Never far from the far-right mind, the Ram temple movement is being dusted up by Subramanian Swamy & co. Sceptics say the efforts have BJP-RSS blessings as the Parivar prepares for the 2017 UP elections
The early 1990s changed India beyond recogni tion when Reservation, Reforms and Ram hit the main stage one after the other. Almost a quarter century later, as India waits for a prom ised next round of reforms and the reservation debate is once again playing out, Ram too is slowly making a comeback.The highly volatile issue of whether there should be a proper Ram temple on the disput ed site -where a mosque was brought down by Sangh Parivar volunteers called kar sevaks in 1992 -is pending before the Supreme Court.

But the Ram temple brigade is losing no time in pushing the issue to the fore, time and again refreshing the memory of the court, all the while hoping that an all-powerful Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is dreaming of com ing to power in Lucknow, will stand by its side.

At the centre of the action is Subramanian Swamy. The BJP national executive member, who tweeted -“My motto for 2016 Ram Mandir Movement: With you if you are willing; without you if you are not; and in spite of you if you oppose“-recently addressed a seminar in New Delhi on the Ram temple issue.

“It is simple,“ he told the audience full of temple enthusiasts. “Muslims can offer their namaz anywhere but for Hindus, a PranPratisthit Vigraha (deity) is a living entity and a deity (Ram Lalla) can hold the property. So all the property vests with the presiding deity and Ram is the owner…. We hope to start work on the temple by year-end,“ Swamy said. His voice was separately echoed by Union minister Kalraj Mishra, who felt the construction of the temple at Ayodhya is only a matter of time.

The Drumbeats

The Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the RSS organised at least two talks in the national capital this year to spread “awareness“ on the Ram temple. And the social media is being put to use to spread the message far and wide.The social media wing of the RSS organised a seminar on “Ram Mandir: Emerging Scenario“ in Delhi last month. “We Hindus offer Lord Krishna’s package to Muslims -give us 3 temples and keep 39,997 masjids. I hope Muslim leaders don’t become Duryodhans,“ Swamy tweeted again.

The VHP has also pledged to organise a Ram Mahotsav in April just ahead of Ram Navami -when Lord Ram is believed to have come back to Ayodhya -and construct one temple in every village of the country. The wing claims it is a routine affair. “To say that the spotlight is back on the Ram temple issue would be wrong. This issue has never been out of the mind of the Hindu rashtra,“ says Surendra Jain, VHP spokesperson.

A section of the VHP even suggested the name of Yogi Adityanath, member of Parliament from Gorakhpur, to be named the BJP’s CM candidate for the UP 2017 polls, hoping that the construction of the temple will be easier under his stewardship. Adityanath has long been a champion for a Hindu rashtra, through his hardline stance on beef and dos and don’ts for non-Hindus.

Vinay Katiyar, BJP Rajya Sabha MP and founder-president of Bajrang Dal, says, “There might be some delay but the Ram temple will surely be built on the site. We too are waiting for the Supreme Court verdict.“

Muslim community leaders are not blinking either. “To say that construction of a Ram temple may start soon when the matter is before the court is a contempt of the judicial system of the country. All these talks are to polarise the votes. Muslims form a considerable part of the electorate in UP as well as West Bengal.The BJP is raising the issue ahead of the elections for political gains,“ says prominent Sunni cleric Farangi Mahali.

Politics Around Temple Fire

There is no shortage of political pundits in New Delhi and Lucknow who believe the fresh surge has got to do a lot with the UP assembly polls slated for 2017. The BJP came to power in the Centre largely because of the sweep it effected in UP -the party and its ally Apna Dal won 73 out of the 80 seats. But since then it has been downhill for the BJP in the state, and as per current indications, the final war for the high seat in Lucknow is going to be between the ruling Samajwadi Part y and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

Jai Shankar Pandey is a former MLA from Faizabad and the SP district president. In his 80s now, Pandey has seen it all when it comes to the temple movement.He is certain that all the dust being kicked up now is aimed at building a momentum towards the state polls. “BJP aur Modi ko na toh Ram se sarokaar hai, na Ram Rajya se aur na Ram mandir se (The BJP and Modi are neither concerned with Ram, nor his ideals, nor temple). Come elections and the issue is raked up by the BJP to polarise votes. Only the BJP knows when the Ram temple will move out of their election manifesto,“ says Pandey.

