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Ayodhya is only a political stunt
By PM Damodaran, Lucknow

On October 15 last year, the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, announced at a press conference in Lucknow that he was making efforts to find a solution to the controversial Ayodhya issue through dialogue with the two contending parties to the dispute. Now four months later, the Prime Minister has confessed at another press conference in Lucknow that he had failed in his efforts to find a negotiated settlement through talks and that the only course left now was to wait for the court verdict in the case. 

The Central government and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad are now on a collision course after Mr. Vajpayee's blunt admission that his government was in a state of preparedness to meet any threat to protect the disputed site in Ayodhya in accordance with the court order.

In fact Mr. Vajpayee's statement in October last year that he was trying to find a solution to the vexed issue through dialogue turned out to be hollow. At the outset, Mr. Vajpayee's statement in October that he was in contact with the concerned people in both communities for serious dialogue lacked conviction because the leaders from both the communities had feigned ignorance of any such developments. Now the two main parties to the dispute, Ram Janambhoomi Trust and the All India Babri Masjid Action Committee (AIBMAC) have openly made it known that at no time they were involved in talks supposedly initiated by Mr. Vajpayee. The chief of the Trust, Ramchandra Paramhans and the convener of the AIMBAC, Mr. Zafaryab Jilani have said that they had never been called by the Prime Minister for talks.

Even before the Prime Minister made it known that the talks had failed and his government would have to wait for the court verdict, the VHP had reiterated its decision to go ahead with its plan to begin the construction of the temple from March 15, come what may. The VHP leaders have announced that they will start moving the carved stones and pillars to the disputed site from the workshop in Karsewakpuram in Ayodhya from March 15 and the actual construction may begin from Ram Naumi, which falls on April 21. In fact, the purification of stones, meant for the temple, has already begun. The VHP has also drawn up a plan to bring 'ram sewaks' in very large numbers to the site. A showdown is thus imminent next month unless the VHP retraces its path and abides by the decision of the court. 

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad is now at the crossroads. The Sangh Parivar has put the VHP in a virtual trap over the Ayodhya temple construction issue. The VHP should not have been found it difficult to put off the temple construction plan for a few months but not indefinitely. Over the years, the VHP had postponed the temple construction plan a few times to suit the political agenda of the BJP. 

After the BJP used the VHP to whip up the religious fervour for the party's growth for over a decade, it has now virtually dumped the organisation now. The saffron party has been using the Ayodhya issue in the elections since 1989. In tune with this, the VHP had last year set March 12 this year as the deadline for starting the construction of the Ram Temple apparently to help the BJP in the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and three other states. But the political situation was not found conducive by the BJP later to use this emotive issue in the elections. 

But by that time the VHP had gone too far in its propaganda for the construction of the temple to backtrack on its plans. In a face saving measure, the VHP supremo, Mr. Ashok Singhal proposed to the Central Government to hand over the undisputed part of the acquired land in Ayodhya to the Ram Janambhoomi Trust. His contention was that the VHP could now begin the construction from the undisputed part of the land and wait for the decision of the court or for a negotiated settlement of the dispute to start work at the disputed land where the sanctum sanctorum of the temple would be located. 

In this context, the VHP maintained that the Central Government would not have any problem in handing over 67.5 acres of undisputed land to the Trust and that the latter could easily do so by issuing an executive order. The VHP pointed out that out of this 67.5 acres of undisputed land, 42.5 acres of land was acquired by the government from the Trust and as such there was no legal hurdle for the central government to hand it over back to the Trust. 

On his part, the Prime Minister, Mr. A.B. Vajpayee had assured a delegation of the VHP leaders that he would ask the law ministry to find out the legal status of the undisputed land to see whether it could be legally handed over to the Trust. But this assurance had a rider. Mr. Vajpayee told the VHP leaders that even if he found that the undisputed land could be handed over to the Trust legally, he would do so if there was a national consensus on it. Apparently several ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) partners and the opposition parties were against doing anything in the case before the court gave its verdict.

Besides, according to legal experts, the government cannot hand over the undisputed land to the Trust when several cases are pending in the courts pertaining to the dispute. They pointed out that the Supreme Court in the Ismaili Farouqui case in 1994 had observed that the land acquired was of "strategic importance".

Moreover, there is apprehension that if the undisputed land is handed over to the Trust to begin the construction of the temple from there, the kar sewaks of the VHP may suddenly usurp the neighbouring disputed land also. There was the1992 December experience to substantiate this apprehension. The government had then given permission to the VHP to do symbolic kar sewa at the undisputed land but its activists suddenly rushed to the nearby Babri mosque structure and demolished it with the security forces remaining as mute spectators. 

The BJP President, Mr. Jana Krishnamurthy also did some plain speaking on his party's stand on the Ayodhya dispute. Mr. Krishnamurthy said that the Ayodhya issue was not in BJP's agenda till the present term of Lok Sabha ends in 2004 because it was committed to implement only the NDA's agenda, of which the issue was not a part. The BJP President, however, admitted that his party was going back on its Palampur National Executive resolution of 1989, which had stood for the construction of the Ram temple at the disputed site itself at any cost. 

The present stand of the BJP proves that for the party, the Ram Temple is only a political issue to bring votes for it in the elections and it is not serious about the construction of the shrine. For the BJP, the government is now more important than the Ram Temple that brought rich dividends to the BJP in several elections. The party now says that it will have to forget about the Ram Temple construction till 2004. Now even if the BJP comes to power on its own after the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, what guarantee is there that the Ram temple construction will be in its agenda? It may give some other excuse like legal problems to skip the agenda. If the present political situation continues, and it is quite likely, Ayodhya issue will not be in the agenda of the BJP for many years to come.
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