A large number of Ayodhya’s sadhus are enraged with the Bharatiya Janata Party for not expediting construction of the Ram temple, despite making such promises before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. The simmering discontentment came to a head on 23 October when the sadhus, along with supporters of former Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Pravin Togadia, clashed with the police, breaking barricades while trying to enter the disputed Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi site. Against this backdrop, a relatively new outfit floated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is quietly spearheading the Sangh Parivar’s attempts to assuage the sadhus’ sentiments.
The outfit, known as the Shri Ram Mandir Nirman Sahayog Manch, or SRMNSM, has planned a major show of strength of sadhus on 31 October, which is expected to bridge the chasm between the Sangh Parivar and local religious leaders. “More than one thousand sadhus will attend sant-sammelan,” Mahiraj Dhwaj, the national convenor of SRMNSM and an RSS pracharak-turned-sadhu, said. “This will end all confusion and clear the way for the construction of a grand Ram temple in Ayodhya.”
The SRMNSM was floated in September last year to whip up support for the temple in Ayodhya, parallel to the hearing of the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi case in the Supreme Court. In the overall structure of the RSS, the SRMNSM has been placed under the supervision of Muslim Rashtriya Manch, or MRM, which seeks to bring Muslims under the Hindutva net. The irony is hard to miss. The MRM is headed by the senior RSS leader Indresh Kumar, who is also the chief patron of the SRMNSM. (The Hindu firebrand Aseemanand has said that Indresh Kumar and the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had given their blessings for multiple terror attacks for which he was facing trial at the time.)
According to Dhwaj, who is also the national co-convener of the MRM, the SRMNSM is an “outfit of masses” whose work is supported by “like-minded organisations.” He listed several of them, including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Muslim Rashtriya Manch, Rashtriya Ekta Mission, Masihi Mitra Manch, Bharat Tibet Sahyog Manch, Himalaya Pariwar, Sanatan Sabha, Shri Jagannath Seva Samiti, Rashtriya Suraksha Jagran Manch and Bhrashtachar Mukti Andolan—all offshoots of the RSS.
The SRMNSM’s initiative is significant because disenchantment among Ayodhya’s sadhus, in the last few months, has clouded the BJP’s strategy in the nerve centre of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. Moreover, this is happening at a time when the VHP—RSS’s flamboyant offshoot meant to mobilise sadhus—has become a target of criticism in Ayodhya, along with the BJP.
The resentment exploded in early October, when an indefinite fast by a local mahant, Paramhans Das, demanding central legislation for construction of the Ram temple, became a focal point for the agitating sadhus. The anger was visible in the extremely poor participation by Ayodhya’s sadhus at a conclave of religious leaders organised by the VHP at its Delhi headquarters on 5 October. Even Dharam Das, the mahant of Nirvani Akhara, Ayodhya’s most powerful monastic order, decided to stay back in city instead of participating in the Delhi conclave.
The changing ground reality in Ayodhya has so unnerved the BJP government that on 7 October, Paramhans was forcibly taken to Lucknow and admitted to a hospital. Six days later, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath met the mahant to placate him. “He honoured me and promised that the construction of temple will start before the announcement of next Lok Sabha election,” Paramhans told me.
The RSS’s decision to sideline VHP and instead prop the SRMNSM, to bring Ayodhya’s sadhus back into the fold, is a shrewd tactical move aimed at deflecting the anger of local religious leaders. The SRMNSM claims to operate on behalf of “the masses” and is presented not as an organisation, but as a platform supported by numerous outfits. It, therefore, stands a better chance of success in negotiations with the estranged sadhus.
Despite its association with Ayodhya’s sadhus all through the Ram temple movement, the VHP has lost much of its credibility. Its deployment to re-establish the RSS’s sway over the sadhus might have sparked further animosity. Dharam Das, who is also a prominent member of the VHP’s central governing body—the Kendriya Margdarshak Mandal—confirmed this. He told me that the organisation had lost so much ground in Ayodhya that it was not in a position to hold any public meeting of local religious leaders. In an earlier conversation about the 5 October meeting, he said anger against the VHP was the reason that the organisation “cannot even organise an open meeting of sadhus in Ayodhya,” and had to hold its meeting in Delhi.
Even the head priest of the Ram Janmabhoomi temple, Satyendra Das, made a similar assertion. “The RSS knows that the VHP has lost all its credibility in Ayodhya. That’s why it is trying to devise new means to convince local sadhus that it remains sincere about its commitment to the temple and that its rhetoric has nothing to do with the electoral desperation of the BJP.”