AROUND SIXTY PEOPLE had gathered in a one-room hut in the Sevagram Ashram in Maharashtra’s Wardha district, in July this year. Plastic chairs had been pushed to the sides and mattresses were spread across the floor. Fans hanging from the thatched roof circulated the cool evening air. Raam ke Naam, a 1992 documentary by the filmmaker Anand Patwardhan, was playing on a projector screen.
The documentary traces how the militant right-wing group Vishva Hindu Parishad and a nationwide rath yatra led by the Bharatiya Janata Party stalwart LK Advani in the late 1980s and early 1990s galvanised popular support among Hindus for a Ram temple in Ayodhya. It was released in September 1992, just months before Hindu mobs razed the Babri Masjid. In a crucial scene in the film, a fanatic VHP member is asked the year in which Ram was born. He is unable to answer. The scene drew loud laughter from the attendees, evidently amused at the man’s inability to date the event he was fighting to commemorate.
The film screening was part of a four-day camp called Ahimsa Ke Raste—the path of non-violence—conducted by Sachin Rao. The title is inspired by the philosophy of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who founded the Sevagram Ashram in the 1930s, where he spent much of his later years. Rao, 51 years old, is presently the training in-charge of the Congress Working Committee, an apex body that runs the Indian National Congress. Most of the attendees were young ground-level workers of the Congress.