‘Pledge to build temple on ruins of mosque’, millions of Hindus plan to march
Millions of Hindus will wake up at crack of dawn this Saturday, five days before start of India’s general election and march to nearby temples to chant a sacred hymn and renew a pledge to build a temple on ruins of a 16th-century mosque.
Hardline Hindu allies of Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said, “They will mobilise more than 10 million people on April 6, start of Hindu New Year to shore up support for contentious plan to build a temple in northern town of Ayodhya.
But while event will keep focus on a core demand of India’s Hindu nationalists, it will not overtly be part of BJP’s election campaign, signalling a softer approach by ruling party, multiple sources familiar with discussions said.
Commitment to construct a grand temple in Ayodhya to Hindu god-king Ram has been part of BJP’s election manifesto since 1990s and has helped party garner Hindu votes in state and federal elections since then.
However, BJP and its allies are concerned that focusing on temple issue could be too hot to handle, especially since it is now party in power. It could worsen communal tensions and trigger religious riots in country, said a senior BJP leader.
“We cannot underestimate power of Hindu fringe groups and it’s best not to ignite these issues,” said a BJP leader who is overseeing party’s election strategy.
BJP leader and two other senior party members, two federal ministers and four members of hardline Hindu groups, who didn’t wish to be identified due to sensitivity of issue, said they reached a consensus to fold temple issue into a broader religious and cultural discourse, without being too vocal about it.
Following a meeting between senior religious leaders and BJP politicians in January, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or World Hindu Council, which is leading movement for building Ayodhya temple, put its agitation on hold in February.
Details of meeting have not been published previously.
VHP, which shares ideological ties with BJP, would renew its demand only after general election, its leaders said.
“While we remain committed to cause that is so close to hearts of Hindus, we’re unanimous in our view that it’s not right time to amplify temple issue,” said Alok Kumar, international working President of VHP. “Politicisation leads to controversies.”
The VHP has distributed pamphlets and issued appeals on social media to participate in a chanting ceremony aimed at renewing pledge to build the temple on spot where many Hindus believe Ram was born, where mosque stood.
Sanjay Mayukh, a BJP spokesman in New Delhi, declined comment on April 6 event being organised by VHP.
“We wish them (VHP) a success and we will celebrate Hindu New Year too,” said Mayukh.
A militant Hindu mob tore down mosque in 1992, sparking riots that killed about 2,000 people in one of worst instances of sectarian violence in India since independence in 1947.
The mosque, built by a Muslim ruler in 1528, has been one of prime causes of conflict between India’s majority Hindus and minority Muslims, who constitute 14 percent of country’s 1.3 billion people.
India’s Supreme Court is now in control of site in Uttar Pradesh State and has been weighing petitions from both communities on what should be built there.
In March, country’s top court appointed an arbitration panel to mediate in dispute. It’s verdict is yet to come.
BJP election candidates confirmed they are avoiding temple issue in their campaigns.
Former government minister and BJP lawmaker, Sanjeev Baliyan, who is contesting election from a constituency in Uttar Pradesh said that he has instructed supporters to “refrain from using Ayodhya issue in any political rally”. At least 65 people were killed in clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Baliyan’s constituency in 2013.
Instead, Baliyan said, his campaign would focus on BJP’s achievements during its last five years in power and national security issues.