Ayodhya: There is a sense of nostalgia in Ayodhya for the BJP old guard, which was at the vanguard of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, but also a quiet acceptance that their absence from the bhoomi pujan for the Ram Temple is due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Barring Uma Bharti, none of the prominent faces of the Ram Mandir movement will be present at the bhoomi pujan Wednesday. The Sri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust, which is overseeing the construction of the temple, said it had “verbally invited” BJP margdarshak mandal leaders L.K. Advani and Murali Manohar Joshi, who have declined the invitation.
Kalyan Singh, who was the Uttar Pradesh chief minister when the Babri Masjid was demolished on 6 December 1992, was also “verbally invited” but he too has chosen to stay away, according to the organisers. While Uma Bharti reached the venue Wednesday after days of confusion over whether an invite was sent to her or not, former VHP president Pravin Togadia will not be a part of the event.
There is also considerable doubt about the participation of former Rajya Sabha MP Vinay Katiyar and Sadhvi Ritambhara who had also spearheaded the movement that resulted in the demolition of the mosque.
For the locals, the absence of these leaders is a dampener but one, they say, they understand due to the pandemic.
According to the head of the Panchmukhi Hanuman Gujarati temple, Mahant Kamala Das, it would have been great if all the famous faces of that era would have come, but right now the most heartening thing is that the work on the temple is about to begin.
“In the corona era, one is forced to sit and watch the function from the Ashram complex itself. If this is the will of Lord Ram, then so be it,” he said. “If there had been no corona epidemic, it would have surely been a grander event.”
Basant Kumar, 52, who lives near Hanuman Garhi, said Covid-19 guidelines must be followed but “it would have been nice if the old faces had been there”.
“We carried out the Kar Seva campaign under their leadership, so their non-participation is a bit odd. But maybe this is the will of Lord Ram,” Kumar said.
Paras Nath, who lives near the Maniram Chhawani, said he was barely 21-22 years old when the Ram temple movement was heating up. He got associated with this movement after being inspired by L.K. Advani.
“Now there is definitely some degree of regret that he (Advani) is not being able to come for the bhoomi pujan, but considering the threat of the corona epidemic, this might be the right decision,” he said.
He added that it would have been better if leaders like Praveen Togadia attended. “They were the prominent faces of the movement,” he said.
A select club
Wednesday’s ceremony will be attended by a very select club.
Among the politicians, invitations have been extended only to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, his deputies Keshav Prasad Maurya and Dinesh Sharma, and the UP Speaker Hriday Narayan Dixit.
Home Minister Amit Shah and state BJP chief Swatantra Dev Singh were invited but will not participate after having tested positive for Covid-19.
The trust is also silent on the identities of the 175 other invitees but ThePrint has learnt that several saints and leaders have now been left out as the list was further pruned.
According to a source associated with the VHP, earlier there was a plan to send invitation letters to more than 250 people, however many names were deleted at the last moment. This happened after a meeting between the PMO and some officials of the trust.
According to the source, office-bearers of the trust reached out to many saints and leaders to convince them that they have not been invited due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
If sources are to be believed, Uma Bharti was not extended an invite and was deeply upset about it. She had issued a statement Monday saying, “No one can claim the patent in the name of Lord Rama. Lord Rama is not the sole property of Ayodhya or the BJP.”
Only five persons to be present on stage
During the bhoomi pujan ceremony Wednesday, only four persons will sit on the stage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
A source associated with the trust said PM Modi will be accompanied by Adityanath, UP Governor Anandiben Patel, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and trust’s president Mahant Nrityagopal Das. The five will maintain social distancing.
Trust’s general secretary Champat Rai had earlier told ThePrint about the precautions taken to ensure social distancing during the event. He has also appealed to the residents of Ayodhya to watch the bhoomi pujan ceremony from their homes. Nobody will be allowed to enter the temple premises Wednesday.
However, despite these efforts, the Covid-19 guidelines are definitely a topic of discussion in Ayodhya.
On the condition of anonymity, a saint from Ayodhya pointed out that many of the invitees who are attending the event are over 65 years of age. “But several saints and important faces associated with the temple movement are not being invited in the name of Covid-19 guidelines,” he said. “Nobody is there to answer why all this was done.”
Tight security, including on invitation card
Security has also been stepped up for the event. Champat Rai said Monday a security code has been embedded into the invitation cards, which will be checked at the entry.
Rai said the security code will work only once. “If someone comes inside with it and then goes out for some work, this security code will not work for the second time,” he said.
A yellow invitation letter has been sent to all invitees on behalf of the trust. “We are extremely delighted at inviting you to the historic moment of Prime Minister Narendra Modi initiating the temple construction work,” the text on it reads.