Days after the Supreme Court is scheduled to begin hearing the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi title suit on February 8, a rath yatra backed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh will start from Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh and culminate in Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu, after travelling through four other states.

Though the yatra is being taken out under the aegis of the Shri Ramdas Mission Universal Society of Maharashtra, the RSS and all its affiliates will participate in the 39-day-long exercise – from February 13 to March 23. Nearly 40 public meetings will be held during that time. These meetings are aimed at making the Ram temple issue the Bharatiya Janata Party’s main poll plank ahead of the Lok Sabha elections due next year.

The “Ram Rajya Rath Yatra,” will be flagged off by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath from Karsevakpuram, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s headquarters in the temple town. This site is symbolic because it houses a workshop set up in 1990, in which workers are carving the pillars that the Sangh Parivar hopes to use one day to construct the Ram temple in Ayodhya.

Besides Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, the yatra will travel through Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala. To ensure that it faces no hindrance along its route, the Union Home Ministry has written to the highest-ranking police officers in all six states asking them to take “appropriate action”, while attaching the route plan prepared by the event’s official organisers.

Title suit

Five days before the yatra starts, the Supreme Court from February 8 will hear the civil appeals in the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi title dispute. This relates to the legal tussle, which started in 1950, over who owns the patch of land on which the Babri Masjid stood. A specially-constituted bench comprising Chief Justice Dipak Mishra and Justices Abdul Nazeer and Ashok Bhushan commenced the final hearing in the dispute on December 5.

The Ram Janmabhoomi movement intends to build a temple in Ayodhya on what some Hindus believe is the exact spot on which the deity Ram was born. The 16th-century Babri Masjid, which stood at the site they claimed, was demolished by Hindutva groups in 1992 after a long, occasionally violent, campaign by the BJP.

Preparations for the yatra are being made in Ayodhya by two RSS affiliates – the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Muslim Rashtriya Manch. “The rath [vehicle] will be modeled on the proposed Ram temple and is being prepared in Mumbai,” said Anil Kumar Singh, Muslim Rashtriya Manch coordinator for the Awadh region. “It will arrive in Ayodhya on February 10.”

He added: “On February 13, a Sant Sammelan will be held at Karsevakpuram and in the afternoon the chief minister will flag off the rath yatra.”

A poster announcing that the Ram Rajya Rath Yatra will be inaugurated by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath at 2 pm on February 13.

Poll plank

That the BJP is seriously considering making the Ram temple issue its main plank for the next general election became apparent last March when Adityanath, the head priest of the Gorakhpur temple, was made Uttar Pradesh chief minister after the party’s landslide win in the politically important state.

Adityanath is a polarising figure. Within months of assuming power last year, he announced that a 100-metre-tall statue of Ram would be built on the banks of the Saryu river in Ayodhya. Last Diwali, his government organised a grand celebration in the temple town in which models dressed as Ram and Sita emerged from a government helicopter on the banks of the river, and were welcomed into Ayodhya by Adityanath and state governor Ram Naik. Diwali celebrates the return of Ram and his consort to Ayodhya at the end of 14 years of exile, and after defeating the Lankan king Ravana who had abducted Sita.

According to Singh, the VHP will play a major role in ensuring that the proposed yatra is welcomed by the masses all along its route. VHP general secretary Champat Rai has sent a letter to all office-bearers and activists, asking them to help organise public meetings along the route from Ayodhya to Rameswaram.

A similar yatra 28 years ago, led by BJP leader LK Advani, proved to be a turning point for the BJP, helping it transform into a major political force in the country.