Is the venerable seer in harmony with the Sangh? Ever since he renewed efforts to resolve the Ayodhya tangle, Kanchi Shankaracharya Shri Jayendra Saraswati has raised the hackles of the VHP and RSS which see him as a usurper of their Ram mandir territory.
The VHP is also sore with the BJP top leadership for encouraging the Shankaracharya to seek a solution that excludes them. That's why VHP president Ashok Singhal lashed out at Prime Minister Vajpayee again, demanding he resign for his failure to bring about a legislation to build the Ram temple. "Vajpayee was the only person in the BJP and Sangh parivar opposed to the Ram temple movement," he thundered recently. He also rubbished the seer's mediatory efforts.
The RSS, however, has a more charitable view of the Shankaracharya's initiative now. Some of their doubts were put to rest at an hour-long meeting with him at the Kanchi Math's Shankaralaya in Chennai. It was attended by the entire RSS top leadership including sarsanghchalak K.S. Sudarshan, general secretary Mohan Bhagwat, joint general secretary Madan Das Devi and spokesperson Ram Madhav.
Sources say the Shankaracharya assured them that his letter to the All India Muslim Personal Law Board made no mention of giving up on the demand for Kashi and Mathura nor was there any proposal to open up ASI-run mosques for regular worship. The proposal basically suggested handing over the undisputed land for the construction of the Ram temple. The seer also told the RSS that he had "advised" the Muslims that at a later date they may even consider handing over the disputed land to Hindus by gift or donation.
A senior RSS source, in fact, points out that the Shankaracharya has done a "180-degree turn" in three weeks. When this round of talks began, the Shankaracharya had sounded out the BJP leadership on the possibility of offering sops to the Muslims such as the VHP giving up the demand for Kashi and Mathura and so on.
In fact, two weeks ago, in an interview to Outlook, RSS chief Sudarshan had stated:
"The VHP and RSS is unhappy with the kind of steps the Kanchi Shankaracharya has taken.... He is suggesting the Ayodhya issue can be resolved if the VHP gives up Kashi and Mathura...it's not possible, this kind of compromise."
The fact that the RSS dug in its heels clearly forced the seer to scale down his proposal. By the time the letter went to the Muslim law board (after "several meetings and phone conversations" with the Sangh leadership), none of the so-called sops were on offer. That's why RSS spokesman Ram Madhav now says: "We are all sailing in the same boat." But the VHP is still an issue. Sudarshan's take on them—"The VHP's developed a persecution complex. They believe some people want to finish them off"—rings true.
But all this apart, BJP strategists believe the seer's exertions present them with a win-win opportunity—and its timing too is propitious. He is, after all, presenting a "reasonable" settlement to the Muslims and that too on the eve of the monsoon session of Parliament and a year before a general election. It could even be a strategic move to create the right atmospherics for an attempt at a legislation on Ayodhya, putting political parties likely to oppose the move on the defensive.
The Muslims, meanwhile, are in a 'damned if they do, damned if they don't' situation. No Muslim body or leader can unilaterally agree to any compromise on Ayodhya. At the same time, they are aware that inflexibility on the issue can be used as propaganda against the entire community. All that most Muslims are now asking is to wait for the court verdict.
But that indeed is the central paradox of Ayodhya. No court can possibly give a verdict that hands over the disputed land to the very people who wantonly destroyed the Babri Masjid.Likewise, no Muslim body can hope that another mosque will come up eventually on land that is claimed as the birthplace of Ram. Clearly, the temple will again be a hot poll issue next year. The Shankaracharya has played his part in ensuring that.
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