A Sangh Parivar pamphlet — being distributed in Ayodhya before the VHP’s chaurasi (84) kosi yatra — not only invites all Hindu saints to join in, but also seeks support for the demand for a law on building the Ram temple, opposing any new mosque or Islamic centre coming up in Ayodhya.
But saints close to the VHP, which originally spearheaded the move to demolish the Babri mosque in 1992, have gone underground. For, they fear a crackdown by the Samajwadi Party government, known for its pro-minority stand.
Dr Banke Bihari Mani Tripathi, who is handling the logistics of the yatra, however, said, “The saints have reached their respective locations and will surface at the right time.”
Although the VHP’s strategy is clear from the 40 stopovers planned across the six Muslim-majority districts on the yatra route, it may not find it easy to mobilise support this time.
The saints are not getting the no-questions-asked support they enjoyed during Babri demolition. Even a group of local saints have come out against them — not for stoking the communal fire, though. They oppose holding the yatra in August, when it is always held in April.
The VHP got the first jolt when Nritya Gopal Das, president of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas and one of the prominent Hindu leaders, refused to participate in the yatra from August 25. He prefers to attend another programme in Mathura, instead.
But Das accused Akhilesh Yadav’s government of spoiling the atmosphere by banning the yatra, while Mohammad Hashim Ansari, the 90-year-old litigant in the Ayodhya title suit, condemned the Parivar for turning Ayodhya again into a political flashpoint.
Ansari claims: “Even we would have joined the yatra if it had been purely religious and non-political.” Das rebuts: “How can they dub it political when the BJP is not participating?”
But the BJP didn’t join the temple movement in the mid-1980s when the VHP launched the movement. It came in only after the movement had gathered momentum. Now, it seems quite early to join the jamboree as VHP spokesperson Sharad Sharma claims the kar sevaks (volunteers) have not yet been asked to join the yatra.
What’s more, there are speculations that the SP government — true to its allegedly minority appeasement campaign — may give tacit support to a quiet move to set up an Islamic centre shaped like a three-dome mosque in Ayodhya.
The rumour followed a proposal worked out by a non-VHP group, led by retired high court judge Palok Basu, on the construction of a mosque adjacent to the 67-acre Ram Janmabhoomi complex at the site of the makeshift temple.
The Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen MP from Hyderabad, Asaduddin Owaisi, recently confirmed to a TV channel that there actually was such a plan, but later told HT that it needed verification.
Hazi Mehboob, who owns the 2.5-acre plot earmarked for building the mosque, said, “There is no such active proposal.” And though Pawan Pandey, local SP MLA and minister, also denied the move, the rumour gave fillip to the yatra that has clear political overtones.
The ghost of the pre-demolition days is evidently back in Ayodhya although it’s business as usual on the surface.