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Holy men worship temple of division

Ayodhya, Dec. 4: The Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Ram temple movement was supposed to unite the sadhu samaj. A decade after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, it has left them more divided than ever.

Most of them are not with the VHP. They don’t want the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas sponsored by it to be involved in the temple construction.

At the forefront of the battle are the mahants of Ayodhya, who had been shedding each other’s blood before Babar’s army commander Mir Baqui raided the city in 1528. Today, they are busy fighting each other over who should build the Ram temple, when and how.

Pulling the strings from behind the stage are the sankaracharyas and other Hindu leaders. Swami Swaroopananda of Dwarka Peeth and Swami Bharati Tirth of Shringeri are openly anti-VHP. Swami Jayendra Saraswati of Kanchi and Swami Nischalananda of Puri are less vitriolic but do not endorse the VHP’s militancy.

The only sankaracharya with the VHP is Swami Vasudevananda. “But he has been restrained from designating himself as sankaracharya of Badrikashram by the court,” points out a supporter of his opponent, Swaroopananda.

In Ayodhya, Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas chief Ram Chandra Paramhans’ hegemony has been challenged by Mahant Dharam Das of Hanumangari — Ayodhya’s oldest and most venerated shrine before the temple-mosque dispute exploded on India’s political scene.

“VHP leaders are political terrorists. Allowing them to construct the Ram temple would amount to rewarding the criminals,” Dharam Das says. Once a member of the VHP-controlled trust, he has turned into its most vehement opponent.

“Initially, I was taken in by their tall claims and proclaimed commitment to the cause of Ramjanmabhoomi. I could never imagine that these people would go astray and use the temple card only to fill their coffers,” he adds.

Dharam Das last month floated a Vishwa Dharam Raksha Parishad to fight the VHP’s “petty politicking”. The parishad resolved “to ensure peaceful co-existence of both a temple and a mosque” at the disputed site.

It has now demanded that VHP leaders disclose the accounts of their trust. “Over the years they have collected crores of rupees in the name of temple construction, but the bank accounts show very little. I would now like to ask them what they have done with all that money'” Dharam Das says.

Paramhans, chairman of the VHP-sponsored trust, is apparently unperturbed by this opposition. “No one can stop us from constructing the Ram temple in Ayodhya,” he says. He curls his moustache as he challenges his rivals: “Where were these mahants of Ayodhya when Ram Lalla was languishing in a Mughal jail' It is the Nyas which was at the forefront of the movement.”

Paramhans’ bravado aside, differences among the leading lights of the trust are a cause of concern for VHP leaders. Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, vice-chairman of the Nyas, for instance, is unhappy with the way things are.

“I want the Ram temple, but I also want the affairs of the trust to be straightened,” says Nritya Gopal, who is still nursing the injuries sustained last year when some miscreants threw a bomb at his car. “It had nothing to do with temple politics, but I have powerful enemies,” he adds.

A year before the attack on Nritya Gopal, Paramhans had survived a similar assault, which showed that the rivalry among Ayodhya mahants could, not infrequently, turn bloody.

Lal Das, a priest of the makeshift Ram temple in Ayodhya, was gunned down by unidentified assailants in his Bihar village in 1993, when he returned home after being sacked from the post by the BJP regime. Police inquiries revealed that his assailants were hired by a rival mahant. Jayendra Vidyarthi, Lal Das’ BJP government-appointed successor, met a similar fate two years later.

“Ayodhya’s mahants are a reckless lot and can stoop to any level,” admits a senior police official of Faizabad. He claims that more than 50 per cent of the mahants have a criminal past.

The main challenge to the VHP, however, comes not from the mahants but from the peethadheeshwars and mahamandaleshwars of the Hindu akharas spread all over the temple town. Some of them have recently propped up the Sanatan Dharma Manch to combat the VHP. “We have the support of all the four officially recognised sankaracharyas, the powerful Akhil Bharatiya Akhara Parishad (a representative body of 13 prominent akharas) and religious leaders,” claims a manch spokesman.

The manch wants the temple construction work to be held under the Nirmohi Akhara. Its founders argue that, unlike the VHP trust, the Nirmohi Akhara has the legal sanction to construct the Ram temple as it is the main party in the cases pending in the high court in Lucknow. Besides, the Ram Chabutara and the adjacent Sita Ki Rasoi were in the possession of the akhara for centuries.

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