By Dr Satish Misra
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s laying the symbolic brick at the foundation laying ceremony of Ram temple which became possible after the Supreme Court judgement last year that granted the entire 2.77 acres of disputed land in Ayodhya to the Hindu litigants marks an important landmark in country’s political journey.
To me personally, who has been a witness to Ramjanmbhoomi movement having professionally reported various stages of the movement, the development does not evoke either desired élan or confidence in the entire process that has finally made the construction of a temple possible at ‘Ayodhya’ which literally means where no war takes place.
For me, name of Ram has accompanied my childhood days and formative years as my maternal grandmother, my mother and her sister were all devotees of the Lord. I used to frequent Ramlilas that are enacted annually during autumn months which used to culminate in the killing of Dashanen or Ravana by arrows of Lord Ram with war cries of Jai Sia Ram which we all used to chant and shout. My grandfather and my father, who unlike my mother were not very devout followers of conservative streak of Hindu faith, nevertheless taught me and my siblings that Ram lives and is found in every particle of earth. In short, Lord Ram’s image that got itched in my subconscious was that of Maryada Purhosttam Ram who is compassionate and upholder of justice. An ideal who could be respected and revered since he was willing to accept Shabri’s ber (fruit) despite Shabri hailing from a lowly caste.
Later, when I grew up and read Gandhi, the concept of Ramrajya an ideal state where all subjects were happy and were treated equally appealed to my young mind that was seeking answers for many tormenting questions like poverty and treatment of Dalits in society. During my three years of stay at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in early 70s, these questions pushed me for a while to go to Karl Marx or socialist thought, but though being positive its practices in Communist countries and lack of freedoms in German Democratic Republic, where I stayed for little over five years for my Ph. D programme, distanced me from these left -wing philosophes bringing me back to our Gandhi whose revolutionary approach offered many answers to my haunting questions.
After my decade long stay in two Germanies-East and West- on my return to India in 1983, I began to freelance for a New Delhi based left wing daily newspaper- Patriot-. In 1988 after a year long stint at The Amrita Bazar Partika, I returned to Patriot as a special correspondent where I was asked to report the Bharatiya Janata Party by my Editor R K Mishra.
Here hangs a small personal tale. When Mr Mishra decided to change my beat from the Congress to the BJP, I asked if the change of beat which was entirely his prerogative was being done as sort of punishment as I was most uncomfortable in handling the BJP which to me was an anathema as both my grandfather and my father were dead against the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh and later my leftwing exposure had further cemented that aversion towards the BJP which was nothing but the political wing of the RSS.
I was told by my Editor that it was rather a reward to me as he was sure that I would report the party objectively and would never ever convert to the BJP thus benefitting the paper. I accepted the challenge and did the BJP reporting actively till 2008 when I retired from The Tribune upon attaining 60 years of age. I introduced myself to all top BJP leaders which included apart from Advani, K N Govindacharaya, Kedar Nath Sahni, K R Malkani, Kushabhau Thackrey. J P Mathur, Jana Krishnamoorthi, Pramod Mahajan, Arun Jaitely and many others including Narendra Modi and told them that while in my newsreporting I will remain objective while commenting or analyzing the party I would differ with them because I would need to interpret their statement looking at the intent behind the spoken or written word. I stuck to it all along giving no chance to the BJP leaders to complain though they did not like it yet had to suffer me because they could not find distortions or false interpretations.
Anyway, the BJP had been decimated at the 1984 general election and had been reduced to two seats in the Lok Sabha and was resetting its political agenda for its resurrection. Lal Krishna Advani had taken over the party’s reins from Atal Behari Vajpayee whose philosophy of Gandhian Socialism had been dumped into the dustbin of history and an aggressive Hinduatva driven political plank was being readied by his successor. Advani appeared confident that Hinduatva was the key to power and in my interactions with him, he always underscored this point putting stress on genuine secularism meaning the BJP was genuinely secular while political opponents were pseudo secularists.
The issue of Ramjanmbhoomi temple versus Babri mosque was a constant feature of the BJP’s agenda. In my off the record or non-official interactions either one to one or in collective of daily beat correspondents, party leaders often poured their venom against Muslims whom they projected as anti-India. I often challenged them but then my protestations mattered little as they were dismissed coming from a leftwing liberal who were not liked but were at best tolerated.
Anyway, this love-hate relationship continued while I continued to report Advani his yatras like from Somnath to Ayodhya which was stopped in Bihar by the then state Chief Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav. The phase of Mandal versus Kamandal came when former Prime Minister V P Singh whose government was being supported by the BJP as well as the Leftwing parties including the CPM creating an ideological wonder, accepted the Mandal commission recommendations granting reservation in jobs to OBCs.
The move pushed the BJP to sharpen the Rammandir movement that led to
the march to Ayodhya in 1990 when Mulayam Singh government sought to
handle the agitation with an iron hand even ordering the state Police to
fire at the assembly of mainly VHP and BJP Karsevaks who had assembled
in Ayodhya to perform rituals. Mulayam Singh Yadav was immediately
called by the Sangh and BJP leader as Maulana Mulayam Singh for his
alleged sympathies for Muslims thus further sharpening the Hindu-Muslim
During the entire course of Rammandir movement or agitation till the demolition of the structure of the Babri Mosque on 6 December 1992 which I reported from the spot, BJP and VHP leaders played their cards astutely as their statements were often contradictory.
For example, BJP leaders including Advani were not ready to accept any court’s verdict on the dispute as they loudly proclaimed it to be an issue of faith where courts had no jurisdiction. Finally, as we all know that the Supreme Court’s judgement of November 2019 paved the way for the construction of the temple whose foundations was laid on 5 August 2020. Double speak was the most effective political weapon that the RSS, BJP and VHP leaders deployed to reach where they arrived now.
Late Vijayraje Scindia, who used to hold the post of vice president both in the VHP as well as in the BJP, would make opposite statements on the same day contradicting what she had earlier stated at the VHP or BJP forum, Upon being confronted with the contradiction in her statement at the two platforms, she would try to wriggle out saying that I said as the VHP office bearer and not as the BJP member.
Another example is from the day of Babri mosque demolition, none of the leaders including Advani or Murli Manohar Joshi tried to appeal Karsevaks to desist from demolition but rather clapped encouraging those elements in their criminal pursuit. When I read statements of these two leaders that they made before the court in the criminal proceedings in Lucknow, I am shocked as they are refusing to admit or deny what they said on that fateful day or earlier.
The way for construction of a grand temple at Ayodhya has been paved through duplicity and double speak which was possibly a strategy for restoring the Hindu pride as the Sangh family claims but for me the coming temple remains far away from the ideals that I as the follower of the Sanata Dharm admire in Lord Ram.
History is being written on false premises and unjustified claims. It is a history of the powerful that is being written with ink of discord and a pen of brute power. This can’t be a tribute to my Lord Ram whose dispensation was inclusive and had made no distinction or discrimination between his subjects or followers.
While I may end marveling the grand design or architecture of the temple that is going to come up, it is not going evoke reverence in me for Ram residing in the new abode. He would continue to remain within me. Deeply admired and revered as ever.
(Dr Misra is an author, researcher and senior journalist)