Avaidyanath stamp: Govt honours Mahant who said Advani should die
On 1 October, the Centre will issue a stamp commemorating Mahant Avaidyanath, one of the leaders of the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation. There was a demand for a stamp on the Mahant by Yogi Adityanath, the firebrand BJP leader who represents Gorakhpur in Lok Sabha. Adityanath succeeded Avaidyanath as the head of the Gorakhnath Math.
Here are five reasons why the stamp should not be issued:
The Liberhan Commission named Avaidyanath as one of those individuals responsible for the demolition of Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992. As a leading light of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Mahant was one of the main protagonists of the agitation, much before LK Advani plunged into the movement and launched his Rath Yatra.
In 1984, the VHP passed a resolution demanding the "liberation of Ayodhya" in its first Dharma Sansad. To achieve this, the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Mukti Yajna Samiti was formed under Avaidyanath's leadership.
One of the first steps of this Samiti was to launch the tala kholo agitation in Ayodhya - to get the locks of the disputed structure opened.
According to minutes released by the VHP, on 5 April 1987, Avaidyanath had openly called for the demolition of the mosque: "The grand temple has to be constructed at the site of Shri Ram Janmabhoomi. Else, the symbol of national insult (the mosque) shall remain on our chest pestering us for ever."
The Mahant was also among the VHP's main interlocutors on the Janmabhoomi issue. He led representations to various political leaders including PV Narasimha Rao, who was India's Prime Minister during the peak of the agitation leading to the demolition.
Avaidyanath was generally skeptical of politicians who wanted to jump on the Mandir bandwagon. "They want only votes and notes," he reportedly said.
The political leader who the mahant criticised the most was Advani. In a 2014 Cobrapost sting, Avaidyanath was caught saying on camera: "Advani ko zinda nahi rehna chahiye (Advani should not live)." He said that when asked what he felt about the BJP leader's statement that the demolition was the saddest day of his life.
He was also scathing towards Arun Jaitley who, according to Wikileaks, had said the BJP "uses Hindutva". The mahant said: "These people are selfish. It was an extremely foolish thing to say that the BJP uses Hindutva."
In the sting, Avaidyanath proudly admits that the VHP was behind the demolition of the mosque. "Those who deny their involvement are afraid of legal consequences. Everyone who was part of the movement wanted the mosque to be demolished," he said.
The sting also reveals that despite his commitment towards building a Ram temple, Avaidyanath was apathetic towards the sacrifices made by karsewaks. On being asked about karsewaks who lost their lives during the agitation, he said: "everyone has to die someday."
It seems for Avaidyanath, the temple wasn't an end in itself. Rather it was a means to a larger goal: the promotion of Hindutva and the establishment of a Hindu nation.
In his book Islamism and Democracy in India, Irfan Ahmad writes that Avaidyanath admitted in an interview to RSS mouthpiece Panchajanya in 1989 that the real issue wasn't Ram Janmabhoomi but the future of the Hindu Rashtra.
Interestingly, the Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) had quoted this statement by Avaidyanath in its mouthpiece in 1994. The organisation equated the statement with the manner in which Muslims were expelled from Spain in the 16th century.
If Hindus could work towards a Hindu Rashtra, why can't Muslims work towards a Nizam-e-Mustafa, asked SIMI. It is now banned, but Avaidyanath is being honoured with a stamp.
The Janmabhoomi agitation wasn't the only way Avaidyanath worked towards a Hindu Rashtra. He is known to have been actively involved in efforts to convert people into Hinduism. He saw it as Gharwapsi - bringing people back into the Hindu fold.
When Adityanath was arrested for trying to break curfew, goons of the Hindu Yuva Vahini turned violent. They were allegedly egged on by Avaidyanath, who said the violence will continue until Adityanath was released.
On the one hand the NDA government decided to discontinue stamps featuring Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, who occupied the prime ministerial chair. But on the other, the Centre is also set to honour someone like Avaidyanath, who was involved in one of the darkest chapters of India history.
While discontinuing the Indira and Rajiv stamps, Communications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said stamps could not honour the members of one family. He will now travel to Gorakhpur to release the stamp featuring Avaidyanath, who Adityanath described as "like his father".
Clearly, the only family the government seeks to honour is the Sangh Parivar.