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#RamMandir2.0: Why the bricks are flowing in again into Ayodhya

Sameer Chougaonkar | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 2:11 IST

The storm

  • In the 1990s, the Ram Mandir movement led to the Babri Masjid demolition and protracted communal riots
  • Now, the Sangh Parivar is fanning up the Ram Mandir issue again
  • 15 tons of stone were received on 20 December in Ayodhya for building the temple
  • 2.25 lakh cubic feet stone is needed for the temple. 1.25 lakh cubic feet has already been gathered by the VHP in Ayodhya

  • The strategy

  • The RSS has talked about the temple several times recently
  • Prime Minister Narendra-Modi has distanced himself and the BJP from this. He wants to be associated with \'development\'
  • But there is a complex understanding between the RSS and BJP on how to play with both bats
  • There are reports of a 17-party negotiation in Ayodhya

More in the story

  • Is the saffron brigade serious about constructing the temple right away?
  • What is the understanding between the BJP and the RSS on this?
  • Is UP elections the real target? Is this a political ploy to trump SP and BSP?

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliate organisations have started resurrecting the Ram Mandir issue again. But is it about the temple? Or about forming the government in Uttar Pradesh?

On Sunday, 20 December, 15 tonnes of stones reached Ayodhya from Bharatpur, Rajasthan. Mahant Nrityagopal Das, president of Ramjanmbhoomi Nyas, welcomed the consignment with ritualistic 'shila poojan'. He hoped construction work would begin soon. How is one to read this?

The Sangh Parivar had hoped its core issues - Article 370, a Common Civil Code and Ram Mandir - would find a new lease of life after Narendra Modi became the prime minister. Its prominent leaders believed that Modi, who had been a RSS pracharak, would support its agenda.

He, however, chose to stick to the development agenda and sidelined RSS's pet issues. He went against the Sangh to forge an alliance with Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Jammu and Kashmir, effectively putting the issue of abrogation of Article 370 on the backburner for the time being.

Read more: Watch: RSS volunteers on Modi, Bihar and the Ram Mandir

But the RSS has pleaded at least thrice with Modi in the past year-and-a-half for the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya. Modi has remained silent.

He attended the last session of the most recent RSS-government coordination committee meet (2-4 September) at Madhyanchal Bhawan, Delhi. There he met RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat for around 23 minutes behind closed doors. In the meeting Modi made it clear that the temple was not priority and the government wanted to focus on 'development', sources said.

The matter was again discussed at length during the All-India Executive Committee meeting of RSS in Ranchi (28-31 October). There the RSS brass reportedly asked Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leaders to intensify agitation for the temple in Uttar Pradesh.

Various RSS organisations are collecting stones from all across the country for the construction of the temple

On 23 November, Bhagwat attended a condolence meeting after the demise of Ashok Singhal, VHP's international working president. There the RSS supremo said constructing a temple in Ayodhya would be the real tribute to Singhal. Many analysts interpreted this as a signal to the government.

Bhagwat did not stop at that. A few days later he expressed hope that the temple would be constructed in his lifetime. He kept the heat on the government through repeated remarks over the issue.

Meanwhile, several Sangh organisations have stepped up preparations on the ground.

Read more: VHP to relaunch Ram Mandir movement

Janmejay Sharan Das, president of Shri Ram Janmbhoomi Mandir Nirman Nyas at Ayodhya, has recently discussed the issue with various stakeholders. A broad consensus has emerged, he says, and work would commence from the beginning of the next year.

According to Das, 17 organizations were part of the negotiations. Many among them such as Nirmohi Akhara, Sunni Waqf Board and Hindu Mahasabha are party in the court case that is being fought. They are close to a final settlement, if Das is to be believed.

Foot on the paddle

But why is there such an urgency in RSS efforts to re-ignite this issue, especially when the matter is sub juice?

A top BJP leader says it is a well-considered strategy of the BJP and the RSS. Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh are scheduled in 2017. After the humiliating defeat in Bihar, the signals emerging from the ground in UP are also not encouraging for the BJP. The party's internal surveys suggest it is trailing behind the Bahujan Samaj Party and the ruling Samajwadi Party.

Read more: Is India headed for Ram Mandir 2.0? Watch what people have to say

With less than 15 months left for elections, communal polarisation seems to be the safest bet in the minds of party strategists.

Sangh organizations have stepped up preparations on the ground, saying work will start next year

"The RSS and its affiliated organisations plan to rake up issues like the Ram temple, ghar wapsi and love jihad on the ground. They intend to take these issues to every household of the state. It will be their main strategy from January 2016 until elections in 2017. We believe it will increase our vote bank in a short span of time," a VHP leader said on conditions of anonymity.

The ploy is likely to challenge the SP government significantly. Any communal unrest will tarnish its image further, as law-and-order is a state subject. Saffron organisations will continue to raise the communal bogey while the BJP will pass the buck to the state government.

Read more: First batch of stones for Ram temple arrives in Ayodhya

Condoning this strategy will further deteriorate the state government's already poor record in curbing communal violence.

On the other hand, if Akhilesh Yadav's government decides to deal the situation with a firm hand, it runs the risk of losing Hindu votes. Its recent shift to soft-Hindutva policies suggests that SP is already wary of this 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' situation.

According to political analysts, Sangh Parivar has still not lost faith in its two-pronged strategy: Modi harps the raga of 'Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas', while BJP's sister organisations continue to polarise on the ground. The plan is to repeat the feat of the 1991 Assembly elections, when BJP had managed to win 221 seats, riding the Mandir wave.

Read more: December 6: Ram Mandir, a commitment or convenience for the BJP?

Full swing

However, Om Mathur, the party's UP-incharge, disagrees. "BJP will fight next elections in Modi's name. We will expose the corruption of the current government. VHP is an independent organisation and free to pursue its agenda. Our focus is on the development of the state and Modi's work at the Centre," Mathur said.

Nevertheless, the temple agenda is on full swing. Various RSS organisations are collecting stones from all across the country for the construction of the temple. An estimated 2.25 lakh cubic feet stone is required for the proposed temple. Already, 1.25 lakh cubic feet stone has been amassed at VHP's headquarters in Ayodhya.

So-called 'Ram Sevaks' are busy collecting the rest. VHP claims to receive large quantities of stones as donations from all parts of the country. The Sunday consignment is an indication that the plan is in motion. Under the guise of faith, the battle plan for UP 2017 seems underway.

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

First published: 22 December 2015, 3:29 IST