On December 15, Champat Rai, the general secretary of the trust overseeing the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, said that the idols of the Hindu deity to be installed at the site are being sculpted by experts and there could not be any discrimination among them.

Rai was responding to criticism from Hindutva supporters on social media about the construction of the Ram temple. Many alleged that non-Hindus were involved in building the structure and sculpting idols. Some alleged that the temple had Islamic motifs.

Their objections escalated after Rai described Prime Minister Narendra Modi as an incarnation of the Hindu deity Vishnu. These developments have triggered resentment among a section of Hindutva supporters who allege that the Bharatiya Janata Party is using the inauguration of the temple on January 22 to score political points, undermining the religiosity of the occasion.

‘BJP-sponsored programme’

“It is us who started the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, but BJP is now behaving like it is the thekedaar [contractor] of the temple,” said Sunil Kumar, the general secretary of one of India’s oldest Hindutva parties, the Hindu Mahasabha. “We are delighted that the temple will finally be inaugurated but the BJP alone should not get credit for that.”

The Ram Janmabhoomi movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s claimed that the erstwhile Babri mosque in Ayodhya had been built at the birthplace of Hindu deity Ram. On December 6, 1992, a mob demolished the mosque. In November 2019, the Supreme Court awarded the disputed site to Hindus, paving the way for the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya.

The Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra, headed by Rai, is looking after the construction and management of the temple.

The Hindu Mahasabha has refused to attend the inauguration ceremony of the shrine, claiming that it will be a “BJP-sponsored political programme”. Responding to the invitation from the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra, the Hindu Mahasabha wrote on December 16 that the trust had insulted sanatan dharma – a term some use as a synonym for Hindusim – by not inviting the heads of the four peeths or religious shrines founded by eighth-century religious scholar Adi Shankaracharya.

Hindu Mahasabha's response to the invite

“Why should we go to a place where sanatan dharma is not given the due respect?” Kumar asked. “We do not have any political goals to achieve.”

Some Hindutva supporters also expressed anger after Rai said on December 18 that veteran BJP leaders Lal Krishna Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi have been “requested not to attend” the ceremony due to their poor health. Pointing out that former Prime Minister HD Deve Gowda, who is also in his nineties, has been invited, social media users claimed that Modi had sidelined the two senior BJP leaders to ensure that the spotlight remained on him.

Ritu Rathaur, who has more than 1.4 lakh followers on X and describes herself as a “civilisational Hindu activist” in her description on the social media platform, told Scroll that the BJP is treating the temple as a “political project” keeping the Lok Sabha elections in mind.

“The BJP and Champat Rai have invited Nihang Sikhs, Opposition leaders and Bollywood actors for the inauguration to make an event out of it but not Advaniji and the shankaracharyas of the four peeths,” she said. “Rai has also said that Modi is an incarnation of [Hindu deity] Vishnu. What is this if not an insult to our religion?”

In an interview with a news channel on December 17, Rai had compared Modi to the Hindu deity, saying that according to Hindu traditions, the ruler of the land is an incarnation of Vishnu.

What drives this anger

Rathaur typifies a section of Hindutva supporters who believe that the BJP is not doing enough to advance the cause of the ideology. Asked what her reservations about the party were, Rathaur said she did not have any personal scores to settle but was fighting a “dharm yuddha” – a religious war.

“Why has the BJP government allowed Muslim sculptors and artisans at the temple?” she asked. “The Hindus put faith in them by voting them to power. But getting Muslims to build the Ram temple is worse than what the Congress and jihadis would do.”

Rathaur claimed that Muslim artisans had been allowed at the temple construction site as the BJP has political motivations to stage an outreach to all communities.

The contention about Muslims being employed at the temple gained enough social media traction to warrant a clarification. The temple trust publicised the names of the three sculptors, one of whose works will be chosen as the main idol of the deity. This was after news reports said that statues of Ram made by Muslim sculptors will be installed inside the temple complex.

However, social media users like Rathaur are not convinced and insist that there should be no involvement of Muslims at all.

They have also claimed that the temple and idol to be installed inside have not been created according to the guidelines laid down in Hindu scriptures.

Neha Srivastava, another Hindutva supporter, who has more than 52,000 followers on Twitter, claimed that the carvings in the temple bore Islamic influence as the Muslim artisans had no knowledge of the scriptures.

“The sanctum sanctorum of the temple where Ram Lalla will be seated will have Mughal architecture,” Srivastava claimed. “There is a marked difference between Hindu art and Muslim art as they are rooted in differing philosophies.”

Shadow opposition

Author Dhirendra K Jha says that voices like those of Rathaur, Srivastava and the Hindu Mahasabha are typical of the ambuguity that is at the heart of Hindutva politics.

“Hindutva always will have certain fringe elements which will speak in a more radical tone than that of a mainstream party like the BJP,” he told Scroll. “Since the BJP is in power now, so it at least has to appear to be acting in a responsible manner. But that will not satisfy the constituency that says that Muslims should be banished altogether. ”

Jha, however, added that such forces eventually benefit the BJP. “There is no larger cultural motive as some of these Hindutva voices might claim to have,” he explained. “Bodies like the Hindu Mahasabha who do not have direct political influence take a far-right stance to stay in relevance. But the moment, the BJP or the Sangh Parivar faces a real political challenge, they will close ranks.”