In the Ayodhya euphoria, politics comes full circle - Hindustan Times
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In the Ayodhya euphoria, politics comes full circle

Jan 15, 2024 12:27 PM IST

The UP government had left no stone unturned in adorning Ayodhya. Is the Vatican for Hindus on the horizon?

I was at Ram ki Paidi in Ayodhya on a recent winter morning, whose severity was exacerbated by fog, cold wind, and feeble sunshine. But the atmosphere there was reminiscent of the day before a wedding. The Yogi government had left no stone unturned in adorning Ayodhya. Is the Vatican for Hindus on the horizon?

Underconstruction Ram temple in Ayodhya. (Sourced)(HT_PRINT) PREMIUM
Underconstruction Ram temple in Ayodhya. (Sourced)(HT_PRINT)

This milieu reminds me of the days when the surrounding area was packed with Ram bhakts. Mulayam Singh Yadav was in office in Uttar Pradesh, and he was determined to uphold his constitutional pledge. At the same time, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), argued that an issue of faith transcended time, the Constitution, and government policies. Those were turbulent times. Karsevaks battled with police and paramilitary troops multiple times between 1988 and 1991. More than 30 persons were killed, and over 100 were injured.

While the VHP and the RSS were preparing the movement’s outline and building the organisation, the ambitions of the Sangh’s political arm, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), were obvious. It wanted to rule the country. This is not unusual for a political party, but the road it took was novel for India, which was steeped in socialist dreams. The leaders’ commitment to secularism was so strong in the early days of Independence that the then Prime Minister (PM) Jawaharlal Nehru declined to attend the inaugural ceremony of the Somnath Temple.

Times have changed since. Now PM Narendra Modi and other leaders do not hide their strong religious beliefs. Modi sent a message to the nation last Thursday, announcing an 11-day ritual. He began his speech with “Ram-Ram”.

In the late 1980s, the groundwork for the current trend was laid. Not only Sangh officials, but even top leaders such as Lal Krishna Advani, used to meet with the media and make forceful arguments for it. I remember Advani visited Agra in 1990. There were three established newspapers then. He had a lengthy chat with the three editors over breakfast. We asked him some tough questions, but he was unfazed.

At that time, a big section of karsevaks began alleging that the BJP sought to acquire power by manipulating our religious convictions and they were not serious about the “controversial structure”.

I recall vividly the night of December 5, 1992, when our special correspondent, who had been assigned for coverage, told me over the phone that the edifice would be dismantled the next day. If Advani and other politicians like him tried to stop the karsevaks, they would be severely beaten. What happened the following day, on December 6, is widely documented. It is true that the karsevaks had little regard for the senior leadership of the BJP, who were present in Ayodhya.

Should we think that the time has come full circle this week when the pran pratishtha is almost certain to take place? Is democratic India going to put an end to what the imperialist troops of Babur did five centuries ago? Will January 22 be remembered in a special way in Indian history? Is it possible that time still has some surprises in store for us?

Time continues to play its games, and mankind, willingly or not, becomes its pawns. I can say this because, as a journalist, I documented the rage and exhilaration of December 6, 1992. There is only one distinction. The struggle was then kept going, and now efforts will be made to extend the vijayotsav (victory celebration) for months.

Half a day has passed in Ayodhya, and upon my return, it is evident that the city is preoccupied with finding its place in this celebratory atmosphere. Not only the inhabitants of Ayodhya, but everyone who comes and goes here is probably doing the same. Let me tell you about an experience I had. Our return aircraft, number 2129, took off around 40 minutes late for Delhi. A few minutes after take-off from Ayodhya’s Maharishi Valmiki International Airport, a passenger in the middle of the second row chanted, “Jai Shri Ram”. The majority of the passengers on the plane backed him up. “Pavanputra Hanuman ki jai” was the next chant. The passionate repeat reached the ears once more. The delay seemed to excite the passengers rather than irritate them.

You can ponder the political consequences if you want, but it won’t change the euphoria that is spreading all around us.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal

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