The RSS decision to defer its meeting of pracharaks to hold a dialogue with the BJP leadership on Ayodhya — to harmonise their stance before the Supreme Court verdict — comes on the back of a four-month tussle over the temple between the two sides in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections in May, The Indian Express has learnt.
On Wednesday, the Sangh’s top brass deferred its once-in-five years gathering to facilitate its closed-door meeting with the ruling party and VHP leaders. Last year, however, it took multiple meetings for the RSS and BJP to defuse tensions over taking the legislative route to construct the temple.
Thirty years after the BJP’s resolution to build the temple, the issue emerged as an irritant between the party and RSS barely six months ahead of the announcement of 2019 general elections, according to sources briefed about the events.
Sources said the tussle was a throwback to the time when the NDA-I government led by A B Vajpayee found itself at
loggerheads with the VHP under Ashok Singhal and RSS chief Sudarshan. This time, the situation was defused after intense deliberations within the party after which BJP leaders convinced the Sangh that taking the legislative route would prove counter-productive in court.
The face-off started with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s call for a temple at the “earliest” during his three-day interaction at Vigyan Bhawan in Delhi in September 2018. He reiterated the point in his Dussehra speech in Nagpur on October 18, 2018 — he had not raised the issue in his previous four speeches after Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. Within a fortnight of Dussehra, the VHP followed with a meeting of sants to chalk out an action plan.
As tensions rose, sources said, the BJP put its point across. During a coordination meeting in Lucknow late October last year, BJP president Amit Shah indicated in the presence of RSS joint general secretary Krishna Gopal that the government faced limitations in bypassing courts. But the RSS continued to encourage agitations planned by the VHP.
In the next step, sources said, the BJP consulted its “friends” in the legal fraternity. The chief of BJP’s legal cell, Jagdeep Dhankar, who is now West Bengal Governor, was learnt to have favoured a legislative route even though the Supreme Court was seized of the matter.
On November 1, 2018, sources said BJP Parliamentary Board members, who had arrived at the party office for talks on Assembly polls ticket distribution, informally discussed the gathering storm over Ayodhya. It was agreed that such a move could backfire legally, sources said.
This meeting was attended by Prime Minister Modi, Shah, and senior leaders at the time, including Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, and Road and Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari. Sources said the Prime Minister suggested that their viewpoint, with reasons to support it, be conveyed to the Sangh.
Shah and General Secretary (Organisation) Ramlal left Delhi that night and briefed Bhagwat and general secretary Bhaiyyaji Joshi in Mumbai the next day. Once again, the BJP’s line did not cut much ice, sources said. Two days later, the VHP-backed Akhil Bharatiya Sant Samiti (ABSS) announced that Dharma Sabha rallies would be held in Ayodhya, Nagpur, Bengaluru and Delhi to press the call of legislation.
After these sabhas were held on November 25, another sabha was hosted in Mumbai on December 2 followed by a larger congregation in Delhi on December 9. Bhagwat (Nagpur, November 25), Joshi (Delhi, December 9) and Gopal (Ayodhya, November 25) participated in a few of these meetings to drive home the point.
Sources said the BJP leadership went into another huddle to avoid a confrontation ahead of the elections. On December 21, when Shah met Bhagwat in Rajkot, the RSS chief spoke about the sentiments of sants involved in raising the issue. Taking a cue, sources said, Shah started a dialogue with prominent faces of ABSS at his residence. Assurances from the Prime Minister also softened the edges, sources said.
On New Year’s day, Modi told ANI: “Let the judicial process be over. After the judicial process is over, whatever be our responsibility as government, we are ready to make all efforts.” Shah and Ramlal then called on Bhagwat in the first week of January in Chennai. This meeting, sources said, led to a resolution.
As a face-saver, the Centre approached the Supreme Court on January 29 seeking permission to return to the temple trust the extra land that was not under dispute — from the 67 acres acquired after the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992. The apex court had ordered status quo on the acquired land in 2003.
The settlement, however, was in stark contrast to a similar tug-of-war during the Vajpayee government, when the Sangh upped the ante after Sudarshan took over in 2000. A Dharm Sansad organised by the VHP in 2001 set March 12, 2002, as the deadline for removing obstacles in building the temple.
Vajpayee engaged unsuccessfully with the then Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas chief Paramhansa Ramchandra Das in October 2001. The situation came to a head when sants marched from Ayodhya to Delhi and held a rally at the Ramlila Maidan on January 27, 2002. They were unsatisfied even after meeting Vajpayee.
Through February, the pressure built up as a Shriram Mahayagna was organised in Ayodhya. The city was barricaded but still witnessed streams of pilgrims. One such group, returning from Ayodhya, was involved in the Godhra tragedy that led to the Gujarat riots.
Finally, the apex court stayed the “shiladan” (installation of the deity) ahead of the scheduled date. The government took another step by getting its Ayodhya Cell chief, Shatrughna Sinha, to accept the “shiladan”. The episode ended with the conclusion of a 100-day yagna that June.
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