Frontline Volume 20 - Issue 22, October 25 - November, 07, 2003
India's National Magazine
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COVER STORY

Taming of the VHP

PURNIMA S. TRIPATHI
in Ayodhya

The sankalp sammelan fiasco, a tactical victory for Mulayam Singh Yadav, also highlights the serious differences in the Sangh Parivar on how to take the temple movement forward.

AKHILESH KUMAR

VHP president Ashok Singhal being taken into custody at Karsevakpuram.

THE much-publicised Vishwa Hindu Parishad programme in Ayodhya on October 17 proved to be nothing more than sabre-rattling by the VHP. It ended with the VHP holding its "sankalp sammelan" the next day and the Uttar Pradesh government ignoring the event, which was held at the same spot where VHP activists were lathi-charged the previous day.

The VHP wanted to show that it could still mobilise people from all over the country in the name of the Ram temple movement and increase its bargaining power vis-a-vis the Centre within the Sangh Parivar. Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav demonstrated that he was still as firm with the votaries of Hindutva as when he ordered firing on kar sevaks in 1990. In the end, Mulayam Singh proved that it was his writ that ran. But the war is far from over.

One aspect that stood out amidst the chaos and confusion was the serious differences within the Sangh Parivar on how to take the temple movement forward. The VHP's hard-line approach was juxtaposed with the Bharatiya Janata Party's open disapproval of such bullying. Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani (ironically, the latter is the architect of the temple movement) and others in the party advocated the "peaceful way through negotiations".

In Ayodhya itself, what stood out was the differences among the votaries of the temple movement. Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas president Mahant Nritya Gopal Das chose to stay away from the programme and was ensconced in his palatial mansion Maniram ki Chhavani even as VHP president Ashok Singhal was pushed around and taken into police custody amid a lathi-charge and the bursting of teargas shells. BJP State president Vinay Katiyar, once a leading light of the movement, was also in the town but absent from the programme. "I was not invited," said Katiyar bluntly.

ELIZABETH DALZIEL/AP

The police in action in Ayodhya on October 17.

THE VHP had given a call for a "sankalp sammelan" (a meeting to take a pledge) in Ayodhya, to be held on October 17. For this it mobilised people from all over India through a "sankalp sutra" programme, in which VHP workers reportedly tied sacred thread on lakhs of Ram temple supporters. All these people were supposed to congregate in Ayodhya on October 17, have darshan at the makeshift temple at the disputed site and then take a pledge for the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya.

The Uttar Pradesh government said the programme was in violation of the Supreme Court order to maintain the status quo at the disputed site and made elaborate security arrangements to foil it. It also feared communal trouble and urged the Centre to persuade the VHP to withdraw the programme. The Centre counselled restraint to both the VHP and the State government and advised Mulayam Singh Yadav to "believe" the VHP's assurance that the event would be peaceful.

The State government erected barricades on all routes leading to Ayodhya to prevent kar sevaks from reaching the town and ordered the police to arrest them wherever they saw them. The Centre obliged the State government by diverting trains going via Faizabad or Ayodhya. Road traffic to Ayodhya was suspended and even personal vehicles were allowed in only after they were checked thoroughly. No one without valid proof of identity was allowed anywhere near Ayodhya.

Over 30,000 kar sevaks were arrested all over Uttar Pradesh and a few thousand who managed to sneak into and surface in Ayodhya on October 17 were promptly rounded up and dropped outside the city. On that day, though the government claimed that kar sevaks were being allowed to go for darshan, in reality anyone remotely resembling a kar sevak was arrested and taken outside Ayodhya.

Despite such measures, a few thousand kar sevaks managed to reach Karsevakpuram, the VHP's headquarters in Ayodhya, and tried to hold their sammelan enthused by the sudden appearance of Ashok Singhal, symbolically dressed in saffron. When the police tried to arrest the kar sevaks, they retaliated by throwing stones and the police responded by bursting teargas shells and firing rubber bullets in the air. When kar sevaks attacked the police by throwing iron rods at them, the police hurled them back double-quick at the kar sevaks. A pitched battle was fought for about 30 minutes before Singhal and the kar sevaks were arrested.

RAJESH KUMAR SINGH/AP

Ayodhya-bound VHP activists detained in a government-run school in Allahabad on October 15.

