The bhoomi pujan, designed to be a grand celebration of the triumph of the Ram Mandir campaign, comes 10 months after the Supreme Court’s verdict ended one of the longest-running court battles in independent India.
It will go down as a momentous occasion for a cause that, starting in the late 1980s, turned into the mascot, which helped BJP acquire pre-eminence in the following decades while transforming Hindutva from a fringe phenomenon into mainstream concern.
The launch of temple construction at the site where Babri Masjid had stood before being demolished on December 6, 1992, by a mob of kar sevaks has attracted few protests — a far cry from the days when it loomed large as a wedge issue and would influence elections beginning with 1989.
The Yogi Adityanath government in UP and BJP have worked hard to turn the day, already a landmark in Hindutva imagination because of the fulfilment of the goal of extinction of Jammu and Kashmir’s “special status”, into a spectacle.
Ayodhya has been decked up for the ceremony and over 3,500 security personnel have been deployed across the temple town for foolproof security. Concerned over the spread of coronavirus, the authorities are encouraging people not to come to the town, asking them to mark the occasion by celebrating in their homes. Roads leading to Ayodhya display hoardings with pictures of the Ram temple and Ram Lalla, the infant Ram, the deity now housed in a makeshift temple. Borders of Ayodhya district, however, have been sealed. SSP Deepak Kumar said the focus of the force was on maintaining the Covid-19 protocol.
The PM will arrive in Ayodhya via Lucknow around 11.30am and reach the Ram Janmabhoomi makeshift temple after offering prayers at Hanumangarhi, the seat of Lord Hanuman, 3 km away. The bhoomi pujan will last 15 minutes, between 12.30 pm and 12.45 pm, and will be performed in the presence of 175 select guests. Modi, along with UP governor Anandiben Patel, CM Yogi Adityanath, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and temple trust president Nritya Gopal Das will be on the dais. The PM will also plant a Parijat tree and release a commemorative postal stamp on the Ram temple. The ceremony will be telecast live on Doordarshan.
Adityanath, who has appealed to people to watch the ceremony from their homes due to Covid-19 restrictions, also called upon people to light diyas on Tuesday evening. He lit diyas at his official residence in Lucknow.
This will be Modi’s first visit to Ayodhya after becoming PM six years ago. Though he visited the border of Faizabad-Ambedkar Nagar to address a rally for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, he sidestepped the clamour for construction of the Ram temple. Local BJP workers recall that his previous visit to the temple town was in 1991, when he had accompanied the then BJP chief Murli Manohar Joshi during his Tiranga Yatra.
Ironically, although efforts for liberation of Ram Janmabhoomi — the site millions of Hindus consider to be the birthplace of Lord Ram — had been made since the early British times, it was the Rajiv Gandhi-led Congress government that helped revive the mandir campaign by, it is said, facilitating unlocking Ram Lalla in 1989. The move was seen as meant to mollify the majority community, which was incensed by Rajiv giving in to pressure from the Muslim clergy not to implement the Supreme Court verdict in the Shah Bano case.
Having uncorked the passion for the mandir, the then PM failed to follow up the opening gambit. Although he did launch his 1989 campaign from Ayodhya by promising Ram Rajya, Rajiv’’s reluctance to promise the mandir raised suspicions about his sincerity, leaving an opening for BJP.
Always a vocal votary of mandir, BJP promised to construct a grand temple in its 1989 manifesto even as fellow saffron affiliate, VHP’s Ashok Singhal, scripted a massive mobilisation campaign.
The next year saw BJP leader L K Advani launch his “Somnath to Ayodhya” rath yatra — a campaign that culminated in demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992, sparking communal violence and leading to a tense status quo where a “makeshift” temple continued to function.
In 2010, the Allahabad high court recognised Hindus’ claim to the mandir site, but apportioned the disputed area between the two communities, assigning one-third to Muslims. The campaigners for mandir earned an emphatic victory in the SC, clearing the way for construction.
The situation, however, has changed nearly 10 months after the SC delivered its verdict. “The dream of crores of people living in the country and abroad is going to come true on August 5. Construction of a temple at Lord Ram’s birthplace is starting with his blessings. It will not only be a symbol of faith of scores of people but also be the reflection of India’s culture. It is like Deepawali in August,” UP BJP chief Swatantra Dev Singh told TOI.
One of the litigants from the Muslim side, Iqbal Ansari, said all legal disputes had ended when the SC delivered its judgment in favour of the Ram temple. “We never thought of filing a counter plea. And now PM Modi himself is coming for the foundation-laying ceremony. We all are here to welcome him,” said Ansari, who has been invited by the Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust for the bhoomi pujan.