BJP patriarch LK Advani — who transformed the fortunes of his party as much as he ignited the Hindu consciousness in the majority of the Indian population by owning VHP’s Ram Janmabhoomi movement in the late 1980s — could not hold his emotions back on the eve of the ground-breaking ceremony of the temple in Ayodhya.
Advani exclaimed it was “a historical and emotional day not only for me but for all Indians”. He had become the face of the Ram Mandir movement, with his rath yatras dominating politics in the late-1980s and early ’90s.
“Destiny made me perform a pivotal duty in the form of Ram Rath Yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya in 1990 which helped galvanise aspirations, energies and passions of its countless participants,” said Advani.
Advani, 92, who described tomorrow’s ceremony as a “dream close to my heart”, is not attending it in person. He and the other party veteran, Murli Manohar Joshi, will instead be present via videoconference — a decision dictated by their ripe age considered vulnerable to an attack of coronavirus.
A controversy was whipped up by a section of the media that has had a dubious history of demonising a young BJP politician at his prime and then shedding crocodile’s tears for him after he retires. They said these senior leaders of the party had not been invited. The Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust — entrusted with the task of temple building — issued a last-minute telephonic invite to the two leaders, who took a backseat over the last few years.
“It is my belief that this temple will inspire all Indians to imbibe His virtues,” Advani said in a video statement this evening, acknowledging the “auspicious occasion” to be graced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 5 August.
“It is also my belief that Sri Ram Mandir will represent India as a strong, prosperous, peaceful and harmonious nation with justice for all and exclusion of none so that we can truly usher in Ram Rajya, the epitome of good governance,” Advani added in the video statement.
The movement Advani took over from the VHP had seen an epilogue by way of razing of a 16th-century Babri structure, which many Hindus believe was constructed over the debris of an ancient temple demolished by Mughal invader Babar’s general Mir Baqi. Muslims, on the other hand, called it false history and submitted that a mosque built once anywhere — whatever be the history of that plot of land — can never be displaced, defying several instances of mosque displacements across the Islamic world. Archaeology holds a position different from both; it says several temples stood on the spot, one built on the ruins of another by different kings, since the era before Christ. Historian Koenraad Elst says he does not know who demolished the last ancient temple on the spot but it is unlikely the early Islamist invaders left Ayodhya, which was right in the middle of their area of conquest in north India, intact for Babar to arrive and demolish it.
Sacrifice God asked for?
On 30 October and 2 November 1990, then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Mulayam Singh Yadav had ordered his police to fire at Hindu activists, who called themselves karsevaks inspired by Sikhism, killing 16 people and injuring many others. The incident earned him the epithet “Mulla Mulayam”.
Then, more than 2,000 people died in the violence that followed after the demolition of the Babri structure on 6 December 1992. Advani, Joshi, Uma Bharti and Kalyan Singh are among the BJP politicians accused of conspiracy in the matter; a case has been running against them ever since, as the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) under the then government of the Indian National Congress (INC) claimed Advani and the other leaders had delivered incendiary speeches from a dais close to the mosque.
Case lingers on
Last week, Advani appeared before a special CBI court in Lucknow via video link. He was asked more than 1,000 questions over 4.5 h. He has denied all charges, his lawyer said.
The Supreme Court finally resolved the dispute over the Ram Janambhoomi site last year, giving a go-ahead for the temple, the construction of which will be inaugurated on 5 August under the aegis of a specially appointed trust. As per the court order, the Centre has given Muslims land elsewhere in Ayodhya for a mosque.