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Temple a non-issue, sants' road to Hindutva passes through Ram Setu

Nistula Hebbar  |  New Delhi 

Exactly 15 years after the cataclysmic bringing down of Babri Masjid by thousands of frenzied kar sewaks, Ayodhya lies quietly and so do the various protagonists associated with it.
Embarrassed at the failure to realise their aim of building a "bhavya" (grand) temple for 'Ram Lalla' at the place called Ram Janmabhoomi despite six years of BJP rule at the Centre, the sants of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas have found new issues to occupy them.
The rallying point for current Nyas chief Nitya Gopal Das is the Ram Setu issue. "We are of course still committed to the temple, but after the destruction of the Babri Masjid, josh thoda kam hai (the enthusiasm has waned a little)," he said.
The Nyas has no love lost for the BJP, which it feels exploited the movement to get power and then reneged on its promise to build the temple.
"For their selfish reasons, people don't want the temple to be built now, but the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) is still involved," says Das.
"When the BJP came to power, only a few leaders like Kalyan Singh appeared serious about the issue. In any case, even the Nyas has diverted a lot of energy to the Ram Setu issue. No matter what, we will continue to fight the legal battle for the temple," he said.
Vishweshwara Teertha occasionally speaks of the Ram Temple but now increasingly involves himself in realpolitik. His remarks that all Hindu forces must unite behind Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi was a thinly-veiled reference to the fact that he wanted Bharati back in the BJP.
"The Ram Janmabhoomi movement is not just about the temple but about Hindus reclaiming their space," he says. Actively involved in the Ram Setu issue as well, he continues to be heard by senior BJP leaders, including veteran LK Advani and party chief Rajnath Singh.
Vishweshwara Teertha, perhaps because of his language problem (he speaks only Kannada) could not capture the imagination of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement the way Sadhvi Ritambhara did. A fiery orator, Ritambhara's speeches were all the rage in the early 90s "" the tapes selling in thousands. However, the aftermath has left her a hermit.
Ritambhara, now called Didi Maa, runs Vatsalyagram in Vrindavan, an ashram which doubles as an orphanage and undertakes other philanthropic activities.
Ritambhara's representatives said she did not want to speak. "Her only message is that no child should be deprived of the comfort and love of a mother," said a spokesperson of the ashram, Vatsalyagram.
Reticence is not, however, a quality for which Mahant Dharam Dass of the Narwani Math in Faizabad is known for. Dass is, in fact, had the legal title of some land which pertains to the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.
According to him, the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, under false pretenses, made itself the heir to the land on which the temple was to be constructed.
"What totally disillusioned me was the 2002 Shila pujan under the NDA regime. It proved to me that the VHP, like the BJP, was actually made up of businessmen and politicians. It was shocking and I immediately formed the Vishwa Dharma Raksha Parishad and ended the power of attorney for my land that I had given to the Nyas," he said.
The power of attorney was handed over to his friend, Swami Hardyal Shastri. Shastri, along with Dass, had filed a case in the high court under Section 92 of the criminal procedure code seeking the dissolution of the Nyas.
"The Section says if a trust does not fulfil the purpose for which it has been set up, it has no right to exist," says the legally-savvy Shastri.
Last heard, Dharam Dass had offered himself as a candidate to the Congress in Gujarat to fight Narendra Modi, but he was turned down.
All those who were associated with those events 15 years ago had probably never imagined the state of affairs years later. Ram Lalla still resides in a makeshift accommodation, the BJP is out of power at the Centre and Ram bhakts (disciples) are more concerned over a bridge that he is supposed to have built, hoping that the magic that his name evokes works again.

First Published: Fri, December 07 2007. 00:00 IST