Kashi temple was first on RSS agenda, now it awaits completion of Ayodhya’s Ram Mandir | OPINION

It appears that for many years Kashi and Mathura have been pushed to the back burner while the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya has reigned supreme on the RSS' priority list.

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Reclaiming the Kashi temple in Varanasi arrived on the Sangh’s agenda way before the Ram temple did, writes Rahul Shrivastava.
Reclaiming the Kashi temple in Varanasi arrived on the Sangh’s agenda way before the Ram temple did, writes Rahul Shrivastava.

A slew of recent statements from the top leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh and the BJP on the Gyanvapi mosque issue in Varanasi have been interpreted as reluctance towards becoming an active part, at least visibly, of the temple run by the Hindutva forces with the widest footprint in the country.

The loudest voice was that of the RSS chief, the conscience-keeper of the parivaar, Mohan Bhagwat. He proposed that everyone involved in the Gyanvapi Masjid row sit together and find a solution with mutual consent.

Why escalate disputes? As for Gyanvapi, we have certain faith, some traditions, but why look for a Shivling in every mosque?
- Mohan Bhagwat

Amid claims that a ‘Shivling’ was found on the premises of the Gyanvapi mosque, the RSS boss advised, “There is history which we cannot change. That history is not made by us, nor by today's Hindus or Muslims. It happened at the time when Islam came to India with invaders. During the invasion, temples were destroyed to weaken the fortitude of the people wanting freedom.”

A quick read leads to the conclusion that the RSS chief’s tone on Gyanvapi is in sharp contrast to what the RSS or Bhagwat’s predecessors had maintained on Babri Masjid in Ayodhya and the ferocious campaign they orchestrated which eventually led to the demolition of the mosque on December 6, 1992.

After all, for decades the Sangh had backed their claim on the disputed land in Ayodhya by arguing that Mughal ruler Babur ordered the demolition of a temple and construction of a mosque.

The Sangh’s opinion on the survey at Gyanvapi that escalated the ‘Shivling’ claims is a far cry from the cheer with which it had greeted an order by the Lucknow bench of Allahabad High court on March 5, 2002 directing the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to undertake excavation at the disputed site in Ayodhya or the 2003 ASI report that claimed existence of ruins of a grand temple where the mosque stood.

Gyanvapi mosque

Bhagwat’s stance came days after BJP president JP Nadda took a cryptic carefully-worded position at a press conference. Replying to my question on whether the temples at Kashi and Mathura were still on the BJP’s agenda, Nadda had said, “These issues are dealt with in accordance with the Constitution and the ruling of courts. The BJP will follow it in letter and spirit. Only the Ram Janmabhoomi issue was taken up as part of the party’s political agenda following a resolution on it at the Palampur national executive meeting in 1989, and after that there has been no [such] resolution.”

So is the Sangh which pilots the BJP changing? Or is the change just another strategy?

Insiders say things have changed as the top leadership of RSS is now a blend of idealism and pragmatism. "Lessons have been learnt since 2004. Over the years, the effort has been to build a correct balance. No over-idealism or over-pragmatism. There will be new projects and a consolidation of the old,” a member of the RSS national team said.

FIXING TEMPLE PRIORITY -- KASHI, MATHURA OR AYODHYA?

The RSS’ current response on Gyanvapi and, for that matter, the Mathura temple may be more reconciliatory compared to its aggression on the Ram temple at one point.

But reclaiming the Kashi temple in Varanasi arrived on the Sangh’s agenda way before the Ram temple did. During its Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha (ABPS) in 1959, the Kashi temple issue was flagged in a resolution titled ‘Issue of Temples Turned into Mosques’.

Kashi temple

The 1959 resolution said:

Many intolerant and tyrannical foreign aggressors and rulers have, during the last one thousand years, destroyed many Hindu temples and built mosques in their place, with a view to smiting the nationalistic sentiments of our people. It is a matter of great regret that even after the end of the British Rule, our own Government should have remained totally callous to the legitimate rights of the Hindus over such temples.The A.B.P.S. therefore demands that the Government. should take steps for the return of all such desecrated temples and ensure their renovation. Out of all such temples, the Kashi Vishwanatha temple occupies a special place of honour.

But after the 1959 resolution, the Kashi temple disappeared from the RSS drawing board. There was complete silence for 44 years on the issue at the Sangh’s meetings and strategy sessions.

