New Delhi, Feb. 5: The Centre has moved an application in the Supreme Court to lift the ban on religious activity in Ayodhya’s 67.703 acres which the Ramjanmabhoomi trust claims as its own.
The Union government’s petition was filed without fanfare minutes before the court registry closed yesterday and on a day the Prime Minister met the Kanchi sankaracharya to discuss ways to break the Ayodhya logjam.
The news of the petition was made public late tonight, capping a day of dramatic declarations by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. VHP leader Praveen Togadia asked the government to hand over the “undisputed land” to the temple trust before February 23 or face a nation-wide agitation.
Last March, as the temple supporters stepped up the build-up for a shiladaan, the Supreme Court had issued an interim stay order banning “any kind of religious activity” and blocking the handover of even the undisputed land to anyone.
The Centre’s application filed yesterday seeks to vacate this stay order on the ground that peace prevails in the area now.
While issuing the interim order, the court had directed listing of the main petition — filed by Mohammad Aslam against the proponents of the temple — after 10 weeks. The government feels that since the 10-week period has elapsed, the petition should be listed for early hearing.
The Opposition reacted with fury, saying it was a ploy to hand over the land to the temple trust as demanded by the VHP. The Congress and the Samajwadi Party said they would “firmly” oppose the move.
VHP spokesman Vireshwar Dwivedi welcomed the government’s petition and said: “It reflects its good intention. We hope this good intention is sustained till the undisputed land which was in the Nyas’ (the trust) possession is handed over, ideally before our dharam sansad.”
The sansad — the countdown to which had ignited the fresh VHP offensive — will meet as scheduled on February 22 and 23 in Delhi.
The government’s decision to approach the court was the result of concerted pressure from the RSS as well as the VHP.
Madan Das Devi, the RSS joint general secretary and its pointman with the Centre and the BJP, had said earlier in the day: “The government’s one-point agenda must be to remove the legal hurdles and ensure that the undisputed land is handed over to the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas at the earliest so that construction can start. The disputed land is the subject of court case so we can await a decision.”
Devi, who met the Kanchi sankaracharya yesterday, reportedly assured him that the Centre would do its best to facilitate the start of construction.
In the present circumstances, the BJP and the government are preferring the legal option to a political alternative. The Kanchi seer stated it in so many words yesterday when he stressed that a solution would have to be found within the legal ambit without inviting the court’s censure.
Togadia has been publicly taking the position that the Nyas would not amend its original blueprint for the temple and would use the “undisputed” as well as “disputed” land, but BJP sources expressed confidence that the petition in the court would give the government a “cover and a breather”.
Sources said VHP patriarch Ashok Singhal — who reportedly disapproves of Togadia’s bluntspeak — was of the view that the legal option must be exhausted before launching the next phase of the temple agitation.
If the court vacates the stay order, the next step will be to bring an Ordinance to hand over the “undisputed” portion to the Nyas. If the court upholds the stay, the government can seek cover under the argument that it tried its best.
Earlier in the evening, Togadia said the shape and modalities of the jan andolan will be unveiled at 6 pm on February 23 when the VHP’s dharam sansad (religious parliament) ends. But he indicated that bandhs and gheraos would form part of the agitation. “I assure you whatever will be done this time will not be symbolic,” he added.
“I can’t comment on whether or not India had an aar paar ki ladayee (a fight to the finish) with Pakistan but the fight for the Ram temple will be a fight to the finish,” he added, taking a dig at the Vajpayee government.
But he maintained that the VHP had not served an “ultimatum” on the government nor fixed a date on which to begin temple construction.