Mandir Movement Belongs to VHP, Others Only Try to Own It For The Limelight: Shridhar Damle

Mandir Movement Belongs to VHP, Others Only Try to Own It For The Limelight: Shridhar Damle

The US-based scholar says Shankaracharya Swaroopanand Saraswati was a Congressman with family and business before taking ‘sanyas’. He has the support of Congress governments.

Eram Agha

New Delhi: Shridhar Damle, who co-authored the book “RSS, A View to The Inside” with American academic Walter K Andersen, says that though the Sangh wants the Narendra Modi government to continue, it believes the Congress at a localised level would not oppose the construction of a grand temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya.

While the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has suspended its mandir campaign till the 2019 Lok Sabha elections as the organisation does not want it to become a poll issue. The decision was taken after the conclusion of Dharam Sansad held on the sidelines of Kumbh, in Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh.

Two days earlier, Shankaracharya Swaroopanand Saraswati, who too camped at the biggest congregation of Hindus across the globe, announced that the foundation stone for a grand Ram Temple will be laid at the disputed site in Ayodhya on February 21.

Damle speaks to News’s Eram Agha on the past and future of the temple movement.

Edited excerpts

What do you have to say about the recently concluded ‘Dharam Sansad’ by VHP in Prayagraj and ‘Param Dharam Sansad’?

The goal of VHP was to organise the Hindu society through religious leaders, but as most of them have different personalities and their own agendas, it creates a problem.

Is it for the first time that the VHP faced the challenge?

This has been happening since the beginning of VHP’s journey. It is difficult to keep religious leaders together with a common agenda. Ram Janmabhoomi, Amarnath Yatra or Sabarimala are populist and sensitive issues of faith for the Hindu society. These issues are a way to keep religious leaders together as they have a large-scale public support and act checks and balances to political parties.

What is the relevance of February 21, 2019, when Swaroopanand plans to lay the foundation stone for the Ram Temple in Ayodhya? Where does the VHP stand in the agitation?

The movement of Ram temple belongs to the VHP. Others can try to own it to be in the limelight, but it is VHP’s. During the Ramjanmabhoomi stir in the 90’s, Prime Minister PV Narsimha Rao had used Chandraswamy (self-styled godman who rose to national prominence due to his closeness to the former PM) to divide the VHP.

Today, there is sometimes Swaroopanand or Uddhav Thackery (Shiv Sena chief) speaking on the issue, but they don’t have that all-India base.

Swaroopanand (the controversial Dwarka peeth Shankaracharya known for his criticism of Sai Baba and comments on women) was a Congressman with family and business before taking ‘sanyas’. He has financial as well as manpower support of Congress governments.

He calls ‘Param Dharma Sansad’ days before VHP’s Dharma Sansad. The recently concluded sansads reveal there is a power struggle among other Hindus religious leaders too.

How do you look at the equation between the larger Sangh Parivar – VHP, RSS, BJP vis-à-vis the Ram temple movement?

In 1980, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) gave more pracharaks to the VHP than to the BJP because the sangh wanted to have checks and balances.

Also, around that time, when the BJP people were in power during the Janata Party rule, they showed their allegiance to Gandh-ian socialism, which is not very popular in the RSS circle. After the BJP was formed, it adopted Gandh-ian socialism, as a continuation of the Janata Party and carried the same Janta Party flag. Swayamsevaks wanted continuation of Deen Dayal Upadhyay’s ‘Integral Humanism’ as the ideological foundation which the BJP adopted in mid-80’s during LK Advani’s presidency who replaced (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee.

What was the fallout of this disenchantment?

Many people in the RSS were not happy with their stand and openly criticised the early policies of BJP. At that time, Moropant Pingle (the Babri Masjid demolition plan is widely believed to be his brainchild) played an important role. Unhappy with the BJP for adopting Gandhian socialism, Moropant asked swayamsevaks ‘why depend on BJP?’ We should have some popular movements and agendas, so that the BJP has to adopt and support them in their own interest. This led to the Ekatm Yatra (VHP’s mass contact programmes?) and the Ram Janambhoomi and Amaranath Yatra agitations.

The VHP has suspended its temple movement… what lies after elections, in your opinion?

I was told that no matter what happens, whoever comes to power in the country, the Ram Janambhoomi stand won’t change. A makeshift mandir is already there on the disputed spot, one only needs to wait for a splendid temple. It is just like the Kashmir issue — whosoever is there, there will not be any change in stand.

The Sangh parivar wants continuation of the Modi government in 2019, but feels that state-level Congress leadership would not oppose the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. Having said that these leaders cannot dare challenge the supremacy of the Gandhi family. Rather than a Congress-mukt Bharat, the RSS would love to see a Gandhi family-mukt Congress. Plan A is BJP in power.

And plan B?

The Plan B is to keep a good relationship with state and district-level Congress leadership. I feel that just like the Congress didn’t oppose the ban on cow slaughter or checked missionary conversion via the Niyogi commission in the past, Congress state governments and state leadership will provide covert cooperation in future too.

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