If India’s independence on August 15, 1947, was immortalised in the words of Jawaharlal Nehru as India’s ‘Tryst with Destiny,’ diehard Ram temple buffs are likening the ‘bhoomi pujan' today to the country's ‘tryst with divinity’.
The ritual will mark not just the end of a long and arduous legal struggle that stretched 134 years, but also serve as a signpost of a new-found Hindu assertiveness.
Unapologetic about going ahead despite the raging pandemic, the BJP hopes to convert the ritual into a grand spectacle. Only it is hoped the incident will not turn into a day of majoritarian triumphalism (SEE EDIT).
The event will be watched from the periphery by a much mellowed LK Advani, who turned the Ayodhya temple into the centrepiece of Hindu resurgence. Breaking his silence on the eve of the ground-breaking ceremony, he struck the right note. It is "a historical and emotional day not only for me, but for all Indians". "Destiny made me discharge 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," recounts Advani.
However, the face of the movement, with his ‘rath yatras’ dominating politics in the late 80s and early 90s, along with the other party veteran, Murli Manohar Joshi, will watch the proceedings online. After much fuss, the Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust -- entrusted with the task of temple building -- issued them a last-minute telephonic invite.
Ironically, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath perform the bhoomi-pujan, there would be virtually no opposition leader on the dais, not even erstwhile ally Uddhav Thackeray whose foot soldiers had spearheaded the movement.
Ahead of PM’s visit, a Deepostav was held at the “Ram ki Paidi” on the banks of Sarayu river with three lakh diyas adorning the embankments. The deepotsav will continue for three nights. The entire area has been decked up with colourful lights and posters of Lord Ram with religious music blaring from loudspeakers.
Devotees across India lit diyas at home and in temples as advised by the temple trust, keeping the pandemic sensibilities in mind.
The event will be telecast live on national broadcaster Doordarshan and the prime minister is likely to address the nation from Ayodhya soon after the pooja.
He is expected to fly from Delhi at 10 am in a special plane and reach Lucknow, from where he will take a chopper ride to Ayodhya. He will spend three hours in the city and also visit the Hanuman Garhi temple or Lord Hanuman.
The trust has invited 175 guests for the foundation stone-laying ceremony, including 135 seers belonging to as many sects. Soil and water from across India has been ferried, silver bricks are ready and the entire city has turned into a citadel with heavy security.
The situation in Uttar Pradesh, though, is alarming with several ministers and BJP chief infected with coronavirus; a senior minister also died this week.
PRIYANKA TWEET: The main opposition party, the Congress, which has maintained a silence thus far, extended moral support to the ceremony on Tuesday. Changing party’s stance on the matter, party general secretary Priyanka Gandhi posted on Twitter, “Hope tomorrow's ceremony will become an occasion for "national unity, fraternity and cultural congregation".
"Simplicity, courage, restraint, sacrifice, commitment, are the essence of the name Deenbandhu Rama. Ram is with everyone," read a Hindi tweet of Priyanka, who is in-charge of the party in Uttar Pradesh.
Political analyst Ramesh Dixit, however, dubbed the statement as “bookish” which “lacked conviction”.
The Communist Party sought to raise its voice but the opposition is limited to the telecast of the event on DD, not the event per se.
REGIONAL PARTIES SILENT: Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav preferred to remain silent. Incidentally, it was the Samajwadi Party which reaped the maximum political benefit from the demolition of Babri mosque, which enabled it to garner Muslim votes and catapult to power for many times thereafter.
The Bahujan Samajwadi Party chief Mayawati has been supporting the BJP unofficially for long. Hence, no one expected any reaction from her side.
NCP chief Sharad Paward did criticise the event last month, but it was a token protest. Uddhav Thackeray, Shiv Sena chief, suggested a “symbolic online event” instead of an actual ceremony in the pandemic but then proceeded to transfer Rs1 crore to the temple fund to show his commitment towards the Hindutva cause.
Asaduddin Owaisi, the AIMIM chief, has questioned the PM’s participation in the Temple ceremony alleging that it is a violation of a constitutional post as India is a secular country.
Resentment in BJP
There is resentment within the BJP itself as leaders have lost the opportunity to attend the event. Many of them had participated in the temple movement but no one has the courage to speak out against the party.
“If it was not being held at this time, we all could have gone there,” says a senior leader requesting anonymity.
Uma Bharti, BJP vice president and former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, is perhaps the only BJP leader who voiced her feelings.
The leader, who was a prominent face of the Temple movement in the nineties and is battling a court case of her alleged involvement in the Babri mosque demolition case, has reached Ayodhya but will not be attending the ceremony.
“Ram’s name and Ayodhya are not BJP’s patents. Both are for everyone. If someone thinks like this, he should understand that all of us are mortal. Only Ram and Ayodhya are immortal,” Sushri Bharti said while speaking to the media.
Ramesh Dixit, political analyst, said: “There is no legal hurdle for construction of the temple. But Indian constitution is still democratic and secular. The PM is violating it by attending the ceremony. We cannot equate this with the Somnath Temple event in 1950 which was attended by then president Rajendra Prasad and Deputy Prime Minister Vallabh Bhai Patel. Our constitution was very new then and PM Nehru had still not attended the function.”
“Besides, as per rules, if any corona case is detected the area is sealed. In the Ramjanmabhumi area two priests and 16 cops tested positive a couple of days ago. Yet, it hasn't been cordoned off which could lead to spread of the coronavirus. Official invitees could be just 150 but security personnel, locals and media could be in hundreds whose life is at stake,” says Dixit who also questions the timing of the puja which is being held in ‘chaumasa’.
Several seers, too, have raised objections over the timings.
‘‘In Hindu religion, no shubh karya (good work) is done in four months of monsoon. There was no urgency to do it now,” Shankracharya Swaroopanand Saraswati has said.
Some have even claimed that there is a Rahu kaal (regarded as inauspicious) between 11:30 am and 1 pm.
Municipal authorities and the animal husbandry department have been asked to “keep the premises safe from monkeys". They will use catapults and wooden batons to shoo away any monkeys that are spotted in the neighbourhood. But the most effective weapon will be gram and fruit, an official said.