The Bharatiya Janata Party’s victory in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections earlier this year has injected new energy into a workshop related to the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya that has seen long periods of inactivity in the 27 years since it was first set up.

The arrival of two successive consignments of sandstone, at the workshop at the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s headquarters of Karsevakpuram, after at least 17 months of quiet, has created a buzz around the site where artisans carve the stones and pillars intended to be fitted into the temple the Sangh Parivar hopes to construct at the spot the 464-year-old Babri Masjid stood before it was demolished by kar sevaks on December 6, 1992. Eighteen blocks of sandstone from Rajasthan arrived on July 5, and four blocks a week earlier.

The growing bustle at Karsevakpuram has led to bafflement among a section of Ayodhya’s sadhus as the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi case is still pending before the Supreme Court, which has ordered that status quo be maintained at the disputed site.

Acharya Satyendra Das, the chief priest of the makeshift Ram temple that stands on the site of the Babri Masjid, said that the arrival of the stones is intended to help the BJP in the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

“The VHP is an organisation interested not in a temple for Ram but in communal politics that may stoke polarisation of Hindu votes in favour of the BJP,” said Das. “These stones have nothing to do with the Ram temple because the Supreme Court has not yet started hearings in this case. Their sole purpose is to mislead ordinary Hindus into believing that the BJP has not forgotten the idea of a temple and that they must, therefore, vote for this party in the next Lok Sabha election, too.”

The Adityanath-led state government’s tacit support in bringing political focus onto the activities at Karsevakpuram has also given rise to speculation that the Bharatiya Janata Party will use the Ram Mandir issue as its central poll plank for the next Lok Sabha election.

‘More stones coming’

Hindus consider Ayodhya to be the birthplace of Ram. Some claim that he was born on the exact site on which the Babri Masjid once stood. The mosque was demolished after a long, occasionally violent, campaign by the BJP that started in the late 1980s. The Ram Janmabhoomi movement was instrumental in helping the BJP gain popularity, and the party is now in power at the Centre and in several states, including Uttar Pradesh.

Sharad Sharma, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad spokesperson in Ayodhya confirmed that the arrival of the stones was not a one-off incident, and would become more frequent.

“The previous state government did not give permission to bring stones from Rajasthan after two trucks of sandstone arrived in Ayodhya in December 2015,” said Sharma. “Now Yogi-ji is the chief minister, and he is committed to the Ram temple. You will find frequent arrival of sandstones from Rajasthan.”

Sharma denied the charge that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad was trying to subvert the judicial process by collecting stones and starting preparations for the construction of a temple even before the apex court could decide on the title suit.

“We are collecting stones and working on them in our land,” said Sharma. “The workshop at Karsevakpuram has been functioning since September 1990. This is our right. We are not violating the status quo in the disputed area.”

Though the arrival of stones at Karsevakpuram may technically not be a violation of the status quo as the workshop is located far from the disputed site, the renewed attempts to put the spotlight on the construction of the Ram mandir has created tension in the area.

Mission 2019?

It became clear that the Ram Mandir issue had not faded from the BJP’s agenda when the party decided to appoint Adityanath, the chief priest of the Gorakhnath temple, as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh in March.

The previous two mahants of the Gorakhnath temple – Digvijayanath and Avaidyanath – have used the temple as a symbol to polarise communities. In 1949, Digvijayanath was a key figure behind the installation of the idol of Ram Lalla in the Babri Masjid. His disciple Avaidyanath, during the late 1980s, scripted the Sangh Parivar’s Ayodhya movement that culminated in the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

Adityanath, a disciple of Avaidyanath, kept the issue of the Ram temple construction alive through a series of inflammatory speeches all through the Assembly election campaign earlier this year in India’s most populous state. At one stage, he went to the extent of declaring [Hindi link]: “Karbala and kabristan [graveyards] would be created if the SP [Samajwadi Party] or the BSP [Bahujan Samaj Party] wins the election, but the BJP’s victory will pave the way for construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya.”