On December 3, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh tweeted an exhortation from its chief Mohan Bhagwat to “society” to prepare the ground for building a Ram temple. That tweet so inspired saffron groups affiliated to the RSS that they have ever since been working harder towards the temple, unmindful of the fact that the Ayodhya title suit is pending before the Supreme Court.

To consolidate that build-up, the RSS is planning an exercise that it hopes would not only sustain the temple demand but also help it assume the Ayodhya campaign, before the Uttar Pradesh polls in 2017.

“The exercise would seek to create an army of Ram’s devotees through coordinated functioning of all the affiliates of the RSS,” said a senior RSS functionary in Kashi Prant, one of the six regions that the RSS has divided Uttar Pradesh into for organisational purposes. Kashi Prant consists of the Varanasi and Allahabad divisions of Uttar Pradesh. The other five Prants in this division are Gorakshapeeth, Awadh, Kanpur, Braj and Meerut.

“It would be implemented in a phased manner – first in Kashi Prant and then in the rest of Uttar Pradesh,” the RSS functionary added.

The proposed exercise, to be implemented after January 14 (the day of Makar Sankranti), is multi-layered. For its success, all the affiliates of the RSS that are collectively called Sangh Parivar – Bharatiya Janata Party, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and others – have been asked to ensure that their members participate in the weekly shakhas (basic branches) of the Sangh.

“These special shakhas will be called Parivar shakhas,” the RSS functionary said. “The members of these shakhas will be trained to act as armies of Ram bhaktas who will distribute Ramcharit Manas [of Tulsidas] and build Hindu opinion in favour of a Ram temple at Ayodhya.”

Leading from the front

At the moment, it’s not clear if the exercise is yet another RSS gimmick and whether it would help sway the electorate ahead of the 2017 Uttar Pradesh polls. Nevertheless, it assumes importance as it marks a departure from the earlier approach of the RSS to the Ram temple campaign.

Until now, the RSS had functioned quietly and unostentatiously, letting the Vishwa Hindu Parishad lead the temple campaign, in the same way as it has supplied the ideological and strategic framework as well as cadres and leaders to the BJP while publicly eschewing politics. The proposed exercise means that the RSS, for the first time, would be leading the temple campaign from the front.

Insiders argue that the departure has been occasioned partly due to the absence of a personality like Ashok Singhal in the VHP and partly because of the desire of the RSS to reinvigorate its control over the Sangh Parivar. Besides, this would coordinate the functioning of all its arms, including the BJP.

On December 3, the RSS tweet quoting Bhagwat had said: “Ram aur Sharad Kothari ke jeevan se prerna lekar samaj khada ho aur Somnath ke samaan bhavya Ram mandir ke nirman hetu taiyyar ho (Society should draw inspiration from Ram and Sharad Kothari and prepare for building a grand Ram temple like Somnath).” Sharad Kothari was one of the kar sevaks killed in police firing in Ayodhya in 1990.

According to the RSS functionary, the decision to organise special shakhas to integrate various members of the Sangh Parivar was taken by the RSS last July. “But all these months that remained a vague decision,” he added. “It was the response from various wings of the Sangh Parivar to Bhagwatji’s tweet that prepared the ground and set the tone for the new exercise.”