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oppose VHP, launch outfit
By PM Damodaran, Lucknow

The Ayodhya politics has reached a new dimension late last month with the formation of the Sanatan Dharma Manch, which has challenged the right of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to construct the Ram Temple under the banner of its Ram Janambhoomi Trust. The new platform has vowed to disallow any individual or organization to play politics on the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. In comparison with the VHP, the Manch has, however, taken a less belligerent stand on the construction issue and favoured a dialogue with the Muslim organizations to arrive at a negotiated settlement before undertaking the task.
Giving a big jolt to the VHP, religious leaders, including Shankaracharyas of Dwarika and Puri, peethadhishwars, mahamandeleshwars of various Akharas and prominent saints, met in Kumbhnagar in Allahabad on January 27 to discuss the formation of a platform to take up the construction of the temple. They decided to set up the Manch as they felt that the construction of the temple should be undertaken by the dharmacharyas only and not by the politically-controlled trusts. The Manch was formed exactly a week after the VHP-sponsored Dharam Sansad in Kumbhnagar set Shivratri next year as the time limit for the central government to hand over the land in Ayodhya to its Ram Janambhoomi Trust for the construction of the temple.

What has, however, ruffled many a feather in the Sangh Parivar was the presence of the galaxy of the religious leaders at the meeting which was convened by the Shankaracharya of Dwarika, Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati, who had always been inimical to the VHP. The Manch is claimed to have the support of all the four officially recognized Shankaracharyas, the powerful Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad, (a representative body of 13 prominent Akharas) and religious leaders.

In contrast, none of the four officially recognized Shankaracharyas had attended the Dharam Sansad organized by the VHP despite the best efforts of its leaders to rope in these respected religious leaders. The Shankaracharya of Kanchi, Swami Jayendra Saraswati, had attended the Dharam Sansad but he represents only a sub-peeth. Among the other attendants, Swami Vasudevanand cannot be considered as Shankaracharya as he had been restrained by the court from proclaiming himself as Shankaracharya of Jyotishpeeth, Badrikashram. Moreover, the powerful Akharas (barring one or two) had also boycotted the VHP’s Dharam Sansad. In fact, the Akharas had even been opposing the holding of the Dharam Sansad in Kumbhnagar.

The wavering stand of the VHP and its failure to announce a date for the starting of the construction of the Temple at the Dharam Sansad, as vowed by its leaders earlier, had made the task of the Manch easier. Many saints had deserted the VHP following its failure to announce the construction date at the Dharam Sansad as they felt that the organization was using the Ram Temple issue for political purposes.

The Manch now wants the construction of the Temple at the Janambhoomi site under the patronage of Nirmohi Akhara. The Manch claims that unlike in the case of the VHP’s Ram Janambhoomi Trust, the Nirmohi Akhara has the legal sanction to construct the Ram temple as it is the main party in the cases pending in the high court in Lucknow. Besides, the Manch points out that the Ram Chabutara and the adjacent Sita Ki Rasoi were in the possession of the Akhara for centuries. Quoting historical records, the Mach says that Wajid Ali Shah, the ruler of Avadh, had handed over these portions to the Akhara in 1855 for the worship of Ram.

The Manch, however, does not want to rush through the construction of the temple. Unlike the VHP, which had given an ultimatum to the central government, the Manch feels that the construction of the temple should begin only after a settlement is negotiated on the issue with the Muslim organizations or a verdict is given by the court in the cases. In this context, it has expressed its desire to hold dialogue with the All India Muslim Personal Law Board and other minority organizations to arrive at an amicable settlement in the dispute. 

The Manch and the Nirmohi Akhara have differences with the VHP on the model of the temple. The VHP has kept its model of temple at Kumbhnagar. The Manch model of the temple is similar to that of the famous Angkorwat Temple in Cambodia (Kampuchea). The temple will have a height of 350 feet. It will be spacious enough to accommodate 10,000 devotees at a time.

The formation of the Manch to counter the religious propaganda of the Sangh Parivar is considered as a victory for the Congress. The brain behind the Manch, Shankaracharya of Dwarika, Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati was close to the former Prime Minister and Congress leader, Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao.

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