The Ram Janmabhoomi movement, which helped in the BJP’s ride to power, was also a turning point for the Shiv Sena, which decided to climb on the Hindu bandwagon and make the Ram Mandir demand its own. In the first chargesheet filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in 1993 after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, of 48 people named, eight were associated with the Sena, including then party chief Balasaheb Thackeray.
Two decades later, ahead of the bhoomi pujan for the temple at Ayodhya, Shiv Sainiks who had heeded Bal Thackeray’s call and headed to Ayodhya in December 1992 find themselves on the other side of the fence. The BJP has taken sole ownership for the construction of the temple at Ayodhya, and Shiv Sena chief, Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, who is in a ruling alliance with two non-Hindutva parties, has not been invited to the ceremony; no other chief minister except Yogi Adityanath has been either.
While Thackeray has not complained publicly—it might have been more complicated for the Maha Vikas Aghadi alliance had he been invited—and even suggested that it should be an e-bhoomipujan to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the Sena kar sevaks who were in Ayodhya on that fateful day are miffed.
“Shiv Sena should have been invited for the bhoomipujan as there is no change in the party’s stand on Hindutva (despite its alliance with the NCP and Congress),” said Chandrakant Khaire, four-time ex-MP from Aurangabad and top Sena leader.
Khaire claims he was in Ayodhya when the dome of the masjid was brought down and recalls that he had touched the Ram idol installed inside soon after. “It is the happiest moment of my life,” said Khaire.
Soon after the demolition, the Shiv Sena had been quick to claim its participation. Afraid of the repercussions of the criminal case filed subsequently, some BJP leaders like Sundar Singh Bhandari even passed the buck on to the Sena, stating it was Shiv Sainiks who pulled down the mosque.
But while Khaire says an invitation to the Shiv Sena for the bhoomipujan was in order, he also made it plain he is not too keen to attend the ceremony. “After hearing the news of bhoomipujan, many called me to enquire whether I am going. There is heavy security for the event and the PM is also coming. There were reports that the programme is on the radar of terrorists. So it is better not to go there to avoid any law order issues,” he added.
Suryakant Mahadik, another Sena leader and then legislator who had gone to Ayodhya, said he took part in the kar seva after the dome was demolished. “The leaders had gathered near the site after the dome was demolished and they were making speeches. I also gave a speech which was appreciated by the people,” said Mahadik. “As a Hindu, I am certainly happy that the Ram temple construction is starting soon.”
The 75-year-old leader asserted that even if the BJP alleges that the Sena has abandoned Hindutva after joining hands with the Congress for power, the Sena is more Hindutvawadi than the BJP. “We are the fighters and the (BJP) fights behind the curtains,” said Mahadik, in a dig at the BJP for not owning up to the demolition of the Babri Masjid.
A team of BMC corporators from Mumbai had also gone to Ayodhya following the instructions of the then Sena chief. Vishwanath Nerurkar, now deputy leader of the Sena, who was part of the team, said the dome was demolished while they were on their way to Ayodhya. “After reaching there, we took part in the kar seva but planned our return journey after hearing announcements that the Army was coming,” said Nerurkar, who was BMC corporator in 1991.
The 68-year-old leader said the bhoomipujan should be done by senior BJP leader Lal Krishna Advani. “The credit should be given to Advani who carried out the Rath Yatra for the Ram temple. Many like me were attracted to the Ram temple movement because of his Rath Yatra. So, Advani deserves the honour to carry out the bhoomipujan. We don’t expect an invitation from the BJP for the event as it has neglected even Advani,” said Nerurkar.
Nerurkar does not think that joining hands with the Congress and NCP has any bearing on the party’s Hindutva agenda. “BJP also joined hands with NCP twice in the last six years. What about that?” he asked.
Another BMC corporator, Vijay Daruwale, who was part of the team with Nerurkar, said that even if Sena leaders were not invited, the role that the Sena played in the demolition could never be forgotten. “I feel happy that I have made some small contribution in the Ram temple movement by taking part in the kar seva after the dome was demolished. No matter what the optics are no one can deny the vital role that the Sena played in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.
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