A Prefab Home For The Lord

The Centre swears by status quo, but the Vishwa Hindu Parishad's temple plans proceed apace

"The day it (cutting and carving of stone) will be complete, the Hindus will not wait indefinitely to start re-construction of the temple." Ashok Singhal in the RSS mouthpiece, Organiser

THE intention is unambiguous. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has given enough indication that it wants the beginning of the 21st century to herald the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya irrespective of a court verdict. But the clear-cut warning seems to have escaped the attention of the Opposition.

Union home minister L.K. Advani assured Parliament last fortnight that the October 24, 1994, Supreme Court order to maintain the status quo at the disputed site was being implemented strictly and that the carving of stone did not break any law. But no Opposition leader drew his attention to the VHP supremo's eagerness to throw the apex court's order to the wind.

As sculptors and local artisans chip away earnestly at the sandstone—aptly referred to as the sanghi patthar in the area—to carve portions of the temple at VHP workshops in Ayodhya and Rajasthan, the VHP's stridency rings ominous. With the euphoria of the nuclear bomb subsiding fast and the road ahead bumpy for the fragile ruling coalition, the VHP is not very hopeful about the future of the BJP-led government.

While the supreme aim of the Sangh parivar at the moment remains safeguarding the interests of the government, the top leadership of the VHP feels it is difficult to predict the state of the government two years from now. "We are not going to do anything about the temple for two years. After that who knows whether the government will stay or not," says a top VHP leader.

But the VHP is rapidly preparing itself for any eventuality. According to an estimate drawn by its leaders, the cutting and carving of stone for the mandir will almost be over in two to three years. By that time the BJP'S ever-sulking coalition partners like Jayalalitha might create some crisis for the government. In that case, as Ashok Singhal declared in Hardwar, "Hindus will not wait indefinitely to start re-construction of the temple". Translated, it means the VHP will not wait for the court verdict.

The transportation of carved pillars from three workshops in the Sirohi district of Rajasthan will not be a problem for the organisation. The VHP leaders hope that by then the high court will also have decided on the title suits. But if that doesn't happen, the organisation will anyway go ahead with its agenda (see interview).

For now, VHP insiders say the prefabricated temple—44 of the total 212 pillars and the floor are ready—can anytime be transported to Ayodhya and reassembled at the site within a few days. No cement or iron will be used in the construction. With a favourable government in the state of UP, the VHP doesn't have anything to fear. However, the organisation on its own will not create any trouble for the government and will adhere to the decision taken by the RSS at the Bangalore session to protect the government.

But what is actually worrying the VHP is the 1993 Acquisition of Certain Areas at Ayodhya Act through which the Rao government acquired the disputed site at Ayodhya on January 7, 1993. One clause of the Act stipulates that the disputed land will be handed over to a trust or group of people formed only after the promulgation of the Act. Champat Rai, national joint secretary of the VHP, says this bars all parties claiming their right over the disputed piece of land. "The government will have to execute the court order, and for that Parliament will have to change this Act," he says.

Nevertheless, the VHP is likely to issue fiery statements more often than before in the coming years lest the temple slips from the memory of the "awakened Hindu samaj". Says Rai: "We'll keep reminding the samaj about the temple. It is our right to awaken the people. Temple construction is a long process and we are not going to betray the people."

This is to resolve the dilemma the VHP leadership faces every time it needs to tell its cadre the circumstances why the Ram temple issue was put on the backburner by the BJP. To show that it has not reneged on its promise the VHP wants to reinforce the message that no government and no court can stop the construction of the Ram tem -ple. Meanwhile, to engage the cadre in some sort of activity, the organisation has decided to focus its attention on "larger Hindu issues" like those of cow slaughter and conversion. Ten thousand "Hindu hitchintaks (wellwishers)" will be engaged full time to work on these issues.

However, BJP general-secretary K.N. Govindacharya refuses to accept that the VHP is planning its strategy keeping the position of the BJP-led government in mind. He says it's wrong to say the VHP makes its plans to help the BJP. The Sangh parivar, he insists, doesn't work like that. "True, the main aim is to protect the government, but the VHP has its own agenda. At times their actions, like the decision to establish a shakti peeth in Pokhran, do irritate the BJP," says Gobindacharya.

For the moment, the VHP is not in favour of the idea to give a December 1992 kind of call to kar sevaks to assemble at Ayodhya. "You can capture something by collecting people but you can't do the construction," asserts Rai. But the similarity in the two situations cannot be overlooked. Advani took out the rath yatra in 1992 to counter the Mandal card and the Sangh parivar assured the Supreme Court that the Babri structure would be protected. Yet the Babri Masjid was demolished.

 Six years down the line, amidst the heat and dust of nuke-nationalism, Advani as home minister once again assures Parliament that they're respecting the apex court's order to maintain the status quo at Ayodhya. Given the VHP's aggressive "build the temple programme", BJP's assurance may ring as hollow as it did on the eve of December 6.

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