Is the hurry to start construction of Ram Temple linked to CBI court’s order on mosque demolition?
The rush to start construction of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya during the lockdown is linked to the verdict of the CBI court expected soon, and elections in 2022 and 2024
Seldom has a political party placed an agenda to build a place of worship in its manifesto. But the Bharatiya Janata Party revived itself since 1989 on the back of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. It organised ‘Shila Pujan’ or worship of holy bricks across north India, bricks to help it build the temple. Lal Krishna Advani undertook a whirlwind ‘rath (chariot) yatra’ to whip up public passion, which finally led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. Barely six years later, BJP had formed the Government in Delhi.
The unseemly rush to start the construction in the midst of the pandemic and a looming economic crisis has drawn some criticism. The country and especially Uttar Pradesh needs more and better hospitals, not yet another temple, say critics. But the BJP is convinced that voters will be swayed by spectacles and displays of faith and piety. A dip in the Ganges during Kumbh or symbolically washing the feet of five Dalits or organising a dazzling ‘ Ganga aarti’ in Varanasi apparently fetch more votes than by the hard work of setting the public health system right.
The hurry to get on with the construction of the Ram Temple in 2020 is also dictated by two elections. The Uttar Pradesh Assembly election is due in 2022 and the general election in 2024. The construction is proposed to be completed within three and a half years, says the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust. Gung ho BJP leaders in the state are already sharpening slogans like ‘Jo Kaha, So Kiya’( What we promised, we fulfilled), which they hope will bail them out in the elections.
While only 200 VIPs will be physically present at Ayodhya on August 5, including several chief ministers from BJP states, former UP chief minister Kalyan Singh and Lal Krishna Advani, one of the architects of the movement, the ceremony will be telecast live by the state broadcaster as well as private TV channels. LED screens are being installed all over Ayodhya and across North India to enable people to view the spectacle.
The Ram Janmabhoomi Movement had laid much store on wooing the Dalits. Therefore, a Dalit from Bihar, Kameshwar Choupal, was chosen in 1989 to lay the foundation stone of the temple. It remains to be seen if the symbolism will be carried forward to August 5 or not.
Another explanation doing the rounds for the hurry is starting the construction early in August is said to be the August 31 deadline for the CBI court in Lucknow to pronounce its judgment on the criminal case instituted for the demolition of the Babri Masjid. Among the accused are LK Advani, MM Joshi and Uma Bharti, all former Union ministers and who were present at Ayodhya when the mosque was demolished.
Significantly, Narendra Modi’s name does not figure anywhere in the CBI charge sheet although he was part of Advani’s Rath Yatra. Strangely, there are no photograph of Modi at Ayodhya on the day the mosque was demolished. Where was he on that day? A photograph of him at Ayodhya in 1991 by the side of Murli Manohar Joshi has been published in the Times of India, which quoted the photographer Mahendra Tripathi recalling that Modi had then said that he would return when construction of the temple would begin.
The consensus in Lucknow is that the CBI court would give the accused benefit of the doubt and pronounce that the prosecution had failed to establish the guilt of the accused beyond all doubts. A few lawyers believe that the court will be more discreet and hold some minor VHP functionaries guilty while letting off the big cats.
The verdict in any case will be controversial. All the accused have told the court that they played no role in the demolition of the mosque; that they were falsely implicated by the Congress government because of ideological and political differences.
What is more, there is ample evidence in the form of newspaper reports, first hand accounts, interviews and photographs to suggest their involvement in mobilizing the crowd and instigating them. Kalyan Singh, who was then the chief minister in UP, had even given an undertaking to the Supreme Court of India that no damage would be allowed to the disputed structure. However, on December 6, 1992, the administration had allowed a frenzied mob to gather and climb on to the mosque and in a matter of six hours demolish the structure.
A minority view is that legally the CBI court would not be able to let off many of the key accused. Doing so might also attract international attention and embarrassment. Therefore, say a few observers, chances of conviction are high and the Government possibly wanted to start the construction before this fresh controversy surfaces.
In any case, while followers and devotees have been asked to stay away from Ayodhya on August 5, in view of the government’s guidelines, RSS and the VHP have been entrusted to ensure that each household lights five lamps to celebrate the occasion.
And while the Prime Minister’s helicopter will land in the campus of Saket University in Ayodhya, the three kilometre distance from the helipad to the temple is being spruced up and given a fresh coat of paint. As many as 300 paintings depicting scenes from Ramayan, the epic on the life of Ram, are being painted on walls flanking the road and 300 loudspeakers are being installed to amplify devotional songs, hymns and chants. The city itself has been painted all over in saffron colour and will be illuminated for three days.
Published: 31 Jul 2020, 11:54 AM