Stage whisper: why is the Sangh hosting an Ayodhya sadhu's birthday bash?
As Uttar Pradesh prepares for assembly polls in early 2017, efforts are being made to rake up the Ayodhya temple issue, again.
The Sangh Parivar is at work to turn the birthday celebrations of Mahant Nritya Gopal Das into a grand political spectacle. Das, the president of Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Trust, turns 78 on 10 June. The trust is spearheading the campaign to build a Ram temple on the site of the Babri Masjid, demolished in 1992.
The eight-day celebrations will include a "variety of cultural and political programmes" in Ayodhya. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been invited, and over a dozen ministers and MPs are expected to be among the guests. A VHP leader said "all major Hindu saints have also been invited". The main function will be held in Das' ashram.
The presence of prominent BJP and RSS leaders in Ayodhya is bound to have political reverberations, just in time for the polls. Speculation is rife that the RSS and the VHP are going all out to make the "temple issue" the central theme of the event.
Interestingly, Das had celebrated his 75th birthday in a similarly grand style in 2013, just when the general election campaign was picking up steam. That event, christened Pattabhishek Mahotsav, had seen a host of politicians and sadhus in attendance.
The extravaganza had been explained away as the "platinum jubilee anniversary celebrations" to counter allegations of it being "political propaganda". That excuse won't do this time since the 78th anniversary doesn't have any special significance in Indian, or western culture.
Not that the Sangh or Das seem to care. They are barely disguising the real intention: to polarise the people along communal lines for BJP's electoral benefit.
The organising committee of the programme has released a list of dignitaries who are expected at the extravaganza - Governors Kalyan Singh, Ram Naik, Kesari Nath Tripathi of Rajasthan, UP and Bengal, respectively; Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan of Madhya Pradesh; central ministers Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadkari, Sushma Swaraj, Smriti Irani, Uma Bharti, Mahesh Sharma, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Dharmendra Pradhan, Kalraj Mishra; BJP bigwigs Amit Shah, Yogi Adityanath, Keshav Prasad Maurya.
The sadhus on the guest list include Vasudevanand, Ramanandacharya, Rambhadracharya, Chinmayananda Maharaj, Narendra Giri.
Running the show
According to sources, the VHP "is organising the entire event from behind the curtain although it is only a part of the organising committee". Top VHP leaders, including Praveen Togadia, Champat Rai and Ambrish Singh, will attend the birthday function as will senior RSS functionaries.
The guest list indicates the purpose of the gala extends beyond blessing Das. The Sangh Parivar is looking to fine-tune BJP's poll strategy at, and through, this event. It will give the assorted sadhus and Sangh elders an opportunity to discuss the construction of the temple. It's no coincidence that most of the sadhus invited to the event have been active in the Ram temple movement.
Considering the sensitivity of the matter, the state government is keeping a close eye on the developments. Sources in the police claim their intelligence units have been activated.
The BJP has said it would fight the UP election on a "development agenda" and highlight the failures of the Samajwadi Party government on such fronts as law and order, and agriculture. However, the party's affinity for the temple issue in not lost on anyone. Indeed, it has played a big role in taking the party where it is today.
Although BJP leaders claim it is no more an election issue for them, they are not fooling anyone.
That, in fact, explains the studied silence that its rival parties have maintained on the event. They don't want to antagonise the majority Hindu community as well as the influential sadhus. Several leaders of these parties bow to these very sadhus in Ayodhya, including Tej Narayan Pandey, the SP MLA from the constituency. Most parties, it appears, want to watch the developments from a safe distance until the BJP and the RSS come out with their agenda.