This weekend, on 9 and 10 January 2016, the Faculty of Arts at the Delhi University was host to a seminar titled, “Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Temple: Emerging Scenario.” The event was organised by the Arundhati Vashishtha Anusandhan Peeth, an organisation founded by former Vishwa Hindu Parishad president Ashok Singhal, who passed away last year. Framed and garlanded portraits of Singhal, the Hindu deity Ram and a symbolic representation of “Mother India” adorned one side of the stage. Another portrait was placed on the opposite end of the room, just above the switchboard, albeit unembellished: a black-and-white-image of Mohandas Gandhi. The audience sat with its back to this picture. Those on the stage were afforded a clear view of the image, but appeared to take little note of it. Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy set the agenda for the discussion with his inaugural address and said, “Construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya is mandatory for revival of our culture.” Members of the Congress’ youth faction, the National Students Union of India, and the Aam Aadmi party’s youth wing, the Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Samiti, were protesting outside. Several policeman guarding the block in which the seminar was being conducted ensured that these students were not allowed inside.
Over the course of two days, this gathering of “leading saffron intellectuals and scholars” deliberated upon the facts, history and legalese of Ram Janmabhoomi temple. The long and bloody chapters of the temple’s controversial history were glossed over. Not one of the speakers from the five sessions that were conducted seemed to entertain a shred of doubt over either the idea, or the need for this temple. This conviction was contagious. The audience that had politely applauded a speaker’s provocative statements until then, now bellowed “Jai Shree Ram”—an incantation hailing Ram—in response.
The second-last session of the seminar dealt with “legal controversies about the temple.” Swamy took the stage along with two additional solicitor generals of India—G Rajagopalan and Ashok Mehta. Mehta, who spoke first, began by chanting name of Ram—a majority of those present in the room followed. During his 20-minute speech, he cited passages from the Supreme Court judgement on the dispute between Ram Janmabhoomi and the Babri Masjid. “It is not a dispute,” Mehta explained, “It is a problem.” He joked with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders sitting in front row about the cases of violence against them. Towards the end, he stated, “Mandir wahi banayenge, aur Ashok Singhal ji ki ichcha ke anusar banayenge”—The temple will be constructed there [in Ayodhya], and it shall be constructed according to Ashok Singhal’s wishes.
Rajagopalan didn’t speak much. He gave everyone the hurried assurance that the Supreme Court would permit the construction of the temple soon and made way for Swamy. Swamy’s arrival at the podium was met with a flurry of activity. People who were standing outside the door were now rushing in; cameramen who had been lounging on chair began making their way forward; and the video recorders that had been switched off, started rolling again.
“All the evidence that we have gathered in since yesterday, makes me feel like going to the Supreme Court tomorrow,” Swamy began, before continuing, “I can assure you that the construction of the temple will start by the end of this year. He then elaborated on a tweet that he had posted earlier in the day. He said, “Once we build the Ram Mandir, then we will start our work on Krishna Mandir and Kashi Vishwanath, these three sites are not negotiable. But it is our humility that we are only asking for three. I hope the Muslims of India won’t become Duryodhan.” The session came to an end soon after.
Outside, I met a law student from Delhi University. I had met him on Saturday too, as he spoke to one of the speakers at the conference—Rajendra Singh. Singh, who has appeared in court for the hearing of the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute, had been telling this student all about the “shadyantr”—controversy—that the left-liberals of the country have been hatching against the Hindus. Singh gave him photocopies of what he claimed were ancient maps of the Ram Janmabhoomi site in Ayodhya. The law student diligently took notes of this conversation on the back of his notebook.
On Sunday, I asked the law student what he thought of the seminar. He responded,“Aisi conferences aur honi chahiye.”—There should be more conferences such as this one. He continued, “Musalmanon ne kitne mandir, tode koi hisab hi nahi hai. Ye bahar jo log chilla rahe hain, inko kya pata tathya kya hain? Wo to andar aake sune to pata chalega na? (There is no account of the number of temples Muslims have destroyed. These people who are sloganeering outside, what do they know of the truth? They would know if they had bothered to come inside.)” I asked him about the Masjid demolition. “Ab padhenge— I will read about it now,” he said. He showed me the books he was carrying. Among them was Sri Ram Mandir: Archaeology, Architecture and Politics, written by Anuradha Dutt. The book was launched last week at the Indian Women’s Press Corps in Delhi. Those in attendance included senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh, VHP spokesperson Vijay Shankar Tiwari and Indresh Kumar, a senior leader from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, who said that he believed people from all religions in India would come together to build the temple: “It will happen, no one can stop.”
Atul Dev is a staff writer at The Caravan.