It re-emerged in 2003 when a resolution was passed during the meeting of the Akhil Bharatiya Karyakari Mandal (ABKM). The resolution was titled ‘Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi’.

It said, “The ABKM reiterates its unqualified support to the just demand of the Hindu society for restoration of the holy shrines of Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi to them. Bhagwan Ram, Bhagwan Krishna and Bhagwan Shankar symbolize Bharat's age-old civilization, cultural and spiritual identity.”

The 2003 resolution that came little over a decade after the demolition of Babri mosque not only endorsed the claim on the three temples but also exhorted the public to “raise their voice”.

It said, “It is not out of place here to remind the countrymen about the restoration of the glory of Somnath immediately after independence. On the same lines, restoration of three other important holy places - Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi - should also be done..”

The RSS in 2003 reflected the Kashi temple claim in its playbook after almost a decade of the BJP and other more strident Hindutva organs like the VHP, Bajrang Dal and Durga Vahini chanting “Ayodhya toh bas jhanki hai, Mathura Kashi baaki hai” (Ayodhya is just the beginning, Kashi and Mathura are next).

Again after the 2003 resolution, the RSS did not revisit the Kashi and Mathura issues. Its 2020 and 2021 resolutions have stuck to the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.

THE HISTORY OF RSS TEMPLE RESOLUTIONS

The 1959 resolution was the first claim on a temple with a past by the RSS. Prior to that, the Sangh’s top agenda used to be cow slaughter, Pakistan, China, language and states reorganisation policies of the Nehru government.

The RSS was banned on February 4, 1948 after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination. M S Golwalkar, who had taken over as the organisation’s chief after the death of founder Dr K B Hedgewar in 1940, was sent to jail. The ban didn’t come off easily despite a Supreme Court order acquitting all leaders in August 1948.

The Sangh took almost a decade to regroup and spread its reach. Its political arm, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), was launched on October 21, 1951.

The imposition of emergency by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1975 proved to be a crucial milestone for the RSS. Most top Opposition leaders were in jail and their political outfits were in disarray. The RSS with its finely knit structure became a link between the jailed leaders of all political hues and the public. That helped the organisation wash off some of the mud the Congress and other rivals had thrown at it since Gandhi’s assassination. So much so that the BJS found acceptability among anti-Indira forces that came to power in the 1977 elections after emergency was lifted.

But the Janata Party experiment that subsumed several political ideologies failed in 1979. By then, the Sangh had found prominent leaders in Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani. Its isolation had reduced. BJS was scrapped, BJP was launched in April 1980 and the Sangh was looking for a booster to catapult the outfit.

Then came a crucial but less known turning point for the RSS in 1981. In Tamil Nadu’s Meenakshipuram area, about 150 Dalit families converted to Islam to escape oppression. The RSS was rattled by the scale of the function and the presence of Muslim MPs and MLAs.

Realising that this trend could be replicated across the country and had the potential to become a rallying point, the RSS adopted a resolution in the meeting of its Akhil Bhartiya Karyakari Mandal (ABKM) titled Meenakshipuram Conversion.

In 1981, it said, “The A.B.K.M. is deeply concerned over the recent mass conversions of Hindus into Islam at Meenakshipuram.such conversions do not merely imply a simple change in way of worship, but destruction of national culture and sentiments. The Karyakari Mandal calls upon the entire Hindu Society to bury deep the internal caste dissensions and the pernicious practice of untouchability and stand up as one single homogeneous family.”

The crucial turning point that gave real muscle to the RSS and its affiliates in temple politics was the opening of locks at Ayodhya for Hindu worshippers in 1986 on the orders of a district court, abetted by the Congress governments in UP and at the Centre. That was the big opportunity the Sangh was waiting for. It came right after the Shah Bano mess the Rajiv Gandhi government had created.

The RSS’ March 1986 resolution titled ‘Ramjanambhoomi Locks’ was its first ever on the Ram temple at Ayodhya. The ABPS resolution started engaging new stakeholders in the struggle for a Ram temple by thanking the “sants” steered by the VHP for “pushing the demand for a Ram temple at Ayodhya”.

For the first time in history, an emboldened RSS urged the government “to hand over the Janmabhoomi site and adjacent land for development to the newly minted Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas”. It came with an appeal to the Nyas by the ABPS “to formulate a blueprint that includes contribution from citizens for the revered construction project”.

