April 18, 2016

India: religious leaders associated with the VHP's Ayodhya "movement" to meet on a different agenda 'nationalism' & to give the VHP a pan-national identity

The Telegraph, April 17, 2016

VHP drops Ayodhya from Kumbh plate
Radhika Ramaseshan

New Delhi, April 16: The Vishwa Hindu Parishad will not hold a " dharam sansad", or religious parliament, at the Simhastha Kumbh Mahaparv in Ujjain although the organisation had been toying with the idea to revive the momentum for raising a "permanent" Ram temple in Ayodhya.

The Kumbh Mahaparv, a religious congregation every 12 years on the banks of the Shipra river, will be attended by religious leaders associated with the VHP's Ayodhya "movement", but with a different agenda on hand.

"To foster the cause of nationalism and give the VHP a pan-national identity, this time our primary focus is on bringing together sadhus, sants and mahants (temple custodians) from Assam, Odisha, Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Maharashtra. In the past, representation from the east and the south was nominal. Our gatherings used to be dominated by religious leaders from north India," VHP general secretary Champat Rai said.

However, the "nationalism" shibboleth may be a cover to avoid causing potential embarrassment to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other BJP leaders. Modi plans to visit the Ujjain Kumbh, which begins on April 22 and ends on May 21, as does BJP president Amit Shah. "A political statement from the VHP, demanding that the Ram temple be built within a deadline, might make it difficult for the PM and Shah to face people there," a VHP source said.

Instead of the dharam sansad, the religious leaders will meet on May 3, 4 and 5 and discuss "generic" national matters, the Ayodhya temple being one of them. "However, it is difficult to predict what will transpire at a sadhu sammelan," VHP spokesperson Vinod Bansal said.

But Surendra Jain, the VHP's joint general secretary, explained that a "religious parliament" would require a formatted agenda and structured discussions that would result in the passage of resolutions and an agenda for action the body would have to implement within a time frame.

"There is no occasion for one right now. The Centre is completing its second year in office. Privately we have been assured by government sources they will act on the Ram temple. The BJP's manifesto is committed to the temple's construction. We have no reason to doubt the government's intention," Jain said.

The BJP's 2014 election manifesto had reiterated the stand to "explore all possibilities within the framework of the Constitution to facilitate the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya".

Asked if the VHP did not wish to unsettle the Modi government right now, Rai's oblique answer was: "The Ram temple is enshrined in people's minds as a symbol of India's pride and self-respect."

Rai added: "The need of the hour is to instil the overall sense of pride and self-respect in every citizen. If somebody says he will not accept it, we may conclude his loyalty lies elsewhere, to an external force and not to the country."

The VHP held the last dharam sansad in six phases in 2005.

At the Allahabad Kumbh Mela in February 2013, the VHP's religious leaders had publicly called for projecting Modi as the BJP's prime ministerial candidate in the 2014 elections. "It's just over three years since that show of solidarity. We cannot say or do anything to disconcert the Prime Minister so soon," a VHP source stressed.