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Since 1st March, 1999
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Delhi packs flight to funeral
- PM, deputy and Sangh stalwarts to attend mahant’s last rites

New Delhi, July 31: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani will attend the funeral of Mahant Ramchandradas Paramhans, who died in Ayodhya this morning.

RSS sarsanghchalak K.S. Sudarshan, joint general secretary Madan Das Devi and BJP president M. Venkaiah Naidu will accompany Vajpayee to the funeral at Ayodhya’s Tulsi Ghat tomorrow in what would probably be a rare show of BJP-RSS solidarity.

Another senior Sangh functionary Mohanrao Bhagwat has already reached Ayodhya to witness the last rites of the president of the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas.

The attendance list at the funeral will be in sharp contrast with that in 1998 when another leading light of the Ramjanmabhoomi movement, Swami Vamdev Maharaj, passed away in Hardwar. The event had not merited even a token condolence mention from the BJP.

But Paramhans was the only surviving witness out of the six who claimed to have seen an idol of infant Ram “mysteriously” appearing inside the Babri Masjid on the night of December 22, 1949. The “sight” laid the foundation of one of the most important political movements in Independent India.

Paramhans was just 40 when he petitioned the Faizabad district court in 1950 against removing the receiver who was appointed by the Centre after Ram Lalla’s idol “appeared” and for allowing puja to go on without state intervention.

The petition, the first in a chain of litigation that enmeshed the issue, was withdrawn in 1996. At the age of 86, the mahant said he had “lost” faith in the judiciary.

When the VHP sought to steal the thunder from the Ayodhya clergy, its leaders realised they could not go far without bringing Paramhans on their side. He provided the money and muscle in the initial years. The mahant’s sprawling Digambar akhara was at the epicentre of the movement. But the importance of the akhara lay in the fact that it was the controlling authority of the 18 akharas which oversee the Kumbh melas.

In Ayodhya, Paramhans “owned” innumerable temples and smaller akharas. The most important was Maniram ki Chavni, managed by his confidant, Nritya Gopal Das.

The muscular element was evident in the choice of the names: if akhara translated itself as a wrestlers’ gymnasium, chavni meant a cantonment. Indeed, the Maniram complex had the look of a garrison in October 1990 when the kar sevaks first laid siege to the mosque under Paramhans' command.

The mahant’s evening addresses delivered over a specially-installed mike at Maniram was the strongest evidence that the then Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav had failed to thwart the kar sevaks.

However, despite his constant barbs at minorities, the “secularists” and, of late, Vajpayee and Advani, Ayodhya lore had it that Paramhans' “best friend” was Mohammad Hashim Ansari, the prime litigant on behalf of the Sunni Waqf Board for the ownership of the disputed land.

On a casual day when the VHP lay low, it was a common sight to see Paramhans and Ansari walk the lanes of Ayodhya hand in hand.

Ironically, that relationship was another factor which made him valuable to the Sangh parivar. In its endeavour to solve the Ayodhya tangle, the Vajpayee government was reportedly working on Ansari to withdraw his case through Paramhans. How close he was to success would never be known but BJP sources admitted that a “priceless” link was lost.

In the eulogies that flowed today, Vajpayee said Paramhans he was “firm like a mountain and affectionate like the river Saryu”.

“His contribution towards the Ramjanmabhoomi movement will be etched in golden letters,” the Prime Minister added.

The RSS used the death to hit out at the judicial system and “vowed to carry forward the struggle for building a Ram temple to its logical end”.

Sudarshan said: “The fearless warrior saint knocked on the doors of every court to get justice for his case but could not witness the starting of the actual construction work during his lifetime.”

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