New Delhi/Ayodhya, Aug. 1: For the first time in years, Atal Bihari Vajpayee got the better of Ashok Singhal.
The VHP leader used the death of Mahant Ramchandradas Paramhans to issue the warning that he would be forced to adopt a hard stance towards Vajpayee if the Prime Minister stuck to the NDA agenda and ignored the demand for a Ram temple.
“It appears from the Prime Minister’s attitude that he has decided to stick to the NDA agenda on the Ram temple. He should openly state his views even if he wants to support the NDA agenda,” Singhal told PTI some time before Vajpayee spoke at the mahant’s funeral in Ayodhya.
Before hundreds of mourners, Vajpayee announced that a “grand” temple would be built at the birthplace of Ram.
“We would fulfil the mahant’s last wish. We are confident that all obstacles would be removed and the path paved for it,” he said. Vajpayee added that he hoped “good sense” would prevail on those opposed to the temple and “together we will fulfil his dream. We feel confident in front of his funeral pyre”.
Singhal did acknowledge the significance of Vajpayee’s presence. “We had always wished that Atalji should have come to Ayodhya, especially when we had been spearheading such a movement. We are happy that he has come today.”
Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani joined the show of solidarity. He said: “Nobody would be able to stop fulfilment of the mahant’s dream for the temple. It would be definitely fulfilled.”
Earlier, Advani said on television: “I have no doubt that the Ram temple will be built at the birthplace of Lord Ram.” But he preferred settling the dispute through negotiations than a court verdict.
“It is believed that the issue will be resolved either by a court verdict or with a settlement. But I personally feel that even if the court gives a verdict in favour of temple construction, the controversy will not end. It will continue. But if a settlement takes place, it will be very beneficial.”
Advani, who has reportedly been deeply involved in the latest Ayodhya initiative which engaged the Kanchi Sankaracharya as the principal mediator, added: “The feelings I have seen among Hindus and Muslims have given me the confidence that there will be an agreement between the two on temple construction.”
He said the Centre wanted to resolve the dispute either through the courts or through a negotiated settlement. “Beyond this the government would not do anything,” he said in another repudiation of the VHP’s demand for a law to build a temple.
But the BJP was sceptical. Sources wondered if the two leaders had “got carried away” by the atmosphere at Paramhans’ funeral.
A senior BJP functionary said: “It is but natural that at Paramhans’ funeral, the leaders could only have said we will make his dreams come true. But nobody, including the government, knows how this will happen even today — through the courts or by a dialogue.”
Observers believe that there were reasons for Vajpayee and Advani to say what they did today in Ayodhya. First, Paramhans was as central to the temple movement as Ram himself by virtue of being the sole living witness to the unexplained “appearance” of Ram Lalla’s idol inside the Babri mosque.
“This one incident caused a series of others which culminated in the demolition. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the BJP’s career and those of its leaders were thanks largely to Paramhans. They had to pay a debt of gratitude and this is what they did today,” the sources said.
There were “purely electoral” reasons, too. “Vajpayee and Advani sought to make up with their traditional Hindutva-minded voters.” They hoped that by “outdoing” Singhal on his political turf, Vajpayee and Advani would silence the VHP for the moment.