How the VHP supported two mass campaigns for Ram Temple

Successive announcements made by so-called representatives of the warring community unveiled the likely turn of events in 1989, regarding the dispute over the Ayodhya shrine. The new AIBMAC (All India Babri Masjid Action Committee) declared on January 31 in the Indian capital that it was forming dastas hifajati or “defense squads” to protect the mosque from attempts by VHP militants to demolish it. Their leaders announced that secret squads would be “adequately formed to sneak into the inner ring” of the shrine and “maintain a vigil” to prevent “the assembly of VHP activists with the aim of demolishing the mosque”. . Undeniably, the plan, if allowed to pass through the government, had the potential to ignite nationwide violence. But even before a coherent response could be articulated to this announcement, the other, and unambiguously most powerful, statement was made by the VHP in Allahabad where the Maha Kumbha Mela was being held. In hindsight, there is little doubt that the schedule of events was planned in advance by the dramatis personae on both sides and they simply passed predetermined motions in formal meetings.

On February 1, 1989, not only the VHPs, but the Sangh Parivar’s most ambitious religious campaign since the tumultuous agitation against cow slaughter in 1966 was announced. The leaders said they would lead the shilanyas ceremony to symbolically lay the foundations of a new Ram temple in Ayodhya on November 9, 1989.

The date chosen coincided with the annual festival of Devothan Ekadashi, the day when it is believed that the gods come out of their sleep. The foundation laying ceremony was a new ritual in the Indian political theater and it was scheduled right in the middle of the election season to derive maximum political benefit for the BJP by ensuring that the temple affair of Ram becomes an important topic of discussion in election campaigns. speech. Tens of thousands of pilgrims traditionally gathered in the temple city during devothan ekadashi. The VHP was thus assured of a base level crowd in Ayodhya for the ceremony. Yet he spared no effort to mobilize support and eventually managed to muster a sea of ​​humanity.

The bricks of the Bajrang Dal militants at the VHP camp | Image credit: Getty

This was done by a mass campaign, called Ram Shila Pujan, for which specially made bricks, with Shri Ram written on them, were enshrined in religious rituals performed in hundreds of thousands of cities, towns and villages, after which they were finally transported to Ayodhya. in the processions to be used for the construction of the temple. The two programs, the shilanyas and the ram Shila Pujan, seemed ridiculous at first because the VHP was apparently taking the plunge by laying the foundations of the temple long before a court verdict.

Additionally, the land around the Babri Masjid has also been disputed because the court cases involved several plots of land. Moreover, the brick dedication ceremony had no precedent and there was no certainty that people would get excited about it.

Shahabuddin was one of the few to foresee the likely impact. It was dusk on a cold February evening when I parked my bike in the driveway of his modest official residence in Janpath. At that time, journalists could meet politicians they knew during “calendar” hours. Shahabuddin, as usual, stared at me through stacks of newspapers, magazines, books and official reports as he sat in his CPWD chair. No more jokes, I informed him of the announcements of the VHP. Her face turned ashen when I told her about the shilanyas and the Ram Shila Pujan programs, providing more details on the Ram Shila Yatras in Ayodhya. “With this program, the VHP has ensured that they never have to look back on their way to Ayodhya,” he says softly. I must have had a questioning look on my face as he explained, the shila pujan would give Hindus, even in remote parts of India, a chance to “participate” in the agitation. Shahabuddin was not alarmist in his response as the VHP also believed that the successful execution of the Ram Shila program “would give a sense of belonging to all Hindus”.

It turned out exactly as the VHP predicted. Just “touching” the bricks gave people a sense of participation without even moving from their homes. The symbolic money they paid as an offering gave the feeling of having contributed to the cause of Ram’s temple.

VHP reports later recounted that during the shila pujan program specially printed coupons in denominations of Rs 1.25, Rs 5 and Rs 10 were sold. These coupons were often displayed proudly by people, as noted by this writer and several other journalists. The VHP was clear that this was another contact and the intent was to ensure that everyone involved in shila pujan the rituals contributed at least Rs 1.25. The campaign was replicated in early 2021 with the nationwide door-to-door fundraiser from January 15 to the end of February to raise additional resources for the cash-rich Shri Ram Janmbhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust.

The campaign led to communal violence in some states, although fortuitously not on the scale of 1989. Following instructions from RSS leader Mohan Bhagwat that a “one house” should not be missed, VHP militants are went from house to house, in the midst of the pandemic, in search of funds. RSS leaders said they “expect” every Indian family, regardless of religious denomination, to donate for the temple. Indian media reported that stickers had been stuck in the homes of families who had donated. The absence of donor stickers marked those who had not contributed to the temple. In history, there are many instances of mobs targeting houses that were previously cordoned off.

Cover of the book “The Demolition and the Verdict” by Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay

People’s reaction to the two mass contact programs, separated by almost thirty-two years, highlights the dramatic increase in support for Hindutva during this period. the shila pujan was to seek support for a request that had the support of only one part of Hindu society.

It was partisan in nature and there was no socio-political consensus on the demands of the Ayodhya agitation. Several parties and groups of people who mainly supported the demand for a Ram temple in Ayodhya did not support the confrontation set up with this campaign.

Unlike sectional support for shila pujan, fundraising in 2021 did not meet opposition from the majority of mainstream political parties. The campaign was legitimized by the state when the President of India became the first donor, albeit in a personal capacity. Several other public figures who held public office followed. This marked a blurring of the boundaries between religion and the state on the one hand and religious activity and political campaigning on the other. All fundraising was treated as a national program with tacit support from the state.

The above was an excerpt from The demolition and the verdict: Ayodhya and India’s reconfiguration project by Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay (Speaking Tiger Books, Rs 699, pp 336)

(the book views expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Outlook Magazine)

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