| Ashok Singhal being arrested in Ayodhya. (AFP)
Oct. 17: When the thin film of dust lifted over Ayodhya this evening, Ashok Singhal stood alone in his sadhu’s clothes.
His ideological mentor, the RSS, stayed “neutral” and the BJP covertly sided with Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, who used the might of the state to reduce Singhal’s Ayodhya adventure to nothing more than a symbolic event.
In a rare admission in public to differences in the parivar, the RSS appealed to its progenies to end all “bitterness”.
“The bitterness among the Centre, the state government and various sections caused by the (VHP’s) programme should now be forgotten and a new beginning should be made,” RSS spokesman Ram Madhav said.
The lessons from the abortive sankalp sabha were not lost on the RSS. The Sangh’s image as the patriarch of the undivided Hindutva “parivar” was somewhat dented as its leaders betrayed signs of confusion on deciding which side of the Ayodhya fence it stood.
The Sangh offered the regulation “support” for the Ram temple construction, but it came with the rider that the VHP should do nothing to compromise the Centre’s position vis-a-vis the Uttar Pradesh government.
If the RSS fell between two stools, the BJP’s position was no better. Even today, VHP secretary Surendra Jain accused the Centre of “conniving” with Mulayam Singh in “repressing” “Ram bhakts”.
When Jain was levelling the charge, Mulayam Singh was offering thanks to the Centre for “extending the necessary help and maintaining the true traditions of the federal structure of the country”.
The paeans in public were hardly music to the BJP’s ears, especially as they came a day after party chief M. Venkaiah Naidu stressed that there was no “understanding” with the Uttar Pradesh chief minister.
The BJP is now awaiting the outcome of the year-end Assembly elections to gauge whether a seething VHP will be able to damage the party’s prospects and whether Hindutva will work as a plank.
Ayodhya today resembled not the battlefield of Lanka where Ram battled Ravan, but Kurukshetra of the Mahabharata, where brothers fought against each other.
The divide that runs through the parivar stood out in Ayodhya right from this morning. No high-profile parivar leader kept Singhal company when the saffron-robed leader was arrested in Karsevakpuram.
Notable absentees were Uttar Pradesh BJP chief Vinay Katiyar and Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas chief Mahant Nritya Gopal Das. Both were in Ayodhya but they stayed away from Singhal and his muted standoff.
Asked why Katiyar, who represents Ayodhya in the Lok Sabha, did not turn up, Singhal shot back: “I don’t need any Katiyar.”
Katiyar, camping in Ayodhya for the past two days, had said yesterday that he was not invited to the function. However, 24 hours later, he claimed that he was in constant touch with the people to ensure that situation did not worsen. “Everyone has his own role to play,” he clarified philosophically.
Mahant Das, considered a moderate, was negotiating with the district administration till yesterday to avoid a confrontation. However, when the negotiations failed, Das kept himself in the shadows.
Das, however, told The Telegraph that he could not go as he was told that police were arresting Ram devotees. Das had opposed the plan to organise the function in Ayodhya during the festival season since it posed a “lot of problems to businessmen and residents of Ayodhya”.
The lack of support from the people of Ayodhya was evident today. Most devotees who turned up today were from states like Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat and Rajasthan.
But Singhal’s leadership was enough for the VHP and Bajrang Dal cadre to reassure themselves that they did not need a helping hand from the RSS or the BJP. “In the parivar, Singhal stands tall because he is senior in age to the present crop of RSS leaders like K.S. Sudarshan, Madan Das Devi and Mohanrao Bhagwat. He has consistently maintained his distance from the government and the BJP even on pain of displeasing the RSS, a parishad leader said.
“He has not compromised on Hindutva. While those in power may be scornful of his ideas and ideology, the next time the BJP wants to rake up the temple or another Hindutva issue, it will have neither the conviction or credibility,” he added. The VHP leader said the mantle would then fall either on Singhal or Praveen Togadia.
BJP sources grudgingly shared this assessment with a minister saying: “Singhalji ki baat to alag hai” (Singhal is a class apart).
While the Uttar Pradesh administration succeeded in lowering the pitch in Ayodhya and reducing the “sankalp sabha” to a ritual, the VHP claimed it had the “satisfaction” of exhibiting its own cadre strength and support mobilised independent of the RSS and the BJP.