THE Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) is girding itself for a fresh religiopolitical offensive along the lines of Ramjanambhoomi; at a meeting of its Board of Trustees in Mathura last fortnight, it drew up plans to wrest the Krishna Janamsthan (birthplace of Lord Krishna) from the Shahi Idgah Trust. The fact that the BJP said it wanted no part of the VHPs proposed agitation, starting on March 10, did not deter activists from adopting a militant line.
"The VHP will bring its entire force to bear on Mathura, till idols of Bajrangbali adorn the Idgahs four minars," warned BJP MP Vinay Katiyar who was taking part in the meet in a personal capacity. Bajrang Dal President Jai Bhan Singh Pawaiya threatened a repeat of Ayodhya: " The Idgah will rest at the bottom of the Yamuna." And if the BJP opposed the move? "We are already fighting 13 demons (the United Front). Ek aur sahi (whats one more)."
The quasi-political Dharam Sansad was held in camera, under heavy security (even the superintendent of police, Mathura was made to quit the premises). There was criticism of the BJP with particular reference to its performance in Gujarat: "Jo hamnay kamaya, inhonen gawan diya." (Theyve lost what weve earned.) But there was also the acknowl-edgement that it would eventually have to rope in the BJP for the Mathura campaign.
The V H P appears driven by the need to reassert itself and strengthen the position of hardliners in the B J P, especially before the election of a party president. Having found no support from the B J P in reviving the Ayodhya agitation, it is now concentrating on Mathura. While the R S S is yet to commit itself to the campaign, the V H Ps Acharya Giriraj Kishore points to a recent article by R S S chief Rajendra Singh clarifying that Kashi and Mathura were on its agenda.
The BJP leadership does not want to touch the Mathura issue with a barge pole, at a time when it is making a bid for power at the Centre. Nor does it want a repeat of Ayodhya, which its leaders believe had negative political consequences. And even the hardliners in the BJP are not confident of public support over the Mathura issue.
The moderate B J P view, enunciated by party leader A.B. Vajpayee and MP Jaswant Singh, is that Mathura and Kashi can in no way be compared to Ayodhya. Says Singh: "The Babri Masjid was not a functioning mosque, whereas the Idgah is." Further, Ayodhya has a "historical background". But Giriraj Kishore insists that Mathura, too, has a historical background: "During the Maratha rule, the Idgah, built over a demolished temple, was declared as nazul ( government property) and used as a stable. After the British took it over, it was auctioned to Raja Patnimal and later to four Hindu gentlemen. In 1946, it became the property of the Krishna Janamsthan Trust . " He stresses the V H Ps legal claim: "We have been paying municipal taxes on the property and have receipts to prove it." The Krishna temple, which V H P activists say is attracting fewer devotees because of police harassment, currently sits cheek by jowl with the Idgah.
The VHP is attempting to rally support within the BJP by making the issue part of the debate on social engineering which followed the five-member Govindacharya Panels report on the debacle in the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls. The report recommended greater representation of OBCs and Dalits and VHP activists point out that an agitation on Krishna Janamsthan could attract Yadavs and women.
Aware of the tacit support for the VHP within the party, Vajpayee has conceded that while the issue is not on the party agenda, its MPs can participate in an individual capacity. Several BJP MPs, points out Singh, have come in "via the VHP route". Katiyar had in fact threatened to quit so that he could devote himself to the Mathura agitation. The MP observes: "We started the Ram Janambhoomi movement in 1984 and the BJP put it on its agenda only in 1988. Given time, when public support has been mobilised, Mathura will also find a place on the BJP agenda."
However, the V H Ps penchant for sabre rattling has made the B J P sceptical. Its attempt to whip up the Mathura issue in August 95 flopped. And no action followed the announcement of programmes like stopping export of beef to Bangladesh. "The B J P must maintain silence on the issue because of the Places of Worship Act or risk derecognition," admits Kishore. "But it is an illegal law." Katiyars argument is that if the Act is implemented and the status quo of 1949 restored, then the site reverts to the Trust.
The first phase of the agitation will aim at removing police cordons around the site. V H P activists allege that devotees at the site are frisked and harassed by the police. Thousands are expected to participate in the 84 kosi (252 km) parikrama and 60,000 youth will undertake a jan jagran campaign.
"The BJP will have to join the campaign," warns a VHP leader. "When the BJP abandoned the Ram Janambhoomi issue, it did not do as well as it should have in the 1993 assembly polls. They should draw a lesson from that," he says. Adds Pawaiya: "The BJP has no choice but to back us. We set the agenda for the political parties."