Like his predecessors, the current Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) “sarsanghachalak”, Mohanrao Bhagwat, speaks in ellipsis and often cites paradoxes, which open his statements to multiple interpretations. However, over the past two months, on different occasions, Bhagwat unreservedly articulated the RSS’ stance on the construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya, implying that it was up to the Centre and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to get the message and act, and not simply react.
The clearest enunciation was contained in his annual Vijayadashami address of October 18. He hinted at an “obvious game plan of a few elements to stall the judgement (delivered by the Supreme Court on September 27 in which it rejected a plea to refer the matter of whether mosques are integral to practising Islam to a larger bench) by presenting newer interventions in the judicial process”.
Warning that it was in “nobody’s interest to test the patience of society without any reason”, Bhagwat asked the Centre to “clear the path for construction of the grand temple through an appropriate and requisite law”. What prompted him to flag the subject when the country is about to face a slew of assembly elections and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, and a potentially combustible issue like Ayodhya
could spark problems for the Centre and the BJP?
VHP’s temple run 2018
October 5: VHP leaders and seers urge the Centre for a Bill in Parliament to help facilitate temple construction; met President Ram Nath Kovind with a memorandum and also sought time from Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which he hasn’t yet granted
November: VHP leaders will meet representatives of Hindu religious organisations in all state capitals, Governors and Lok Sabha MPs, regardless of their parties, and solicit their support for a law regarding temple construction
November-December: Sadhus and sants will hold religious meetings in villages and at small temples to mobilise support for Ram temple and by the year-end, assess the impact of their programmes
January 31 and February 1: The VHP to hold “dharma sansad (religious parliament)" at the Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj to firm up the last leg of the campaign
According to a Sangh higher-up, had Bhagwat not done it, the Vishva Hindu Parishad
(VHP) would have pressured him. “The VHP is an arm of the Sangh but it tweaked its approach on Ayodhya
by allowing ‘sadhus’ and ‘sants’ to spearhead the ongoing phase of the movement. The clergy is under nobody’s control. They say what they wish to and would have embarrassed the RSS,” he said.
The changed tactic was chalked up to the long-drawn conflict between former VHP leader Pravin Togadia and Prime Minister Narendra Modi
(who were once close associates in Gujarat). Bhagwat seemed tilted towards Modi. Last April, a Sangh nominee, VS Kokje, replaced Togadia as VHP’s international working president. He quit in pique, floated a separate outfit and persistently challenged the RSS' and the VHP’s credentials to champion Hindutva.
and the VHP so far have maintained that their advocacy for the Ram temple was unrelated to elections and the BJP’s prospects. “Every year, there are elections but our demand is consistent. But we are worried because the BJP will have to start answering questions on Ayodhya,” said another Sangh functionary.
Another explanation was that Bhagwat’s assertions constituted an “advisory” to the court, which will begin hearing on the Ayodhya
issue on October 29, and the government. A Sangh insider said, “Look at the options. Out-of-court settlements were attempted by (P V Narasimha) Rao and (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee with weighty negotiators like the Kanchi swami, Jayendra Saraswati, but they failed. Court cases have been on since the British Raj but nothing came of them. The bald truth is: Courts can’t arbitrate a matter of faith of whether Rama was born there or not. At best, they can decide on the ownership of the 2.77 acres of disputed land.”
According to the insider, the next “logical” step was for the Centre to “take the bull by the horns” and place a Bill in Parliament to facilitate the construction of the temple. He conceded it was “nearly impossible” to pass such a Bill unless the Congress, “on a soft Hindutva jaunt”, came on board. “Even if the Congress doesn’t, the BJP can make clear its intent like it did with triple ‘talaq’,” he added, underlining that making known its “intent” was crucial to “reassure the BJP and the RSS
cadre and the core constituents”.
“Questions are being asked as to why the Sangh and the BJP did nothing (on the issue) for over four years, especially because the BJP has a majority at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh,” the insider said.
Strangely, the BJP did not seem inordinately anxious over Ayodhya. “The Sangh has its compulsions. It can’t be seen as an extension of the BJP,” a party official said. Another functionary’s version was that while Ayodhya might have been a potent symbol of the Hindutva theme, the BJP “need not reaffirm its commitment repeatedly”.
“It’s wrong to link it with elections and say our fate depends on building a temple. We adopted a resolution for the first time in June 1989 (at Palampur, in which the BJP asked the Rajiv Gandhi government to hand over Ram’s ‘birthplace’ to the Hindus through negotiated settlement or legislation) but it took 30 years for us to get a majority. We lost four state governments because of Ayodhya, our workers were martyred but we finally compelled even Rahul Gandhi to wear a teeka on his forehead and call himself a ‘Shiva bhakt’. We integrated Hindutva with the mainstream,” he claimed.
As the VHP is back in action and the RSS
is high on rhetoric, the BJP seems unmoved by the vibes on Ayodhya.