There are two myths related to the Ayodhya movement that have gained some popularity over time.
1. The late Rajiv Gandhi is a hero of the movement because his action led to the opening of the gates.
2. The Ayodhya movement was launched to counter V P Singh's 'Mandal' announcement.
Here are the facts:
Rajiv Gandhi did not instruct the unlocking of the domed structure that contained the revered idols of Sri Ram Lalla (infant Rama). That order was given by the then magistrate of Faizabad.
If the Congress government of that time had wished, it could have resolved the conflict amicably with the local Hindus and Muslims of Ayodhya. However, Rajiv Gandhi did not pursue that path.
Instead, he and his party ideologues sought to appease the escalating discontent among Hindus through mere symbolic gestures, while they strategically harnessed political Islamist support.
So, to say that Rajiv Gandhi and his party helped the Ayodhya movement in any way is wrong.
Now, the 'Kamandal in response to Mandal' myth.
The story behind the announcement of the implementation of the Mandal Commission report was somewhat strange.
In Haryana, quite a distance from Ayodhya, a by-election was to take place on 27 February 1990 in the legislative constituency of Meham.
The chief contender was the then chief minister of Haryana — Om Prakash Chautala, the son of Devi Lal, who was then the deputy prime minister.
However, Chautala was facing a certain defeat in Meham. Yet, as the son of Devi Lal, he could not be allowed to lose. The rigging that followed, and the subsequent events, shocked the nation.
It was also a blot on V P Singh, who had projected himself as an uncompromisingly honest politician.
The national press reported the horrors of what happened in Meham. Eventually, re-polling was ordered.
The month of June saw Chautala emerge victorious in another assembly election from another constituency. At the same time, a secret pact between Singh and Devi Lal to install Chautala as chief minister by any means came to light. The Janata Dal was thrown into chaos.
Many ministers quit their posts, hoping to compel Singh to uphold the moral principles he had championed in public.
In this context, Devi Lal announced a massive rally in Delhi on 8 August 1990.
On 9 August 1990, V P Singh announced that he would implement the Mandal Commission report.
This move took everyone in the political arena by surprise. In the short run, it would diminish Devi Lal's caste-based influence and position V P Singh as the advocate for all backward classes across India. His advisers had convinced him that he would enjoy an impregnable position as the prime minister for the next two decades.
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was acutely conscious of the divisive impact of casteism in Hindu society. It recognised that the marginalisation of a significant section of 'backward caste' Hindus from the governmental apparatus could spell disaster for the nation.
In pursuit of a solution, the RSS consistently turned to Hindu Dharma for emotional integration among communities and the eradication of caste-based violence and injustice.
In 1983, the birth anniversary of Dr Hedgewar (the RSS founder), as per the Hindu calendar, and that of Dr Ambedkar (the chief architect of India’s Constitution), as per the Julian calendar, coincided. The RSS ensured that both leaders were honoured in its shakhas across India.
By 1989, the RSS was commemorating the birth centenary of Dr Hedgewar, with Dr Ambedkar's centenary approaching in two years. The Sangh conducted an extensive outreach programme celebrating both leaders. It also clarified that Dr Ambedkar's critical remarks about Hinduism should be understood in the context of the inhumane treatment of the scheduled communities by traditionalist Hindus.
This approach, aimed at purging Hindu society of untouchability and other forms of social injustice, also extended to the Ayodhya movement.
Within the Sangh parivar, leaders were notably progressive during that time. The third Sarsanghachalak, Madhukar Dattatreya ‘Bala Saheb’ Deoras (1915-1996), was considered 'a leftist in the Sangh' by many conservatives.
Dattopant Tengadi (1920-2004) had a close association with Dr Ambedkar, working as his election agent and being deeply influenced by him. Another stalwart, Ashok Singhal (1926-2015), a metallurgy engineer-turned-full-time Sangh worker, joined this esteemed group.
Moving from the RSS to the Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Singhal's decision was influenced by the mass conversion to Islam of members of a scheduled community in a Tamil Nadu village in 1981. He considered himself almost a disciple of Deoras and Dr Ambedkar.
In 1984, Singhal became the general secretary of VHP. He was acutely aware of the deep-seated injustices within Hindu society and the potential harm to the nation. For the Ayodhya movement to truly represent all Hindus, it had to consider this crucial aspect.
He knew that.
The Laying of the Brick
Kameshwar Chaupal shifted from the RSS to the VHP in 1982. Originating from a remote village in Bihar, he was a member of a scheduled community.
Life was particularly challenging for Chaupal during that time. However, he remained a staunch Hindu Sangathanist and played a leading role in the Ayodhya movement in Bihar.
When questioned about his commitment, he emphasised that the scheduled communities had produced some great sages of Sanatana Dharma, including a modern nation-builder in Dr Ambedkar.
He believed that in the truest sense of the term, Ram Rajya would ensure equality for all, allowing them to realise their full potential.
On 9 November 1989, he was at Ayodhya. In the vicinity of the disputed structure, Hindus were granted permission to conduct a symbolic pooja involving bricks gathered from across the nation.
This event also marked a profoundly sacred, significant, and symbolic foundation-stone-laying ceremony for the forthcoming Rama mandir.
All prominent figures of the Sangh were in attendance, along with traditional Hindu sadhus and religious leaders.
A sizable crowd had gathered to witness the event.
As the poojas commenced, the atmosphere was filled with sacred chants and the sounds of musical instruments. As the auspicious time for the symbolic laying of the foundation brick approached, someone approached Chaupal and informed him, 'Singhalji wants to see you.'
Ashok Singhal had been the guru of Chaupal. He had repeatedly told Chaupal that the tag ‘Dalit’ should be removed because no Hindu should be a ‘broken person’.
His passionate anger against social injustice reassured Chaupal of the egalitarian nature of the Ayodhya movement. Singhal calmly told the Sangh official from Bihar that he was the one who would be laying the foundation stone of the mandir (temple).
This was genuine nation-building, transcending symbolism. It marked the redemption from casteism's stain on Hindu minds and the triumph of Sanatana Dharma.
With Vedic chants, amid the blessings of Sadhus, Kameshwar Chaupal laid the foundation stone.
To note, this was months before V P Singh even thought of the Mandal Commission.
Chaupal would later reminisce that when he returned to his village, a landlord, who was also a Brahmin, invited Chaupal into his house, seated him in a grand chair, and then every member of the family touched his feet in reverence.
‘It was as if centuries of barriers had been broken. That day I cried like a child.’
True, the Mandal Commission empowered the backward castes through state power. It was necessary. But for Mandal Commission implementation, there was every possibility that the society would have witnessed bitter violence.
Months before V P Singh proposed the Mandal Commission, not out of a genuine desire to empower the powerless, but to secure his own political standing, Ayodhya demonstrated the potential to unite communities through a blend of social justice and emotional integration.
In the present, as politicians continue to exploit divisive politics to fragment Hindu society, the vision and values of leaders like Ashok Singhal and Bala Saheb Deoras are more essential than ever.
The upcoming Ayodhya temple stands as a symbol of this visionary approach.
This is the fourth piece in the 'Ayodhya 2024' series that Aravindan Neelakandan is writing in the build-up to the inauguration of the Shri Rama Janmabhoomi temple. We will be publishing one article every week. You can read the rest of the pieces in the series here.
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