Expectedly, the BJP rubbishes the criticism that it is playing with the temple fire. “It has become a fashion for the Opposition parties to link the Ram temple issue with (forthcoming) elections,“ says BJP national spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain. He points to the party’s commitment to the Palampur resolution of 1989 that consolidated the Ayodhya movement. “There is no doubt that we want a Ram temple,“ says Hus sain, adding, “We have always talked about the issue.Ram temple is not a poll issue for the BJP but a matter of national pride.“

Lallu Singh, Lok Sabha member from Faizabad, says one shouldn’t read too much into the fact that the PM hasn’t spoken out on the Ram temple issue lately. “Construction of Ram temple is neither a matter of politics nor religion. It is a matter of our shradhha sotra Ram. And just because PM Modi is not commenting on the topic does not mean the Opposition can insinuate our motives towards elections,“ he says.

Hashim Ansari, one of the oldest stakeholders in the legal wrangle over the issue, believes every party has played its role in stoking the Ayodhya fire. “The Congress and the BJP have together been telecasting this Ram temple telefilm.It is for political mileage that they call the masjid site Ram’s janmbhoomi (birthplace),“ says the nonagenarian. His son Mohammed Iqbal Ansari, who has taken over the charge of the litigation, joins and makes an impassioned case. “These are just noises before the forthcoming elections. We are used to such calls of Ram Lalla hum aayenge; mandir yahi banayenge (Lord Ram we will come and build the temple at the site),“ says Iqbal.

“All these are big people who are behind the dispute -they work like the mafia. The dispute was almost settled in 2010 (referring to the high court judgment). But these leaders want to keep it alive not just for political gains but also for usurping the land.The main dispute is regarding ownership of the vast land,“ Iqbal claims.

Retired regional director of the Archaeological Survey of India KK Muhammed, who was part of the excavations that the high court ordered in 2003, says, “Excavations at the site have proved that Babri masjid was built over a Hindu temple. We found not one but 14 pillars of a Hindu temple and several slabs that are used in the making of a temple,“ he told ET Magazine. The court, however, did not comment on the accuracy of the ASI report, as it thought it would not be advisable nor expedient to do so.

Ground Zero

The 8 km drive into Ayodhya from Faizabad doesn’t betray any of the surrounding controversies. The temple town is a maze of alleys that remind one of the ghats of Varanasi, just that instead of the Ganga, you catch glimpses of the Sarayu here. But the area sur rounding the disputed site is crowded with devotees who come from the length and breadth of India. Like Anurag Patel, who has come from Gujarat, “We have come from Gujarat to visit Ram ki nagari (the city of Ram)…Who can refute that Ayodhya is Ram’s land?“ Patel asks.

Move to the workshop at Karsevakpuram in Ayodhya, and one sees work in full swing on individual pieces of the proposed temple.The workshop has stacks of pillars and slabs with intricate carvings covered with cloth. “All we need is 24-48 hours to assemble the piec es. You can see for yourself at the workshop. We are just waiting for the Supreme Court order,“ says Ramkumar Dar, priest of Dashrath Gaddi Chauburji temple.

Hazari Lal, one of the kar sevaks who brought down the mosque, still basks in the “heroic act“ they did. “I almost lost one arm after the demolition. But we have no regrets,“ Lal says. “It (temple construction) is a door-die situation for us,“ he says, “Pyaar se kaam ho jaye toh achha hai (It would be better if the matter is resolved amicably),“ he adds. Lal adds that although they hit “success“ in 1992, they had made a couple of futile attempts before the defining year.

It’s been more than two decades since that fateful day of December 6, and two of the towering personalities who led from the front are today battling political oblivion. LK Ad vani and Murli Manohar Joshi are part of the BJP’s Margdarshak Man dal, but have offered little insight into how to settle the issue. Ashok Singhal, the man who rustled up the winds in favour of demolition, passed away recently. Uma Bharti, whose fiery speeches helped the said Hindutva cause, is today a Un ion minister.

“I will always be proud of being part of the Ram temple move ment. The day the Allahabad High Court gave its judgement and as signed the central dome to Hindus for the construction of the temple was historic and gave our move ment a legal validity.“ On being told that the high court judgment has been challenged and the mat ter is now before the apex court, she said, “It is only a matter of land dispute now which even the court agrees can be solved through dia logue. The VHP can’t be stopped from what it is doing,“ the minister for water resources, river develop ment and Ganga rejuvenation told ET Magazine.

Mulayam Singh Yadav who, as the CM, ordered cops to fire at the frenzied kar sevaks, recently said he regrets that decision. On a pos itive note, despite the discordant voices, each party is ready to ac cept a Supreme Court verdict whatever it may be. It has been five years since the Supreme Court put a stay on the high court judgment that sought to divide the land into three parts. It is now up to the apex court to put to rest one of the most heated issues that has divided the nation.