New Delhi: The bhoomi pujan for the Ram Temple in Ayodhya is a culmination of the Vishva Hindu Parishad’s (VHP) efforts of nearly six decades.
The VHP was at the forefront of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement since it began in 1983 but a little known fact is that the organisation had been quietly preparing to launch a mass movement for the temple some 19 years before it.
The first phase of the VHP’s expansion, from its founding in 1964 to 1983, remains buried in its archives even though its activities during this period provide a deep insight into how a massive pan global organisational structure was built, which ultimately helped build an unprecedented mass movement for the Ram Temple at Ayodhya.
Shivshankar Apte, a senior RSS pracharak, also fondly known as Dada Saheb Apte, was the key architect of the VHP. There are two major developments that were the catalysts for the setting up of the VHP — the Niyogi Committee report of 1956, which highlighted the growing conversions of tribals into Christianity by missionaries in the state of Madhya Pradesh, and the Nehru government’s rebuff to Trinidad MP Dr Shambunath Kapildeo who visited India in 1950s.
Kapildeo wanted the then government to help in strengthening the cultural identities of Hindus in Trinidad and other places outside India but the Nehru government’s response was lukewarm as it perceived his agenda to be a communal one.
So he met the second RSS sarsanghchalak M.S. Golwalkar and shared his concerns. The RSS realised that there was a need to connect with Hindus living abroad as they sought to retain their cultural identity.
Apte was entrusted with the task of doing the ground work for setting up an organisation that could create awareness about ‘Hindu Dharma’ in India and abroad, while bringing all the religious sects together to usher the Hindu society into a new phase of social reforms so that marginalised sections of the society, facing discrimination, did not fall prey to conversions.
Apte travelled extensively for nine months, contacted 200 religious leaders, set up contacts in more than three dozen countries and wrote at least 150 letters to various dignitaries and luminaries.
The result was a meeting on the auspicious day of Shrikrishna Janmashtami in August 1964 of around 150 leaders at Sandipani Ashram of Swami Chinmayananda in Mumbai, Maharashtra. In addition to Apte and Golwalkar, among those who attended the meeting included Master Tara Singh, Gyani Bhupinder Singh (president, Shiromani Akali Dal), Swami Shankaranand Saraswati and Dr K.M. Munshi. The VHP was formally registered on 8 July 1966. Apte was appointed the general secretary of the organisation.
Expansion of organisation (1964-1983)
In the first two years after its inception, provincial units were set up in more than a dozen states and union territories, including Delhi, Karnataka, Kerala, Rajasthan, Bihar, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Assam, among others, covering the length and breadth of India.
Apte took up extensive tours abroad in 1971, 1972, 1975, 1977 and 1979 and the overseas units of the VHP were set up in more than 30 countries, including the US, Canada, England, Trinidad, Suriname, Guyana, West Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Hong Kong, Australia, Sri Lanka, Singapore and most of the south-east Asian nations.
During this era, the VHP also set up its various wings to work specifically with various sections of society. They included separate wings for women, temples and religious institutions, social service, religious heads and a wing for spreading awareness about Hindu Dharma known as Dharmaprasar Vibhag.
Two major World Hindu Conferences were organised at Prayagraj on the occasion of the Kumbh Mela. The first one was held from 22-24 January 1966, and the second from 25-27 January 1979. The former was attended by 75,000 delegates from the US, major European and south-east Asian countries.
The then President of India, Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, had sent a message wishing for it to be a success. It was chaired by the retired Chief Justice of the Calcutta High Court, Shri Rama Prasad Mookerjee, who was also the brother of Bharatiya Jan Sangh founder Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee.
The second conference witnessed the participation of more than one lakh delegates from India and abroad. It was inaugurated by the Dalai Lama. “The Buddhism evolved in Tibet, is in fact a Bharatiya religion originally propounded by Lord Buddha himself,” he had said then.
Meanwhile, a number of smaller international Hindu conferences were held abroad from the early 1970s onwards especially in the US and Britain. From 1965 onwards, the VHP kept on organising dozens of Hindu conferences in various parts of the country to create awareness about its work and expanding its organisational network.
Realising early the importance of Northeastern India, the VHP’s first Hindu conference was organised here as early as in 1966. It was held on 2 October, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, in Guwahati. Down south, the first such conference was organised at Udupi in Karnataka on 13-14 December 1969.
Meanwhile, much before the various ‘yatras’ were carried out for Ramjanmabhoomi from mid-1980s onwards, the VHP had already gained enough experience by testing the waters successfully with ‘Jnan Ratham’ yatra in Kerala in 1982, the ‘Dharma Yatra’ again in Kerala in 1983 and most importantly, the maiden ‘Ekatmata Yatra’ in 1983.
The ‘Ekatmata Yatra’ was aimed at creating awareness about nationalism through symbols of Bharat Mata (Mother India) and Ganga Mata (Mother Ganga). Around 312 smaller yatras were carried out throughout the country under this programme. Around 7.2 million people participated in them. More than 1.5 lakh VHP workers were actively involved in organising them and the combined travel distance of all these yatras was 85,874 km.
The then VHP brass had also met the then President of India Giani Zail Singh where they briefed him about the purpose of this yatra. It was this programme that made the VHP a household name and it got ready to launch one of the most impactful mass movements of Independent India, which culminated with the beginning of construction of Ram Temple at Ayodhya on 5 August this year.
(The information above has been sourced from the archives of VHP)
(The writer is associated with RSS. He has authored two books on RSS and one book on the Ram Temple movement. He is Research Director at the Delhi-based think-tank Vichar Vinimay Kendra).