By 1987, the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya had become the mainstay of RSS’ drive. In that year came another resolution by the ABPS titled ‘On Rama Janmabhoomi’.

It said, “The Rama Janmabhoomi Complex locked by the Government, has been, because of Court's orders, opened and with the restrictions removed the Pooja ceremonies have started there in full swing. Yet the task of renovation of the temple in keeping with the greatness of Sri Rama remains incomplete.”

The resolution made the Ram temple a part of Hindu consciousness by stating, “The dilapidated Ram Janmabhoomi temple too needs to be restored to its old glory. Then alone will the agonised cry of the nation's conscience get assuaged.”

The resolution also pitted the desire of Hindus against the “attitude of certain Muslim leaders who have refused to identify themselves with our national mainstream”.

The mention of Mughal king Babur cropped up here as the resolution termed the “opposition of the Muslim bodies in sync with a foreign aggressor like Babur”.

The ABPS yet again appealed to the government “to allot sufficient open ground and extend all necessary facilities to the Sri Rama Janmabhoomi Trust and desist from giving any encouragement to the tactics of obstructionists and religious fanatics.”

Here came the clarion call - “The Sabha calls upon the entire Hindu society in general and the Sangh Swayamsevaks in particular to whole-heartedly take part in the task of putting up an imposing shrine at the Rama Janmabhoomi”.

Then came the important moment in 1989 when the Ram Janamnbhoomi agenda moved from the RSS drawing board to the BJP playbook. Ram temple became a common demand while the temples of Kashi and Mathura receded to the background.

During the BJP’s three-day national conclave from June 9 onwards in 1989 at Palampur in Himachal Pradesh, the BJP pushed and adopted a resolution that said, “The sentiments of the people must be respected, and Ram Janmasthan handed over to the Hindus — if possible, through a negotiated settlement or else, by legislation. Litigation certainly is no answer.”

In the same year, the RSS passed a resolution titled ‘Shri Rama Janmabhoomi’.

It challenged the legal route for the settlement of the Babri mosque Ram Janmabhoomi dispute by stating that, “The holy birth place of Lord Shri Ramachandra cannot be made a subject of judicial probe. The A.B.K.M. regrets to note that the Rajiv Gandhi government, with an eye on electoral arithmetic, has chosen to entangle the issue in the judicial process.”

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi is on record to have said that he was instrumental in withdrawing the case pending in the Calcutta High Court about the Holy Quran with the observation that the courts cannot have jurisdiction over the holy book. He also remarked that he amended the law to neutralise the effect of the Supreme Court judgment in the Shah Bano case (thereby, trampling upon the legitimate rights of Muslim women). But in the matter of the Ram Janmabhhomi, the same Prime Minister was bent upon making it a debatable issue for the courts to decide, RSS said.

It is in this resolution that the RSS body brought in the element of Hindus being discriminated and Muslims being appeased. The resolution appealed to “Hindu brethren” to extend their hand of generous help and support for the erection of the temple.

The campaign that was launched included Shri Rama Shila Poojan for laying of the foundation stone and eventual construction of the temple.

The November 9 Shilanyas ceremony at Ayodhya only ended Act One of the Ram temple movement. I was there standing only a little away from a 7x7x7 feet long, wide and deep pit where saints and VHP activists performed shilanyas and buried communal harmony.

(Photo: India Today archives)

That pit at the singhdwar (main entrance) with the proposed sanctum sanctorum of the temple inside the mosque's building became a powder keg. On that day, VHP’s Ashok Singhal had said triumphantly, "If the government thinks it has been bulldozed into allowing the foundation stone laying ceremony, we can bulldoze them further. The awakened Hindus will not stop now."

This happened because on September 27, the then Union home minister Buta Singh and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister ND Tiwari met VHP leaders to forge a peace accord and offered the first concession to the VHP by laying down in writing the conditions for the Ramshila yatra (procession of consecrated bricks).

Once the VHP got the go-ahead for the shila yatra, the accord became an ordinary piece of paper. About 1.5 lakh bricks landed in Ayodhya in the first week of November, increasing the VHP's bargaining power.

Post 1989 shilanyas, the Ram temple movement grew exponentially. Kashi and Mathura had faded to the background.

The BJP was actively mobilising people. And that became the trigger for the most critical development that would bring the cry of Hindutva to political centre-stage.

