijay Shank Pandey, who was also the district magistrate of Ayodhya, bluntly said that prima facie the alleged land scam is a matter of money laundering. “Trust should come clear on all the allegations levelled against it, to maintain its credibility,” he added.
Speaking with NewsClick, the former IAS questioned the intent of the Union government on why it has not cleared it so far whether the trust comes under the ambit of the right to information or not? Pandey also commented that, “Everybody knows this, why the government does not want a probe into the alleged fraud, even though devotees have been duped in the name of the faith.”
Prominent Hindu priests in Ayodhya have also come down harshly on the allegation of the scam. They have demanded a CBI probe into the allegations against the trust. Among the priests demanding action are three who were also a party in the Ayodhya land dispute case, Mahant Dharam Das, the head of Nirvani Akhara; Mahant Suresh Das, chief of the Digambar Akhara, and Mahant Sitaram Das of the Nirmohi Akhara.
Meanwhile, the opposition parties have intensified their attacks on the trust and its relations with the BJP.
Also read: Ram Temple Trust: Opposition Parties Demand Central Agency Probe Into Alleged Corruption in Land Deal
Congress state president, Ajay Kumar Lallu told NewsClick that BJP did not want a probe into the scam because its own people are involved in it. A trust which was constituted by Narendra Modi’s government in the direction of the court, has duped the devotees of Shri Ram, he added. According to Lallu, “Not only one, but the trust is allegedly involved in four such scams. In all cases the trust purchased lands at much higher rates. The matter should be probed under the surveillance of the apex court.”
“My party will raise this issue in the Assembly as well as in the coming elections,” the Congress leader added. Lallu went on to say, “This is a crystal clear case of corruption and the BJP is also a partner in the crime. This alleged scam has unmasked the real face of the BJP in terms of corruption and religious devotion both.”
The Aam Aadmi Party has also criticised the BJP for defending the alleged scam, that created much uproar in the political arena. AAP leader and Rajya Sabha member Sajiv Singh has demanded that the ruling BJP send all the accused of the alleged scam, including Ayodhya’s Mayor Rishikesh Upadhyaya and Anil Kumar Mishra (Trustee) to jail.
Singh also expressed concern over delay in action against those involved in the alleged scam. He highlighted that despite nine days have passed since the scam was exposed by the opposition, no action has been taken against any culprits by the BJP government.
Senior political analyst from the state, Govindpant Raju believes that the scam would adversely impact the saffron party's pro-Hindutva image, if it does not cancel all the deals done by the trust at the earliest. He told NewsClick, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi claimed himself to be a chowkidar (Watchman) of public funds. But surprisingly, he chooses to be tight-lipped on the alleged corruption, by the trust formed by his government.”
“The central government must announce the cancellation of all the alleged land deals and punish the guilty people after the probe,” he added.
Raju further opined that this is a matter of public money which was donated by the devotees of Ram for the construction of his temple, adding that the people did not donate to BJP or its affiliate organisations (RSS & VHP) etc.
Questions have also been raised about the BJP’s disgruntlement with the alleged scam. Senior political analyst, Sharat Pradhan said, “It’s (BJP’s defence and clarifications on the behalf of the trust is the voice of their guilty conscience, which has led to even more doubts. As the BJP-led government set up the trust and appointed trustees, therefore, it is their duty to probe into the alleged scam.”
Pradhan also talked about the electoral impact of the alleged scam and said that, “Now only BJP bhakts will vote for it. Ram bhakts will question the saffron party on its silence against the misuse of the funds donated by them.”
According to former editor of The Times of India, Atul Chandra, this scam will have a significant impact on the BJP’s campaign during the upcoming Assembly elections in UP. He said, “The saffron party was planning to bring Hindutva and Ram Mandir into the centre of politics. The main intent behind this was to dilute the negative political impact of farmers’ agitation and devastation caused during the COVID-19 second wave due to the government’s unpreparedness and mishandling.”
Also watch: Politics in Ram's Name, Playing with Faith!
Former head of the department of Political Science at the University of Lucknow, Ram Dixit believes that the Ayodhya movement had been used by the Sangh to achieve its political ambitions. “Now they are using the Ayodhya temple to collect funds for politics. The alleged land scam was a well-orchestrated conspiracy of the trust to transfer the funds to the accounts of BJP before the next Assembly elections. If the opposition parties takes the news of the alleged scam to the masses, their leaning towards the saffron party would definitely change,” Dixit told NewsClick.
Social scientist Dr Pradeep Sharma said the alleged scam has added more trouble for the BJP which is already facing resentment of Brahmins and OBCs in the state.
Meanwhile, Champat Rai, general secretary of the trust, had rubbished the allegations on the first day and said that they have been facing various allegations which are untrue.
But since then, the opposition parties have levelled many other allegations, including the purchase of “Nazul” land by the trust, following which the office bearer of trust has not responded to the allegations.
It should be mentioned that Champat Rai had recently apprised that a total of Rs 3,200 crore was collected through people’s donation for the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya till March 31 this year. Rai is also the vice-president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which staunchly supported the Ram Mandir Movement of BJP to erect a temple for Hindu deity Ram at Ayodhya, after demolishing the centuries old Babri Masjid.
The formation of the trust to form the temple was announced by PM Modi on February 5, 2020, in Parliament following the directive of the Supreme Court.