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Ram Temple issue: Now the saints will come marching in!

By Sujata Anandan

04th November 2018

As the RSS-BJP’s initial expectations to build Ram Temple were dashed by the SC decision to defer hearing to January, Sangh Parivar will now outsource the Ram Mandir agitation to seers and monks

The best laid plans of mice and men can come to nought. No wonder the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its affiliates are in a tizzy following the postponement by the Supreme Court of the Ram Temple dispute hearing to January, 2019. For all the institutions within the country the current dispensation is messing up and attempting to subjugate to fulfil their sinister plans and designs, the Supreme Court is one institution they are unable to get quite under their control and something they still fear.

When RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat, during his annual Dussehra rally, called for a law to build the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, this is precisely what he feared – that the Supreme Court, despite an earlier ruling in 1994 that a mosque is not integral to namaaz, may not quite award the disputed site in Ayodhya to a temple. Four senior-most judges of the apex court, in January this year, had already sounded the bugle of resistance against subversion of the Supreme Court and the country’s democracy by those with vested interests. One of them, Ranjan Gogoi, is now the Chief Justice of India.

Still, they drew comfort from the fact that before his retirement, outgoing CJI Deepak Mishra had refused to reconsider the mosque and namaaz equation. They hoped that it had laid down the ground for a ruling in their favour. But if they had a Plan A (in case the SC ruled in their favour), the RSS, being the long-term planner which leaves nothing to chance, also had a Plan B – in case the disputed site was not awarded to them as a whole. “We are hoping the SC will keep the spirit of that and rule for the temple,” Dilip Deodhar, RSS ideologue from Nagpur, told this correspondent. “If they don’t, we can always bring forward an ordinance and, if time permits, a bill in Parliament. We already have put in place Yogi Adityanath in Uttar Pradesh. So we are definitely building the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya,” he added.

But now the apex court has left the Sangh hanging in between like Trishanku, leaving the Narendra Modi government in a dilemma. They could effect the ordinance but the repurcussions would be immediate. They do not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha. Even allies like AIADMK or the Biju Janata Dal which voted with the BJP on secular issues might baulk at voting for a law to build the Ram temple. The ordinance could be challenged in the courts and it could also lead to consolidation of the non-Hindutva forces in UP, particularly in view of the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance and the latest challenge thrown by BSP supremo Mayawati to BJP president Amit Shah to contest an election sans the mandir-masjid issue.

The RSS’ plans for 2019 are thus hanging in the balance. They are well aware of Narendra Modi’s faltering charisma, the falling graph on all fronts of governance and economy and the clear disenchantment of large sections of those very people (31 per cent) who had voted for the BJP at the last elections. So they would want to fall back on their core issue of Ram temple. But since Bhagwat and the RSS have been trying to build a pluralistic image of self and organisation for larger acceptability among the people, the RSS will not quite play an active role in campaigning for the temple but outsource the agitation to the Sant Samaj.

This was obvious from their statement soon after the SC decision that the RSS will go by the decision of the seers on this score. The Sant Samaj, meanwhile, is losing no time in the build-up for the temple – they have announced plans to petition both the President and the Prime Minister and take to the streets to press for early action on the temple. According to insiders in the know, the RSS has pulled back the Vishwa Hindu Parishad from this campaign for two reasons. One, the combative leaders of the parishad are in constant conflict with politicians from the BJP (read Pravin Togadia versus Narendra Modi). And, more importantly, they are not toeing the RSS line anymore, obvious from the fact that their protests against the Supreme Court and call for an ordinance have been the loudest – in fact even louder than that of the BJP.

“The Sangh would want a properly paced agitation but the VHP does not listen to the RSS anymore and takes its own decisions without consulting the Sangh top brass. So, they thought it was better to clip the VHP’s wings and hand the movement over to the Sant Samaj,” says one such insider. But while the RSS has clearly withdrawn resources from the VHP, the organisation has turned into a Frankenstein’s monster and muscled its way into the Sant Samaj, offering the priests and pujaris of Ayodhya, less familiar with the nitty-gritties, organisational support for their street fight against the government. To this extent, the chief pujari of the Ram Lalla temple in Ayodhya, Satyendra Das, had already declared plans few months ago to occupy the streets of Delhi and labelled the Modi government as akin to the arrogant kingdom of Ravana.

