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VHP back to brinkmanship, sants demand its ban
By PM Damodaran

Lucknow: The Vishwa Hindu Parishad is back on its antics again. Three months after the VHP gave an undertaking that it would abide by the court verdict on the vexed Babri Mosque-Ram Temple dispute case, the Parishad has dissociated itself from its earlier assurance given to the central government and has waged a war on the Constitution and the judiciary.

The Kendriya Marg Darshak Mandal of the VHP, which met in Hardwar last month, now says that the court has no locus standi on a religious issue like the construction of Temple at the birthplace of Lord Rama. The VHP asserts that religious issues are above law and the construction of the Ram Temple is a matter of belief for the Hindus. The Parishad said that it would oppose a court verdict if it went against the Hindu scriptures. A temple movement leader, Ramchandra Paramhans, summarised the decision at the meeting by stating that "we have never said that we will not listen to the court. However, we will not abide by its verdict if it goes against our scriptures." What a curious stand taken by the VHP! 

On the other hand, a VHP leader pointed out that the Calcutta High Court in 1985 had maintained that no order could be given in a case involving the Holy Qur'an as it was a matter of belief for the Muslims. Likewise the temple issue was non-judiciable, as it was a matter of belief for the Hindus, it argued. The VHP, which refused to hold any more talks to arrive at a solution through talks, has now demanded the enactment of a law to facilitate the construction of the Ram Temple.

In tune with its latest stand, the VHP has now withdrawn its earlier assurance given to the government that it would abide by any decision given by the court in the Ayodhya dispute. The Parishad leader, Mr. Ashok Singhal, had given this assurance to the central government during the Shiladan (stone-donation) fiasco in March this year through the Kanchi Shankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati. The VHP maintained that it decided to withdraw its assurance after the government had failed to honour its promises which included the lifting of restrictions on the movement of pilgrims in Ayodhya in March and passing of an order to hand over the undisputed land in Ayodhya to the Ram Janambhoomi Trust by June 2. It also alleged that the Muslims had gone to the court on March 13 against the VHP despite their assurance that they would not do so.

The Mandal has now chalked out a three-phase agitation in support of the temple construction movement. In the first phase, the VHP would mobilise public opinion from the third week of July. It would also hold a sant samagam in early next year. In a significant statement, the Marg Darshak Mandal has stated that it is least concerned about the stability of the Vajpayee Government at the centre and it is ready to sacrifice power in favour of the temple. There were anti-Bharatiya Janata Party speeches at the Marg Darshak Mandal meeting. But these have no relevance since the success of the VHP in its temple construction plan lies in the support given to it by the BJP government. The VHP plan in March had flopped when the government opposed it to hold shila pujan in Ayodhya.

Significantly the VHP, however, did not announce a definite date to begin the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. It knows well that such announcements will create trouble for the organisation. In fact during the past few years, the VHP had announced the dates to begin the construction of the temple a few times but could not implement it due to political compulsions. 

This had often made the VHP a laughing stock since it had proved that the organisation was using the temple issue only for political purposes. Yet it is likely that the VHP will rake up the Ayodhya issue in the run up to the next Lok Sabha elections in 2004 to help the BJP in the polls. In fact when asked why the VHP was shying away from announcing a fresh date to begin the temple construction, a senior Parishad leader significantly shot back "did we announce when the Babri mosque structure will be demolished?"

Meanwhile Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani and the newly appointed Uttar Pradesh chief of the BJP Vinay Katiyar had all made pro-temple statements after the VHP had shifted its stand on the Ayodhya issue. Mr. Vajpayee still considered the Ayodhya movement as an expression of national sentiments. On the other hand Mr. Advani, who was the first leader to declare that the construction of the temple was a matter of religion, still holds this view. Mr. Katiyar is more vociferous in his pro-temple views. He remarked "temple is there.

The only thing is to building a bigger temple there." But significantly, there was lukewarm opposition from the allies of the BJP in the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) to the VHP's new stand.

The VHP's announcement that it will not abide by the court verdict in the Ayodhya case has come in for sharp criticism from the opposition parties, the Muslim organisations and even from the Hindu religious leaders. All the opposition parties, including the Congress and the Left parties, have condemned the VHP stand. 

The All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) has sought the government intervention to see that "those who are threatening to violate the Constitution are contained and it was the duty of the courts and the government to stop such violations." On the other hand, the Babri Masjid Action Committee (BMAC) has remarked that "by challenging the judiciary, the VHP has harmed itself and even those who were supporting it would distance themselves from it." 

The Committee has asked the Kanchi seer to dissociate himself from the VHP as the latter had gone back on its promises. It further clarified that there was no question of the Committee voluntarily handing over the disputed land to the VHP for the construction of the temple.

Even the sants and mahants have come out stoutly against the VHP. The Hindu holy men totally boycotted the Hardwar meeting of the Parishad. Some sants also issued statements against the VHP in Hardwar. The Akhara Parishad at a meeting there accused the VHP of using the sants as a "bait to blackmail Hindu society and the government". The Akhara Parishad demanded the VHP to make public the accounts of the funds collected by it in the name of the Ram Temple.

The sants in Ayodhya, in the meanwhile, have come out with a demand for the banning of the VHP. A meeting of the sants and mahants held in Ayodhya recently had remarked that the VHP decision was violation of the constitutional provisions and as such the open defiance of the Constitution and courts should not be allowed since it will encourage the cult of religious terrorism. A participant at the meeting, Mahant Jagannath Das, one of the plaintiffs in the Ram Janambhoomi title suit, contended that the VHP could not execute any compromise on the temple issue as it is not a party in the case. There is a demand from the other quarters also for the ban on the VHP for openly challenging the Constitution and the judiciary. The anti-VHP leaders say that there is a genuine case for the ban of the organisation since they still boost of the demolition of the Babri structure in December 1992 despite the court orders to maintain status quo in Ayodhya!

Some of the suggestions and views expressed at the Hardwar meeting smack blatant anti-minority feeling. The Parishad decision not to honour the court verdict if it goes against the temple may thus create an atmosphere of fear and tension, particularly among the minority community, which may vitiate the communal harmony in the country. 

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