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How Modi 'admirer' Ashok Singhal has gone soft on Ram Mandir

Panini Anand | Updated on: 2 October 2015, 2:03 IST
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The movement

  • The Ram Mandir movement began in 1990 and culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid
  • The VHP and other RSS affiliates were the drivers of the movement
  • It catapulted the BJP into national prominence

The silence

  • Since the Modi government came to power, there has been virtually no clamour for the temple
  • The VHP says it will take up cudgels at an opportune moment
  • It hasn\'t even sent delegations to Modi, like it did to AB Vajpayee


More in the story

  • The reasons why Ashok Singhal is going soft on Modi
  • The political significance of the Ram Mandir in the Bihar polls


Sixteen months ago, the BJP got a mandate to rule the country. But till now, the party has done nothing to pave the path for the construction of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya - the springboard from which it catapulted into national prominence.

Even more surprisingly, none of the organisations flying the Hindu flag seemed to be in much of a hurry to rake up the issue. Until 30 September, when Vishwa Hindu Parishad veteran Ashok Singhal and BJP leader Subramanian Swamy held a press briefing on the Ram Mandir issue.

A release issued after the briefing stated: "Religion has, in modern India, not been thought of as a force for shaping a moral society. Such negative thinking is considered as constituting 'secularism'. Sri Rama is the spiritual head of India, the re-building of temple at Sri Rama Janm Bhoomi in Ayodhya thus is a national goal of an overwhelming majority of Indians."

The statement goes on to quote noted author Mark Twain: "'It is a lot easier to mislead the people than convince them that they are misled.' This is the reality about the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, the reality which I wish to bring to national attention.

"People in India have been misled to believe that a temple and a masjid are both equally revered permanent religious places. This misconception is at the root of our failure so far to re-build and or restore the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, the Krishna Temple in Mathura, and Vishvanath Temple in Varanasi."

Timing of the statement

It's a surprise that the VHP has chosen this moment to dust its old agenda and bring it back into prominence. After all, how is a temple in Uttar Pradesh of any relevance to the impending Bihar assembly elections?

A BJP insider reveals why. "The Ram Mandir is not a big issue in the state. We have a list of the Modi government's achievements to support our campaign in Bihar. However, people also ask about the Ram Mandir. We will update them on the VHP's efforts," the insider told Catch.

The Vajpayee govt was pushed into power by Ram Mandir movement, but Modi is not committed to it

However, Vinay Katiyar, a key face of the original Ram Mandir movement told Catch: "No one is asking about Ram Mandir in Bihar. We have already won the election there."

This dichotomy is further exposed when it comes to local leaders of the VHP and BJP in UP and Bihar. Some senior functionaries are not even aware of Singhal and Swamy's press conference.

Analysts believe that the VHP has been forced to swing into action owing to the sundry moves being made by Hindu organisations to grab the limelight. The VHP also wishes to remain relevant and active.

The Ram Mandir may not be an issue at all in this Bihar election. At the same time, it isn't something that can be easily dumped in cold storage.

Modi is not Vajpayee

However, there is also the school of thought that the Modi government is much different to the Vajpayee administration of the 1990s and 2000s. While the Vajpayee government was pushed into power by the Ram Mandir movement, Modi is neither committed nor accountable to it.

Swamy seemed to hint at this when he told journalists: "I have written letters to the PM and the BJP president as well. A national seminar will be held on 9-10 January 2016 under the aegis of the Arundhati Vashisht Anusandhan Peeth."

It wasn't long ago when, after the Muzaffarnagar riots and just before the 2014 general elections, the VHP tried to gain support in Uttar Pradesh by going on an aggressive 84 Kosi Yatra and a Panch Kosi Yatra.

There have been no calls from the VHP on the issue since the Modi government came to power

Many supporters and sadhus were arrested during the weeks-long agitation, which demanded the construction of the Ram Mandir.

Suddenly, after the elections, the aggressive VHP went into silent mode. There hasn't been a single meeting to plan the strategy for the Ram Mandir. Contrast this with the previous NDA era, which sent delegation after delegation to then-PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

VHP general secretary Champat Rai says: "We are in no hurry. The media should not tell us when to demand what. Things will be done at the right time and in the right way."

Singhal going soft on Modi?

Singhal, the face of the 25-year-old Ram Mandir movement, is an admirer of Modi. He even called him an avatar of Rama before the elections.

Singhal certainly believes that the Ram Mandir should be constructed. However, he seems to have fallen short of strong words to demand the same from the government.

On 1 October, senior leaders of the BJP, the VHP and the RSS gathered at a function to mark Singhal's 90th year.

Speakers included RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat sang Singhal's paeans but smarty left out the Ram Mandir issue.

When a veteran from the first row requested Home Minister Rajnath Singh to convey the message to the PM and gift Singhal the Ram Mandir in his 90th year, the crowd shouted slogans coined in 1990 - 'mandir wahin banayenge' (we'll make the temple there itself, referring to the site of the Babri Masjid that was demolished in 1992)

However, Singhal himself took away the microphone to cover for the government. He started talking about his life and inspirations and buried the demand from the audience.

A passive Singhal and a less-prepared VHP organisation says it all. As of now, the Ram Mandir issue appears to be firmly on the backburner.

But who knows, it may resurface as an important issue before the UP assembly elections in 2017.

First published: 2 October 2015, 2:03 IST
 
Panini Anand @paninianand

Senior Assistant Editor at Catch, Panini is a poet, singer, cook, painter, commentator, traveller and photographer who has worked as reporter, producer and editor for organizations including BBC, Outlook and Rajya Sabha TV. An IIMC-New Delhi alumni who comes from Rae Bareli of UP, Panini is fond of the Ghats of Varanasi, Hindustani classical music, Awadhi biryani, Bob Marley and Pink Floyd, political talks and heritage walks. He has closely observed the mainstream national political parties, the Hindi belt politics along with many mass movements and campaigns in last two decades. He has experimented with many mass mediums: theatre, street plays and slum-based tabloids, wallpapers to online, TV, radio, photography and print.

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