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Indira Gandhi wanted to give Ayodhya a facelift to show she wasn’t just courting Muslims

In The RSS and the Making of a Deep Nation, Dinesh Narayanan writes about Indira Gandhi’s plans for Ayodhya and political outreach to the Hindu heartland after 1980.

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The RSS was not the only organization weighing in for the Ram Janmabhoomi. Indira Gandhi also knew the political potential of the Hindu holy city. Gandhi, however, was not oblivious of the charge that she was courting Muslims. She had a balancing act in mind, and it involved Ayodhya. She had asked to prepare various plans for the development of Ayodhya. She wanted to develop the city as a pilgrimage centre and was pushing through proposals rapidly. The Ram ki Purhi project, languishing for lack of funds, was given the go-ahead. A hotel owned by the tourism department at Ayodhya was modernized and officials were engaged in the process of giving the city a facelift. 

In his study published as ‘RSS’s Tryst With Politics’, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) professor Pralay Kanungo says that Indira Gandhi, who returned to power in 1980, spoke of Hindu hegemony in the Hindi heartland. She adopted a new political approach by making pilgrimages to sacred rivers, shrines and temples across the country. The Congress swept the 1983 elections in Jammu and Kashmir and the Delhi corporation, wiping out a shocked BJP in its own fort of Jammu. 

While Gandhi was shifting her strategy, a rebel Congressman was taking up cudgels against Muslims. VHP’s Champat Rai remembers Congressman and five-time member of Parliament from Moradabad, Daudayal Khanna, from a Hindu conference, organized by the Sangh and held under the banner of Hindu Jagran Manch in Muzaffarnagar in 1983. The conference’s president was Karan Singh, son of the last king of Kashmir, Hari Singh, who acceded to India. Karan Singh, a well-respected leader of the Congress party, had served as a Union minister and was a close friend of Indira Gandhi’s. ‘We cannot even light a holy lamp at Ram’s birthplace in Ayodhya,’ Karan Singh, who was a speaker at the conference as well, told the sadhus. ‘How shameful a matter is it for 80 per cent of this country’s residents who call themselves Hindus?’

Also read: Rahul Gandhi must reflect on why grandmother Indira called Savarkar a patriot

Rajendra Singh, who would go on to become the RSS sarsanghchalak, shared the platform with Gulzarilal Nanda, Congressman and former home minister, and Dinesh Tyagi, RSS pracharak and the head of Hindu Jagran Manch in western Uttar Pradesh. Daudayal Khanna is said to have exhorted Hindus to free Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura at the conference. The seed of the mass Ayodhya campaign was sown there, according to Champat Rai of the VHP. 

The movement got a boost on 4 January 1984 when someone planted a Hanuman pataka (the monkey god Hanuman’s pennant) atop the central dome of the Babri mosque. The news spread like wildfire attracting massive crowds. Former prime minister Narasimha Rao believed that to be the moment when the RSS realized the political potential of the issue. 

A conference, or Dharm Sansad, of sadhus and sants was held in Delhi later. About 600 of them from all over the country participated in it in Delhi’s government-owned conference hall, Vigyan Bhavan, on 7 and 8 April 1984. Although it was organized and directed by the VHP, it remained in the background on specific instructions from Deoras, preferring to let the religious leaders take the lead and limelight.

Also read: How India can prevent another Babri Masjid demolition

The gathering issued a code of conduct for individuals, families and society. Its code for the country’s statesmen included the demand that three important holy sites—Kashi, Mathura and Ayodhya—be given back to Hindu society. An unregistered trust was formed at the end of the conference in the name of Ram Janmabhoomi Mukti Yagya Samiti. Rai connects the background of Khanna’s leaving the Congress and joining the Hindutva fold to the Moradabad riots of 1980. 

On the day of Eid that year, a few pigs are said to have run through rows of Eid worshippers in Moradabad, defiling the prayers. It had been a tradition since Independence that when the worshippers returned from the mosque, Hindus there would welcome them with sweets and sherbet. They would set up stalls and invariably the first one was the Congress’. That year, it was manned by Khanna and Moradabad Congress chief Dayanand Gupta. The returning worshippers allegedly beat them up. Gupta is said to have never recovered from the beating and remained bedridden for the rest of his life. An extremely angry Khanna left the Congress. 

This excerpt from The RSS and the Making of the Deep Nation by Dinesh Narayanan has been published with permission from Penguin Random House India.

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  1. Freedom was won with Congress at the forefront. Free India with its Modern Temples was built by Congress. A level playing field was sought to be built for all faiths, all castes, all races to inhabit the land. Democracy was persevered with even when emergency was imposed. It got voluntarily lifted, elections were held and defeat was accepted, time in opposition abided to return to power by winning the next elections. 1962 did not repeat and instead there was 1971, Bangladesh and soon later Sikkim got amalgamated. Economy, rose to make us the 5th largest economy. And yet a party that played no role in India’s freedom, assassinated the Mahatma, screwed up the economy, etc etc rules. Sad but true.

  2. The country new where Indira came from, Muslim faith, so don’t make up stories to favor Congress.You are spreading lies which will never work.Only RSS and Hindus will decide which mosques to tear down and build Hindu temples.

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