In a corner stall at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas venue in Bada Lalpur area of Varanasi, a banner says, “signature campaign for construction of Ramjanmabhoomi mandir”. Two women sit on chairs in front of a table full of books, brochures and sheets of paper — for people to sign and write their names, telephone numbers and addresses. Posters of RSS ideologues M S Golwalkar and K B Hedgewar, VHP’s Ashok Singhal adorn walls of the stall, along with a picture of Abanindranath Tagore’s ‘Bharat Mata’.
“We are trying to get as many signatures as we can from NRIs for construction of the Ram mandir (in Ayodhya),” said Bhavna Gehlot from Rajasthan, one of the two women. The VHP’s name is emblazoned on the stall’s wall, along with a statue of a sadhu from Mauritius and a panchmukhi (five-faced) Hanuman.
“This is the first time we are reaching out to the NRIs at Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas for a signature campaign,” said Sanjeev Sawhney, secretary-general of Hindu Heritage Foundation, which has set up the stall.
With the event attracting more than 5,000 NRIs, they had received “about 500 signatures” by Tuesday afternoon,” Sawhney, an offset printer by profession, said. “We started collecting signatures yesterday, when NRI delegates started arriving. We plan to go to the Kumbh (in Prayagraj), with them, as also to Delhi for the Republic Day celebrations.”
The stall got a steady stream of visitors throughout Tuesday afternoon. That it is located in the same tent as many stalls up by state governments of Gujarat, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Karnataka, Punjab — to promote tourism to these states — gives it a veneer of official sanction. Sawhney, however, said they are a “cultural and social outfit”.
Ganesh Kumar, a Dubai-based businessman who has signed the paper, said, “We want Ram temple at the earliest. It will affect our life, this is our nation’s requirement,” he said. His friend Girish Kumar, also an NRI from Dubai, said, “We are expressing our cultural aspirations by signing this.”
As tea was served and conversations carried on, a local RSS leader came to to see the progress.
The table was full of literature and booklets on Hinduism — one on “dharma aur sanskriti”, another on “Hindu dharma” and a biographical booklet on Hedgewar. Two policewomen stopped by. They did not sign the petition but were received warmly. Nidhi Dev Agrawal, from VHP’s international coordination, who was also at the stall, gave a Hanuman Chalisa to each — along with a rudraksh, “to help raise energy levels”.
Sawhney said they are involving 123 NRI men and women, between 18 and 25 years, and on Thursday taking them for a “shahi snan (holy dip)” at the Kumbh in Prayagraj, just over 100 km to Varanasi’s west along the Ganga.
“After we get signatures of the NRIs we plan to submit them to President Ram Nath Kovind in early February,” he said.