Ayodhya: Days before the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit is expected to come up before the Supreme Court for the final hearing, a “Ram Rajya Rath Yatra” backed by the right-wing group Vishwa Hindu Parishad, will be launched from the temple town today. The rally would pass through six states over the next two months before ending at Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu.
The campaign for a Ram temple at Ayodhya, started in the 1990s by LK Advani, helped the BJP become a major political force in the country. Over the last few years the matter had been pushed to the back pages of the BJP manifesto, even for the last year’s assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.
But after taking over power in the state, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the priest-politician from Gorakhpur, has assured that building a Ram temple in Ayodhya is a key agenda. With a grand show in the temple town on Diwali eve and multiple plans for religious tourism, the saffron-clad Chief Minister has signalled that the matter is a priority for his government.
The Ram Rajya Rath Yatra will be flagged off on Tuesday evening from Karsevakpuram — a workshop set up in by the VHP in the 1990s, where workers carve pillars in the hope they will be used in the construction of the Ram Temple one day.
The rath – a converted Tata mini truck — would travel through BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra as well as Karnataka, where the party is hoping to wrest power from the Congress in this year’s assembly elections. The last stretch of journey will be through Kerala, where the BJP is trying to expand its footprint.
The yatra is being officially organised by a Maharashtra-based social organisation, and it will see participation from organisations like the VHP and the Muslim Rashtriya Manch, which are affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh – the BJP’s ideological mentor.
Leaders from non-BJP ruled states like Kerala say they are not comfortable with the idea, especially in view of the 1990 rath yatra held by LK Advani, which had triggered violence in parts of the country.
Senior CPM leader MA Baby from Kerala admitted that he was “very apprehensive” and hoped the yatra won’t materialize.
Calling the idea “divisive”, the CPM politbureau member said it was an effort by the BJP to deflect the political discourse following its huge loss in the recent by-elections in Rajasthan, especially in view of the 2019 general elections. “Communal polarisation is the political plank on which BJP and Modi, especially the RSS, is dependent on,” he said.
The organisers of the yatra dismissed any suggestion of political motives. “It is not our fault that the election is coming up. We are not holding this yatra to campaign for the BJP,” said Maharishi Shanta Bandhi of the Shri Ramdas Mission Universal Society, the chief organizer of the yatra. Sharad Sharma, long time spokesperson of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, agreed. “The intention is that a grand Ram Temple should be built in Ayodhya”.
The yatra plans have also made the Muslim litigants backing the demand for a Babri masjid chary.
Zafaryab Gilani of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, which recently made it clear that they will not give up their demand for a masjid, said they will consult their lawyers “if there is any interference in the matters of the court”. He also demanded that the government look into the issue, since a “rath yatra is a matter of law and order”.
Nearly 2,000 people had been killed following the demolition of the Babri masjid in December 1992. The thousands of right-wing activists who razed the mosque, said it had been built on a temple marking the birthplace of Lord Ram.