The government keeps counselling patience for the Supreme Court verdict but has no intention of speeding up the process, he had charged. He could have been prophetic. For sources reveal that the government could seek the ordinance route, knowing fully well it would be on shaky legal ground and knocked down swiftly. But it could pretend it tried and express helplessness in view of judicial intransigence. However, despite the latest developments, most leaders of the Sangh and the BJP did expect day to day hearings by the Supreme Court in October, They would have bolstered the hearings with media engagements by the saffron-robed priests along with morchas and dharnas as the hearings proceeded, says another insider.

But the decision to push the next hearing to January 2019 when the bench will decide whether or not to – and when to – start the day-to-day hearing of the case has come as a shock and left the BJP leaders speechless so far. BJP president Amit Shah, after resisting the Supreme Court judgment on Sabarimala allowing entry to women inside the Ayyappa temple, was indiscreet enough to express ire against the SC again after postponement of the Ayodhya hearing. That only reinforces the January 2018 claims of the four judges and belief among the people that the BJP is trying to subvert and browbeat democracy and fair play in the country.

The Sangh now seems nonplussed as it is unlikely that the verdict on Ayodhya would come before the 2019 general elections or even in time to promulgate an ordinance, if the verdict goes against the temple proponents. No wonder now the various seers are contradicting Bhagwat and loudly proclaiming that there is no need for a new law as the mandir can he built under the existing provisions. But the fact that it is mostly they, and very few politicians, who are fuming at the Supreme Court decision, shows how the best laid-out plans of even sants and governments – and the Sangh – can go awry.

For, according to Deodhar, who spoke to this correspondent before the court ruling, the Sangh and Modi had been laying the ground for the temple for months before the verdict was expected. “Except for Pakistan, we do not expect any Islamic country to object to the Ram temple because Modi has made friends with all their rulers and a temple is now coming up in Abu Dhabi as well,” he had told National Herald. Implicit in that statement, though, is the presumption that the Sangh was expecting opposition from Islamic nations or, more particularly, for them to rally round Pakistan if and when it raised objections. If that is true, the Sangh clearly misses the point that India is a sovereign republic and no other country, including Pakistan, has the right to interfere in its domestic issues or disputes even over a mosque.

However, according to a senior journalist who has been closely studying the RSS for decades, that merely means there was an attempt by Modi to make sure those fighting on behalf of the Babri Masjid do not receive any funding in the name of Islam or the mosque and that if Pakistan raises the temperature on the issue, these friends of Modi among Islamic rulers restrain its hand and ask it to shut up. If that interpretation is correct, it points fingers towards the sinister game plan of the government and puts in perspective the doublespeak of the RSS on its pluralism. “We should know by now that the RSS does not do anything without planning far ahead, sometimes even years and decades ahead.

And it always succeeds by confusing the people, both believers and non-believers in its ideology. So Bhagwat, addressing a sophisticated crowd of non-converts in Delhi, spoke of Muslims being important to India while at the same time plans were already afoot to cut off their funding and render them completely at the mercy of the Sangh Parivar,” says the journalist. But now that their best laidout plans are being unravelled by the Supreme Court, what can we expect from the Sangh Parivar? They never planned to visibly spearhead the agitation, says the veteran observer. “So, they will get the saints marching from Ayodhya to Delhi. That will help them distance themselves from any unsavoury electoral consequences, while at the same time build pressure on both the government and the Supreme Court. It’s a great means of escaping contempt. Does any judge today have the courage to send a saffron-robed priest behind the bars,” he categorically asks.

But others disagree. “What is more important to people, food or a temple,” asks a former supporter whose business was driven to the ground by demonetisation. “The temple issue will boomerang, particularly if they push the sants forward,” he adds. His final words, borrowed from Karl Marx are very damning – the same thing never succeeds twice, he says. “History has a way of repeating itself – first as tragedy – that happened in 1992 – and then as farce. They will see in 2019, I am sure. They will surely fail.” But they will not give up so easily. And there could be much social and political turmoil in the country as they try, and try again.

This article was first published in National Herald.