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|In Ayodhya, BJP, VHP are one |
AYODHYA: No one in this temple town believes that the BJP and the VHP are about to lock horns on the issue of building the Ram temple. The upcoming battle between the two may be making headlines in Delhi, but out here people dismiss it with a wry, knowing smile.
There's no fuss, no fanfare around the announcement of March 15 as the date of construction of the mandir. It is almost as if everyone knows there's some cosy play-acting here, with the BJP and the VHP aiming mock punches at each other. Prod the Ayodhyawasi and the response is invariably a shrug: "Chunav ka chakkar hai saheb. (It's all about the elections.)"
"Eh ek farzi naatak hai (a make-believe drama)," says Harishankar Yadav, who left the BJP with former chief minister Kalyan Singh to form the Rashtriya Kranti Party.
Any illusion that the VHP is on the warparth is firmly dispelled on the campaign trail of Laloo Singh, the BJP candidate from Ayodhya and UP minister of state for energy. At Laloo Singh's residence, a supporter explains that the VHP's anger is only a pressure tactic. In the slogan-shouting crowd outside, I spot Krishna Murari Sonkar, a saffron-clad sadhu. Sonkar is delightfully candid. He belongs as much to the BJP as the VHP, he says.
But isn't the VHP annoyed with the BJP for not co-operating on the temple? I ask. Sonkar laughs: "No we are together every inch of the way." Sonkar explains the timing of March 15 with equal ease: "Jaise khana garam karna padta hai, vaise hi mandir ka mudda samay, samay par ucchalna padta hai. (Just as food needs to be warned, so does the temple issue.)" But surely, the people can see through this charade? "Arre, eh Hindu naram dil ka hai. Maan jayega (the Hindu is soft-hearted, he doesn't need much persuading)."
Sonkar, then, proceeds to unravel the future agenda. If the BJP forms the next government in UP, March 15 might be postponed. If it is some other government, then the matter will hot up again. "You can bet on it. We will create huge trouble for a non-BJP CM," he says.
Ambika Nishad, a BJP member of the Nagar Panchyat, admits that the temple issue will polarise voters and help the BJP electorally. Munna Nishad interrupts him and says, "We are everything. BJP, VHP, RSS. So where is the question of a fight?"
Laloo Singh himself is clear about where his loyalties lie: "As long as I'm in Ayodhya, I have to support the temple." He also acknowledges that raising the issue at this time will help his party.
Parked prominently outside the RSS office in Ayodhya is the BJP campaign vehicle. Inside, a former BJP minister, Anil Tiwari, greets visitors in his capacity as a member of the RSS. Tiwari stresses the non-political nature of the RSS. At the same time, he ridicules the notion that the VHP or the RSS could go against the BJP. The office is strewn with handbills appealing to the electorate to defeat anti-Ram, Pro-Pakistan parties.
At Karsewakpuram, preparations are on for the Ramjanmabhoomi poorna ahuti yagna, which is to start on February 17, right in the middle of elections. Temple supporters are to begin congregating at Ayodhya in batches of 20,000, starting February 14.
The punchline comes from Sharad Sharma, media manager at the site. Asked where one could find Ramchandra Paramahans, he says the sant is away in Gonda, campaiging for the BJP candidate there.
On Tuesday, the same Paramahans had announced the start of temple construction on March 15, and dared the Prime Minister to take him on: "I'll face bullets, but will not give up the mandir."
The Alliance for a Secular and Democratic South Asia was formed in 1993 to combat rising religious intolerance in South Asia and to campaign for peace and justice in the region. We are committed to working towards a just, non-violent resolution of the crisis we are currently living through. If you are interested in joining us in this work, please call 617-983-3934 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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