At its Dharma Sansad in Prayagraj last week, the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) passed a resolution that it will not launch any new programme on the Ram Janmabhoomi issue for the next four months, until the Lok Sabha elections are over. A look at the events leading up to the decision, and what it could mean for the Lok Sabha elections:
What reason has the VHP given?
It has said it wants to prevent the issue from being exploited politically. The resolution states: “An election is the national festival of democracy… The sant samaj shall not give the pseudo-secular pack the opportunity to drag this holy and important movement of Sri Ram Janmabhoomi into a political vortex and swamp. Therefore, we are not announcing any new phase of the movement now.” It adds that its ongoing programmes will continue.
Has the move come as a surprise?
It was sudden. The VHP has, however, justified it on the basis of a recent petition to the Supreme Court by the BJP-led government seeking permission to return 67 acres in Ayodhya to the original owners, Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas. The VHP resolution acknowledged this: “The Dharma Sansad welcomes this effort of the central government and expresses confidence that with this undisputed land, it will also make every possible effort to hand over the alleged disputed land to the Hindus promptly.”
Until the VHP announced its decision, the BJP was under pressure going into the elections. The leadership of the BJP as well as the RSS, besides the government, had come under criticism in a meeting of around 200 top functionaries of the RSS and frontal organisations at Mantralayam in August-September last year. The RSS itself was putting pressure on the government. On October 18, at the annual Vijaya Dashami speech in Nagpur, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat asked the government to consider introducing legislation for construction of a Ram Temple. RSS leaders including sar-karyawah Bhaiyaji Joshi have made this demand on several occasions. The government petition in the court has served as a face-saver for both the BJP and the RSS.
What can the move mean for the BJP in the election campaign?
An agitation for a temple during the campaign could have created divisions among cadres of various Sangh Parivar units. It could have embarrassed the BJP, especially when NDA partners such as Lok Janshakti Party have clarified that Ayodhya is not an issue for them. The VHP move eases the pressure on the BJP, and allows it to focus on development and other issues. It also preempts criticism from opposition parties about why the temple issue was being revived just before the elections. As Bhagwat said at the Dharma Sansad: “Whatever programme we take in the coming days, it will impact the election atmosphere.”
What can it mean to the VHP?
The essential message from the resolution appears to be that the VHP will support the BJP in the elections and will take up the mandir issue only after that. Its move comes at a time when its leadership has eroded. No present VHP leader carries the clout of the late Ashok Singhal, while the assertive Praveen Togadia has now been removed from the VHP. Both of them were bold enough to take on for the BJP. Besides, VHP cadres are divided into two camps, and its programmes are often marked with low turnouts.
The VHP, however, may now have to watch while other groups make efforts to seize the temple narrative. A day before the Dharma Sansad began, a Param Dharma Sansad organised by religious leader Shankaracharya Swaroopanand Saraswati concluded, with a resolution to lay the foundation stone for a Ram temple on February 21. The Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad has extended support to the proposal.
How has the Sangh Parivar’s relationship been with the present government and BJP leadership?
During the previous NDA government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, prominent Sangh Parivar leaders like Dattopant Thengadi and Singhal often questioned the Prime Minister. Then sar-sanghchalak K S Sudarshan had even said that some “inefficient people” were sitting in the PMO.
Not many leaders in Sangh Parivar organisations today raise questions about the present government and BJP leadership. One exception was K C Mishra, Sangathan Mantri of the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, an RSS frontal organisation. On June 1, 2015, he told The Indian Express that Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not know the real meaning of garibi (poverty) and suggested that he look at eastern India to understand what it means. A few months later, Mishra went on leave and has since been “taking rest” in Bhubaneswar. While RSS chief Bhagwat wields influence, he has rarely been heard attacking the government and BJP leadership.
Throughout the present regime, Sangh Parivar leaders have been largely silent on issues such as uniform civil code and Article 370. On Ayodhya, events have compelled them to take a public stand. With the Supreme Court having declined to hear the Ayodhya matter on a regular basis, and with the government having made it clear that it would go by court orders, Sangh Parivar organisations have issued statements from time to time to pacify their cadre. Although BJP Rajya Sabha MP Rakesh Sinha announced on November 1 that he would bring a private member’s Bill on Ayodhya, he has been silent since then.
How has this relationship been historically?
At a national level, various Sangh Parivar units have defined roles. The RSS is the fountainhead. The BJP was formed in 1980, when Balasaheb Deoras was RSS chief; its earlier version, Bharatiya Jana Sangh, was formed by a group of RSS pracharaks such as Deendayal Upadhyay. The VHP was founded in 1964 as an outfit “to organise-consolidate the Hindu society and to serve-protect the Hindu Dharma”. It took up the Ram temple movement that year, when former Congress leader Dau Dayal Khanna passed a resolution in the then Dharma Sansad for the “liberation” of the temples of Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi.
On the ground, workers and activities of these organisations are often closely linked. The RSS deputes its pracharaks to work in the BJP and the VHP. After the formation of the BJP, the RSS initially maintained a little distance, until the temple movement brought them more visibly together. After VHP rath yatras in 1984 and 1985, the BJP passed the Palampur resolution in 1989 at its national executive meeting: “People’s faith must be respected and Ram Janmabhoomi should be handed over to Hindus. It should be resolved through mutual dialogue between the two communities or, if this was not possible, through an enabling legislation. Litigation is in no way a solution for this matter.”