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VHP playing politics again
By PM Damodaran, Lucknow 

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has played politics with the RamTemple once again. The VHP has refrained from announcing the date of the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya at the Dharam Sansad during the Maha Kumbh Mela in Allahabad. Thus the VHP has averted an imminent threat to the survival of the Atal Behari Vajpayee government.

The Ayodhya issue had generated a lot of heat during the last two months in the wake of the Prime Minister, Mr. AB Vajpayee’s statement that the Ram Temple movement was an expression of ‘national sentiment’ and the VHP’s assertion that the Ram Temple construction date would be announced at the Dharam Sansad. Shaken by the developments, some partners of the Bharatiya Janata Part in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had threatened to pull out of the ruling coalition if the VHP went ahead with its plan. Going by its eagerness to serve the interests of the BJP, the VHP was, however, not expected to go ahead with its plan of announcing the date for the construction thus endangering the survival of the Vajpayee government.

During the past few months, the VHP leaders had been reiterating that a date of the construction of the Temple would be announced at the Dharam Sansad, come what may. They were even asserting that they least cared about the survival of the Vajpayee government since to them the temple was upper most in their hearts. But the history revealed that the VHP had gone back on its plans several times if it found that they were not to serve the BJP politically. When the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP leaders found some time back that the situation was going out control, they launched the damage control operations to save the Vajpayee government. During the past couple of months they had been appealing to the VHP to postpone the announcement of the construction date to give time for the government to act on its demands. The BJP President, Mr. Bangaru Laxman had openly urged the VHP not to take any hasty decision. The Sangh Parivar leaders had, however, some difficulty in convincing the hardcore saints the rationale behind the need for refraining from announcing the construction date at the Dharam Sansad. The VHP leaders now curiously maintain that the Sansad had decided on a construction date but it will announce it only at an opportune moment. A face saving device indeed! 

The Dharam Sansad has, however, set a deadline of Shivratri next year, (which falls on March 12, 2002) for the central government to hand over the land in Ayodhya to the VHP so that the construction of the Ram Temple could begin any time after that date. The Sansad had threatened the Centre that the Hindus would forcibly take over the land and start the construction of the temple any time after Shivratri next year if the latter failed to oblige. 

Apparently there is politics in setting the deadline of Shivratri next year for the centre to hand over the land for the construction of the temple. The deadline virtually coincides with the holding of the Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP has a big stake. The Sangh Parivar wants to rake up a religious issue to help the BJP in the polls in U.P. The BJP had been faring badly in the elections in U.P. since the Lok Sabha polls in 1999. In the Lok Sabha poll, the BJP could secure only 29 out of 85 seats in the state. The party’s performance was also dismal in the panchayati raj and civic elections held last year. The BJP is in search of an emotive issue to improve its vote base. The Sangh Parivar feels that the Ram Temple issue will fill the bill and help the BJP regain some of its lost base.

The Sangh Parivar is now planning to use the one-year deadline to mobilize the Hindu support for the temple plan. This may also come handy for the BJP to face the state Assembly elections in U.P., to be held in March 2002. The Dharam Sansad has resolved to organise Shivarchana and Jalabhishek programmes in the villages in the country from September 17 to October 16. This will be followed by Samuhik Yagyas from November 26. A Chetavni Sant Yatra will be organised from Ayodhya to Delhi from February 18 to February 25, 2002. And by that time, the Assembly election campaign in U.P. will be at its peak.

The BJP has virtually no stake in the Assembly elections in the four states of West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Assam, scheduled to be held in April this year. It has only marginal presence in these states. The BJP is a minor coalition partner in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu while it has no base in Kerala where the two fronts led by the CPI(M) and the Congress are the main contenders. In Assam, the party is gaining ground. But the trans-border infiltration is the main poll issue there. This explains why the Sangh Parivar has no plans to rake up the Ram Temple issue now to benefit the BJP in the coming April elections. 

The ninth Dharam Sansad held in the Kumbh Mela campus tuned to be a low-key affair. It was clear from the poor response to the Sansad from the sants, mahants and dharmacharyas. Many of them kept away from the Sansad alleging that the VHP is serving only the interest of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar and has no real interest in the construction of the temple. Among the four Shankaracharyas, only one had extended full support to the VHP plans. Some of them had even kept away from the Sansad. This was the case with the 13 powerful Akharas. The Akharas have generally been opposing the VHP’s programmes describing them as politically motivated. The VHP, however, claims that there was no report of boycott of the Sansad by the religious leaders.

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