The next RSS Karyakari Mandal in 1990 passed a resolution on Ram Janmabhoomi temple. It backed the decision taken by the 'Sant Mandali' which had met in Haridwar in June 1990 under the Vishwa Hindu Parishad umbrella to start construction of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple in Ayodhya on October 30, 1990.

Responding to a call given by the President of the Ram Janmabhoomi Mukti Yajna Samiti, the RSS assured “all-out cooperation” in the venture.

Driven by the deadline of October 30 for start of construction of the Ram temple, on September 25, 1990, LK Advani - the new Hindutva mascot - started his Rath Yatra after offering puja at Somnath Temple in Gujarat.

The yatra was to eventually culminate at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh where Advani would lay the foundation for the construction of a majestic Ram temple.

On October 19, 1990, Advani's rath entered Bihar. Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad, sworn in barely seven months earlier, sensed an opportunity to prove his secular credentials. On October 23, he asked the Samastipur district magistrate RK Singh to arrest Advani.

In the wee hours of October 24, 1990, Singh knocked on Advani's doors and served the arrest warrant. Advani and Pramod Mahajan were locked up in the Masanjore Inspection Bungalow, 35 km from Dumka in undivided Bihar, now in Jharkhand.

Soon, the BJP drew a political fault line on the Ram temple issue in Delhi when Atal Bihari Vajpayee marched to Rashtrapati Bhawan and withdrew support from the VP Singh government. That led to collapse of the 11-month-old National Front government.

On October 30 and November 2, 1990, karsevaks tried to storm the Babri mosque in Ayodhya. The UP Police opened fire on two separate days. Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav earned the sobriquet of “Mulla Mulayam” and the mandir movement earned a wound to show the nation.

This was reflected in the ABPS resolution in 1991 which called upon “the entire Hindu society in general and the Sangh Swayamsevaks in particular, to brace themselves for any amount of sacrifice and hardship and take forward this agitation with all earnestness and dedication.”

The resolution said, “Victory is assured. Lord Shri Rama’s blessings are always with us.”

The Kashi and Mathura temple issues had faded into the distant past and the Ram temple reigned on top of the RSS and BJP agenda.

The aggression on the Ram temple issue brought dividends and on June 24, 1991, the BJP came to power in UP - home to Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi. The reign continued till the night of December 6, 1992. On the evening of December 6, the Babri mosque was brought down by frenzied karsevaks with oodles of help from the state government which didn’t order police action, forcing the Centre to bring UP under President rule.

The next few years were a period of tumult both in UP and in Delhi.

In 1994, the ABPS to keep passions alive passed a resolution stating, “The Pratinidhi Sabha urges the Central Government that it should not try the patience of the Hindu society and promptly hand over the acquired piece of land to Shri Ram Janmbhoomi Nyas”

The BJP came and went out of power in UP but the Ram temple movement stagnated. Then, in 1998 and again in 1999, Vajpayee came to power in Delhi. He was heading an unwieldy coalition of 24 parties. Compulsions of coalition forced the Ram temple and Hindutva agendas to the backburner.

In January 2001, a dharma sansad in Prayagraj urged PM Vajpayee to remove “all hurdles in the way of Ram temple” by Maha Shivratri in March 2002.

The ABPS promptly endorsed the call of the dharma sansad in its 2001 resolution on Ram temple.

It said, “ABPS welcomes the wise decision of the Dharma Sansad to allow sufficient time for the Government to do away with the hurdles. The ABPS feels the ball is in the Government’s court and it is up to them to explore every single avenue to respect the deep-felt national sentiment vis-a-vis Ayodhya Ram Temple.”

But Vajpayee kept talking consensus and expressing faith in the judicial resolution of the dispute. On March 15, 2002, the VHP in a show of defiance aggressively wanted to take Shilas (carved stones) for the temple to the disputed site in Ayodhya. PM Vajpayee sent a PMO official Shatrughan Singh to mediate. The shiladan yatra was curtailed. The VHP’s international working president Ashok Singhal faced the ire of Ram bhakts who openly abused him for diluting the programme. The relationship between Vajpayee and the Sangh nosedived.

In July 2003, at a national conclave in Raipur, the BJP threw its hands up and ruled out a law for the temple. Its resolution on Ram temple in Ayodhya said, “In the National Agenda of Governance that the NDA adopted at the time [1998], as also in its common manifesto for the 1999 Parliamentary elections, there was no reference to the issue of Ayodhya Bharatiya Janata Party remains committed to its stand that a magnificent Ram Temple should be constructed at Shri Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya. The Party believes that dialogue between representatives of Hindu and Muslim communities the best option.”

