As the exhilaration over the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s much-hyped “dharm sabha”—held in Ayodhya on 25 November—fades, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the VHP are faced with an uncomfortable truth. The sabha was meant to gather lakhs and more in support of the construction of the Ram Mandir, but most sadhus and monastic establishments prominent in Ayodhya boycotted the event, severely denting the VHP’s hopes of regaining any significant foothold in what is the epicentre of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.
Sadhus of the Nirvani and Nirmohi akharas—two of Ayodhya’s three prominent Ramanandi akharas, or militant ascetic orders—kept a distance from the VHP’s show. The Digambar akhara, the least significant of the three in Ayodhya, is the only one that was seen participating in the event.
Nritya Gopal Das, a prominent sadhu of the Digambar akhara, who heads the VHP-backed trust, Shri Ram Janma Bhoomi Nyas, was one of the main speakers at the dharm sabha. Another local sadhu who actively participated in the event was Kanhaiya Das, a district-level office-bearer of the VHP and the mahant of a temple in Ayodhya. All other prominent sadhus who spoke at the sabha were mostly outsiders, primarily from Haridwar and Chitrakoot.
“What was the point of attending the Sangh’s meeting and clapping like a fool?” Dinendra Das, the Nirmohi akhara’s Ayodhya head, told me over phone. “It would have been better for them”—referring to the VHP—“to do something to expedite the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case in the Supreme Court. People can see through the drama they do.”
The Nirmohi akhara is one of the three litigants between whom the Allahabad High Court had, in a judgment in 2010, divided the disputed site on which the Babri Masjid stood before its demolition by mob of kar sevaks in 1992. Among the attendees at the sabha was Ram Das, a sadhu who was formerly part of the Nirmohi akhara. When asked about this, Dinendra Das said, “Ever since he was expelled from the leadership of the akhara last year, he has been looking for backing from the VHP. The akhara has already disassociated itself from him.”