Is the Vishwa Hindu Parishad losing its internal cohesion now that its sister organisation, Bharatiya Janata Party, is in power? Or is it simply that many of the sadhus attached to it, especially those in Ayodhya, have found out that there is hardly anything to gain by following the line laid down by the VHP leadership?

Whatever the reason, the VHP leadership appears to be struggling to keep the flock of sadhus together just when it is getting ready to push the Narendra Modi government to move a central legislation that would clear the way for the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya.

The differences came to the fore in the just-concluded meeting of the VHP’s central governing body, the Kendriya Margdarshak Mandal. At the conclave in Haridwar, The VHP's international president Pravin Togadia, despite his best efforts, failed to convince the Ayodhya sadhus to back his demand that the BJP should fulfill its Lok Sabha poll promise regarding the construction of Ram temple at the site on which the Babri Masjid stood until 1992.

At the meeting held on May 25-26, Togadia’s move was blocked by a prominent Ayodhya sadhu, Dharam Das, who publicly objected to the VHP president’s demand that the central government should take up the construction of temple at Ayodhya in the same manner that the Somnath temple was reconstructed soon after the Independence.

Court case

“The Ayodhya temple issue is pending in the Supreme Court,” Dharam Das, who is the chief of Ayodhya’s most powerful monastic order, Nirvani Akhara, told after the meeting of the Kendriya Margdarshak Mandal. “In this situation, how can the government take any initiative until the Supreme Court gives its judgment? Somnath’s case was different. There was no case pending in the court.”

At the meeting, Togadia asserted, “Just as the Somnath temple was reconstructed by the government of India, in the same way the Modi government must take an initiative to rebuild the Aodhya temple. The court procedures take a long time to resolve.”

Dharam Das said that Togadia was using the temple to play politics. “I am a petitioner in the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case, and I know that the government cannot have any role in it until the court passes an order," he said. "Togadia did not like the position that I took in the meeting because once I spoke most sadhus who had come from Ayodhya spoke in my support."

VHP vice president Jiveshwar Mishra, who organised the meeting at Haridwar, denied the existence of any serious differences in the Kendriya Margdarshak Mandal on the Ram temple issue. However, he added that instead of asking the central government to pass a legislation on the temple, the final resolution at the conclave said that a delegation of five sadhus and VHP leaders would meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and ask him to expedite the construction of the Ram mandir.

According to another VHP leader, who asked to remain unidentified, it was this difference between the organisation’s leadership and the sadhus of Ayodhya that prevented Kendriya Margdarshak Mandal from framing an action plan to pressure the government to move a legislation in this regard. “Dharam Das and Suresh Das [the chief of Ayodhya’s Digambari Akhara] were prominent among the sadhus who insisted that the VHP must not force the government to bring in a central legislation and should rather wait for the Supreme Court’s judgment," this man explained.

Mobilising voters

Ever since 1984, when the VHP adopted the Ramjanmabhoomi issue as its central plank to mobilise HIndu voters, it has had a turbulent relationship with the sadhus of Ayodhya, the nerve-centre of this movement. During late 1980s, the VHP’s campaign in Ayodhya was largely conducted by a tiny handful of sadhus who had little support among the local community of ascetics. It was only in 1990, after LK Advani's rath yatra, that the VHP succeeded in gaining a considerable foothold in Ayodhya. But the alignment that facilitated the demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, did not survive long. By the mid-1990s, the Ayodhya sadhus were once again a divided lot, most of them reverting to their day-to-day activities, managing real estate properties and hobnobbing with politicians not just of the BJP but also of the Congress.

“The projection of Modi as the prime ministerial candidate ahead of the Lok Sabha elections last year did unite most of the sadhus in Ayodhya and brought them under the influence of the VHP,” said Dharam Das. But Modi’s victory altered the situation and weakened the VHP’s influence in Ayodhya, forcing many of the sadhus there to base their decisions on the profit-and-loss considerations just as they did in the aftermath of the demolition of Babri Masjid.

“Now only those sadhus are obeying the VHP who think that they can get something from it,” said chief priest of the makeshift Ramjanmabhoomi temple on Ayodhya’s disputed site, Acharya Satyendra Das. “Most others know that following the VHP blindly is not good for them individually or collectively."