It is then that the RSS stepped in. In 2003, it served a reminder to the Vajpayee government and to the restive Hindutva brigade that it stays committed to the 1959 resolution that talked about “the just demand of the Hindu society for restoration of the holy shrines of Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi to them and Bhagwan Ram, Bhagwan Krishna and Bhagwan Shankar symbolising Bharat's age-old civilization, cultural and spiritual identity.”

ON KASHI MATHURA, RSS SILENT BUT VHP VOCAL

But was the RSS’ 44-year silence on Kashi and Mathura a case of amnesia? Or did the RSS actually make a choice?

The answer is easier to find if one looks at other events in RSS’ life. It needed to insulate first the BJS and later the BJP from strident agendas to improve their political acceptability.

That issue was tackled by the creation of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), the deep saffron outfit, on August 29, 1964. The outfit has taken the saffron flag to millions of rooftops since that day.

Initially, VHP didn’t display the belligerence that later became its trademark. It was supposed to rally Hindus and create a connect between the stakeholders in the religion including saints and priests.

The demeanour of the early VHP began changing in the 1980s under the Sangh’s third chief Balasaheb Deoras. Active politics became an important vehicle for the dissemination of Hindu nationalism. Slogans like “Hinduism in danger” and Ram Janmabhoomi campaigns emerged after RSS pracharak Ashok Singhal, a B.Tech from BHU, entered the VHP.

The firebrand Singhal was the Prant Pracharak of Delhi and Haryana during the emergency. He was the man behind the Virat Hindu Samaj, a rally at Delhi’s Hyde Park Boat Club on November 15, 1981 under the chairmanship of Dr Karan Singh. This was eight months after the community conversion of 700 Harijans to Islam in Meenakshipuran in Tamil Nadu. It brought the Hindu orthodoxy, the outraged swamis and aghast Hindu politicians together.

Singhal used the RSS emphasis on Ayodhya and started constructing a movement. The Bajrang Dal, an aggressive unit of VHP’s youth wing led by Vinay Katiyar, was crafted in 1984.

In 1984, VHP adopted a resolution to “free” the Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya. Singhal started bringing saints and heads of powerful Hindi maths and akhadas together.

The RSS may have gone silent on Kashi and Mathura but the task of laying a claim on temples was carried by the VHP.

That became clear in April 1984, when during the first large gathering of saints and akhada heads called Dharma Sansad, the organiser VHP issued a call for the removal of mosques at “Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi”.

In fact, prior to the demolition of the Babri mosque in 1992, the VHP and Bajrang Dal slogans included a war cry “3 nahin to 3000” (Give the three temples Kashi, Mathura and Ayodhya or an agitation demanding 3,000 temples demolished by Muslim rulers will start).

Later, in September 1984, the VHP started a RamJanki Rath Yatra from Bihar’s Sitamarhi, the town considered sacred by Hindus as the birthplace of goddess Sita. During the yatra, Kashi and Mathura temples were regularly mentioned.

In its ABPS at Nagpur on March 15, 1985, the RSS with emphasis on Ram temple said that “Ramjanmbhoomi Ayodhya, Krishna Janmabhoomi Mathura and Vishwanath Temple Kashi are most sacred places for Hindus”.

While the RSS and the BJP stayed off the Kashi and Mathura temples, the VHP never let go.

For example, at the first dharma sansad organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi in 1984, a decision was taken to launch the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

At the next two-day dharma sansad held in Udupi from October 31, 1985, eight resolutions were passed, including one demanding that Shri Ramjanmabhoomi, Shri Krishnajanmasthan and the Kashi Vishwanath complex be immediately handed over to the Hindu samaj.

The resolution said, “These three places be immediately handed over to Hindu society. A country-wide campaign should be undertaken, if the Uttar Pradesh Govt. does not acquire Shriram Janmabhumi and hand it over.”

The third Dharma Sansad in Prayag on the occasion of Maha-Kumbh in January1989 accepted the model of a Ram temple to be built at Ayodhya “for the purpose of re-establishment of Bharat as Hindu Rashtra”.

