The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ayodhya high priest ready for give and take

Ayodhya, Aug. 3: The newly-appointed chief of the VHP-sponsored Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, Mahant Nritya Gopal Das, is a votary of a negotiated settlement of the Ayodhya dispute.

“I am confident that Ayodhya’s Ram temple will be constructed in the spirit of amity. Why should we adopt the path of confrontation when we can find an amicable solution to the dispute,” the 65-year-old mahant of Maniram Ki Chavni in Ayodhya said.

Compared to his predecessor, Ramchandradas Paramhans, Das has adopted a more positive attitude toward Kanchi Sankaracharya Jayendra Saraswati’s recent initiative for an out-of-court solution to the decades-long dispute.

“I think the Muslim brothers can be persuaded to cooperate in the construction of (the) Ayodhya temple. There is no need to be unduly pessimistic because the Kanchi seer’s initiative has run into a roadblock,” Das told reporters soon after his selection.

The new Nyas chief is even willing to forego the Hindu claim to the Kashi and Mathura shrines. “If the Muslims extend their cooperation for the construction of (the) Ram temple in Ayodhya, we can consider dropping the demands for the Kashi and Mathura shrines,” he said.

Das’ stand suggests a shift in the temple trust’s stance toward the Vajpayee government, VHP sources said.

They confirmed that two months ago, deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani had asked Paramhans to accept the Kanchi seer’s suggestion that Hindus drop their claim to the other two shrines if Muslims agree to hand over the Ayodhya site.

“The then Nyas chief had rejected it categorically,” a source said.

Das welcomed Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s assurance that Paramhans’ last wish would be fulfilled and “all the hurdles in temple construction would be removed”, but showed no intention of meeting either the Prime Minister or his deputy to follow up on the pledge.

“The government has given a public assurance. It is now for the Prime Minister and his deputy to take steps to facilitate early construction of the temple,” he said.

The responsibility of the Nyas is to carry on the work of temple construction at its two workshops in Ayodhya and Jaipur, and not lead the agitation, he said.

“An Uchchadhikar Ram Mandir Nirman Samiti has been formed by the sants to fix the date for temple construction and everybody should accept its decision,” Das said.

Some VHP leaders were unsure about Das as a candidate to succeed Paramhans. “But they had little choice when one of the principal trustees, Dr Ram Bilas Vedanti, proposed his name at the meeting of the trust members,” the source said.

Das is the third president of the temple trust, formed by the VHP in 1986 with Jagatguru Ramananda Shivaramacharya as its first chairman. Paramhans, of the Digambar akhara, was elected president in 1989 when the temple movement gained momentum and the VHP started mobilising kar sevaks for temple construction and for violent confrontations with the Congress and the Janata Dal governments.

A native of Karahal village of Mathura, Das is a soft-spoken man — a sharp contrast to the rabble-rousing Paramhans. “But those who have worked with him know that he can be tough and relentless when it comes to action,” said one of his followers.

His opponents accuse him of running roughshod over the other mahants of Ayodhya who don’t toe the VHP line. “What Mahant Nritya Gopal Das has been doing here is an open secret. With the help of criminals patronised by the VHP, he has captured many temples in Ayodhya,” alleged Gyan Das, mahant of Sagaria Patti in Ayodhya’s Hanumangarhi.

Das dismissed these allegations with a smile. “I am a man of god and not a man of arms. And my only weapons are love for god and love for his creatures,” he said.

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