Earlier, the Uttar Pradesh government had declared that the VHP could hold its sammelan at the Saket Inter College, 5 km from the disputed site, but the VHP refused the offer. It was at this point that the differences within the Sangh Parivar became obvious. Both Mahant Nritya Gopal Das and Vinay Katiyar did not even make an effort to reach the venue. Later, even as he was put under arrest inside the VHP office, Singhal lashed out at the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister, calling them "secularvaadis" and putting them in the same category as "Islamic jehadis". He said the VHP would now wage a two-pronged war, against the "secularvaadis" and the "jehadis". He said the State government had no justification for stopping them because they had declared that their programme would be peaceful.

The twin towns of Ayodhya and Faizabad wore a deserted look by the afternoon of October 17, prompting the State government to order the release of all those who had been arrested, including Singhal and former Member of Parliament Ram Vilas Vedanti, who was arrested in the morning from the banks of the Sarayu. The restrictions on the movement of kar sevaks was also lifted. Thousands of them went back to Ayodhya, but the administration, having proved its point, ignored them. It allowed the kar sevaks to go for darshan and also hold their meeting at Karsevakpuram. It also allowed, and provided escort to, VHP general secretary Pravin Togadia to Ayodhya from Lucknow to attend the meeting. On October 18, the kar sevaks were allowed darshan while the leaders made their speeches.

The VHP leaders once again vowed to oust "secular forces" from power and make India a "Hindu" nation. Singhal and Togadia criticised the Uttar Pradesh government for foiling their sankalp sabha on October 17. Singhal asked Vajpayee to mend his "secular" ways, describing secularism as the "biggest enemy" of the nation. He said: "Atalji, if you don't come to us, we will abandon you." He said the VHP's ultimate objective was "to make the country a Hindu Rashtra".

R.V. MOORTHY

Acharya Dharmendra, Pravin Togadia and other VHP leaders at a rally in New Delhi on October 15 demanding construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya.

Togadia said if Muslims did not withdraw the cases pertaining to Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi, Hindus would "forcibly take away as many as 30,000 mosques, which were built after demolishing temples during the medieval period". He said the VHP was only asking for a home for Ram. Demanding the withdrawal of the Haj subsidy, he said Hindus did not receive anything for visiting their shrines. "We shall await the day when the Prime Minister will say, while taking oath of office, that he is assuming office as a saviour of Hindus," he said.

But the one thing that emerged from all the drama was the confusion among the votaries of the temple about the course of action to be followed. While Singhal spoke of "getting ready for any sacrifices for the temple movement", Mahant Nirtya Gopal Das indicated that he was not in favour of road shows such as this and talked of "dialogue with all concerned, including Muslims and Mulayam Singh", to pave the way for temple construction. He, however, ruled out any dialogue with the Prime Minister or the Deputy Prime Minister. "Why should we talk to them? They came to power with our support and now they have given up this issue," he told Frontline in his mansion. He said he did not participate in the programme at Karsevakpuram because "there was the police here to stop me" and "not many had reached anyway". He said he had taken the initiative to talk to Muslims and was also thinking of inviting Mulayam Singh for the valedictory function of the Ramayana mela in November. "I'll speak to Mulayam Singh also about solving this problem," he said. He claimed that henceforth sadhus and sants would support only those parties that "support us in building the temple". He said a solution to the problem was possible either by getting a law enacted or by mutual dialogue. "I'll work for both," he said.

Meanwhile, in Lucknow, Mulayam Singh was all praise for the "cooperative role of the Centre and the media" in helping him "tackle the crisis peacefully".

As for the BJP, it will not be able to reap electoral benefits from this issue anymore, for two reasons. One, the party has come in for so much criticism from the VHP on this issue that it is unlikely that the VHP will work for the BJP in the coming elections. Second, the BJP has been speaking in different voices on this issue and has lost credibility. "Even the most naive Hindu voter will not believe the party leaders if they say they want the temple to be built. For them, the temple is like the five-year plan, they remember it only at the time of elections," said former BJP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, now Mulayam Singh's comrade-in-arms. Kalyan Singh, who perhaps is the best person to comment on the loss or gain for the BJP from this issue, is certain that the temple issue has petered out and no matter how much the BJP tries to whip it up, directly or indirectly, it will not succeed.

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