The sansad asked VHP to take the temple issue beyond UP. The plan to bring one “Shri Ram Shila” from every village in the country with a Dakshina of Rs 1.25 from each Hindu and the date and venue of Shilanyas of Shri Ram Janmabhoomi mandir were also announced.

GYANVAPI’S EARLY ARRIVAL

Sangh leaders admit that the Ram temple issue was accorded primacy as compared to Kashi and Mathura from 1959 onwards. They said the most significant thing about the Ayodhya temple was that unlike Kashi, it’s the birthplace of a revered God - Lord Ram. “The emotive pull of Ram temple and Ayodhya was higher. The Ram temple existed till 1992 in a mosque. In Kashi and Mathura, there were temples though adjacent to mosques. Hindus could visit and pray there. But it took a struggle to get the locks opened in Ayodhya. It was a tougher test,” a senior RSS man explained.

Sources in the RSS and VHP say that no one in the Sangh parivar is distancing from the Kashi-Mathura temples and the ideological commitment is still there.

There seems to be a specific reason why the responses are seemingly tepid. In an interview to India Today in August 2020, the VHP chief had said “right now all our energies are focused on construction of Ram temple” when asked about Mathura and Kashi.

The statement is critical to decipher the current responses. Sources in the RSS and VHP say Gyanvapi and Mathura were not on their timeline currently and it’s the survey and the leaked videos that made the issue rise to centre stage.

This means the Sangh was not planning to take up the Kashi-Mathura issues till the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya was complete. As per the construction timeline announced, the Ram temple is likely to be ready for prayers by the end of 2023 or early 2024. This means there would have been relative silence on the twin issues till 2024.

A senior RSS functionary said, “The Gyanvapi issue fell like a premature fruit. And after that, what has happened in three weeks would have normally taken three years. That’s because the ground is fertile.”

VHP chief Alok Kumar during a recent conversation told me, “We always knew that we have a good case in Kashi. But with the revelations, we now have a better case.”

However, he, like the RSS chief and JP Nadda indicated that the parishad is in no rush. Everyone is waiting and watching. A member of the BJP national executive with said, “Few decades ago, before launching the Ram temple movement, the RSS had to undertake the Ganga and Bharat Mata yatras. The truck with water from river Ganga was an attempt to make the land fertile for sowing seeds of the temple movement. Today, things have changed as the Hindu awakening is at a high.”

And that’s why Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) publicity in-charge Sunil Ambekar during an event in New Delhi said, "There are some facts which are coming out in the open. I believe we should let the facts come out in the open. In any case, truth always finds a way to come out. How long can you hide it? I believe the time has come to put the historical facts in the right perspective before the society.”

After eight years in power, the Sangh, BJP and the Modi government have reluctantly come to learn from Vajpayee’s playbook that being in power is different from being in opposition as every statement and action has domestic and global implications. PM Modi has crafted an image and he prefers to be judged on his governance with Hindutva as a supporting player, not the mainstay.

That explains what RSS chief Bhagwat had said on November 9, 2019 when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. Responding to a question on the issue of the Gyanvapi and Mathura mosques, he had said:

The Sangh got associated with this (Ramjanambhoomi) movement as an organisation because of the historical reasons. It is an exception. Now we will again be associated with human development and this movement will not remain of concern to us.

In the past, the Sangh had to dovetail a lot of its energies and resources into the Ram temple agitation. Its other programmes and agendas suffered. Worse, fulfilling the temple promise depended on courts. Delay and drift due to coalition compulsions disappointed core voters and led to electoral setbacks.

That’s why direct intense associations are being avoided . For example, at one time the Vishwa Hindu Parishad used to organise dharma sansads to keep the religious heads engaged. Now, sadhus are organising their own monastic gatherings like the one in Haridwar in December 2021.

The significance of these statements can be also deduced from what has been left unsaid. The Sangh, BJP and the Modi government are not stepping back from pursuing the temple claims or Hindutva. They are merely keeping room to manoeuvre through political and constitutional hurdles.

A very senior RSS functionary in fact provided a hint about what may come in future. He said, “BJP president Nadda said the party would go by the decision of courts and Constitution. Ignore the courts part. How do you interpret the constitutional element? If the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, passed by Parliament on September 18, 1991 is a hindrance, doesn’t the Constitution provide the government the power to amend or junk a law?”

(Rahul Shrivastava is the National Affairs Editor at India Today. Views expressed are personal.)