On February 1, the latest edition of the Ram Mandir movement was declared closed at the Dharm Sansad (Religious Parliament) held in Allahabad (or Prayagraj, if you prefer) at the Kumbh congregation. The setting itself was an eye-opener: an almost empty hall presided over by a dais full of Hindu saints and seers who waxed eloquent on the Narendra Modi government’s piety and achievements and called for keeping the ‘movement’ in abeyance for the next four months, that is, till the Lok Sabha elections are over.
No less than RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat belled the proverbial cat by making this announcement, adding that the Temple would be completed by 2025. It was a denouement that nobody had expected. After a stunned silence, pandemonium broke out amongst the few hundred people in attendance, as they demanded that a date be declared. They had, after all, been assured that that was what the meeting was all about! Later, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) front and sponsor of the movement, too followed suit, ratifying the postponement.
No Support for RSS/VHP Move
As repeatedly pointed out by Newsclick last year, this revival of a ghost of a movement was doomed for failure because people have lost their faith in RSS/VHP’s claims of constructing the Temple in Ayodhya. Despite a series of high-profile congregations of saints and seers in Ayodhya, Delhi and elsewhere, despite Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s open assistance to all these efforts, despite Bhagwat’s declaration in October that this was a key task, the Hindu fundamentalist lobby realised, rather painfully, that this was not going to work.
Last year, the issue was first raised by VHP on October 5 at a meeting in Delhi. They argued that the Ram Mandir should be built and, if necessary, a law should be brought in by the Modi government. Then, Bhagwat raised it on October 26 in his customary Dussehra speech in Nagpur. That was the first time the RSS supremo had demanded the building of a Temple since Modi took over as Prime Minister in 2014.
There were two reasons why this failed attempt was initiated at that time. One was the upcoming hearing date (October 29) in the Supreme Court on the Ayodhya land title dispute. The RSS/VHP thought that raising the temperature on the Mandir issue among the people may help them in the Court. The second reason was that there were three crucial Assembly elections coming up in Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Surely, the Ram Mandir demand would go down well and act as a salve on disenchanted voters. So much so that their main campaigner was Yogi Adityanath, who raised the Ram Mandir issue everywhere.
On both counts, the RSS/VHP lost out – the apex court postponed the hearing to January 29, and BJP lost all three states. It became increasingly clear that the Ram Mandir issue was not receiving support among the common people. Or rather, the RSS/VHP were not being seen as really serious about building the temple. They were seen – correctly – as opportunists who raise the Ram Mandir demand only for electoral gains. Besides, a whole generation of people had grown up after the destruction of Babri Masjid 27 years ago and were more interested in jobs than in a temple.
Demand for “Undisputed” Land in Ayodhya
In January this year, the Supreme Court again postponed the hearing because of non-availability of a judge. This latest setback caused dismay among the mandir votaries and they came up with a new legal trick of filing a petition demanding that the so-called undisputed land in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid complex be handed over to the original owners, the main one being the VHP-backed Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas. The idea was that if the surrounding land is taken possession of, then construction work could be started and the RSS/VHP could claim that it had fulfilled the demand. In the process, they reduced the disputed area to a mere 0.313 acre (as stated in their petition), though the area is actually much more.
This ploy, however, did not work as the Court would treat the plea as another of a series of disputes before it on the same issue. It is already hearing 14 appeals against the 2010 Allahabad High Court decision to trifurcate the disputed land with one part going to Muslim petitioners and the other two to Hindu fundamentalist lobbies.
The disarray among the Temple supporters is now so widespread that traditional Congress supporter Swami Swaroopananda Saraswati, Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath and Dwarika Peeth, has announced (at a parallel congregation held two days before the VHP meet) that he would lead a construction effort in Ayodhya on February 21.
Saraswati has had ties with the Congress for decades and even hosted former Congress president Sonia Gandhi back in 2002 in Dighauri, MP, for a Dharma Sansad where two other Shankaracharyas (from Kanchi and Puri) were also present. It was Congress’ way of dealing with the Hindutva forces, at a time when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was leading a National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre.
This parallel “movement” may not come to much, but it has raised a pertinent issue – who has given the VHP/RSS the right to become sole upholders of Hindutva and the charge of building the Ram Temple?
Meanwhile, the RSS has announced that it will carry out a campaign across the country to revive the spirit of the movement, including chanting of the Ram mantra in temples on April 6 and so on. This is a holding operation meant to keep the issue simmering for any marginal benefit that they may get. It has the potential to ignite communal polarisation in some sensitive areas. It also serves as a fig leaf for covering up an ignominious retreat.
But the main thing is that the RSS/VHP has bowed out of its high visibility campaign because of rejection by the people. Making a virtue out of necessity, this move is being attributed to the lofty concern of not wanting “petty politicking” on the glorious Ram Temple issue, and not wanting strife or polarisation in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections!
With each new step, the RSS/VHP appears to be sinking into a morass of half-truths and equivocation that it will find itself difficult to get out of.