Sadhus threaten to boycott VHP’s Dharma Sansad at the Ardh-Kumbh Mela

Sadhus arrive at the Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj. Several prominent sadhus are upset over Narendra Modi's remark on the Ram temple ordinance. In protest, they say they will not attend the VHP's Dharma Sansad at the mela. Danish Siddiqui / REUTERS
Elections 2024
26 January, 2019

Several prominent sadhus have threatened to boycott the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s Dharma Sansad—a much-hyped two-day conclave of Hindu religious leaders, to be held on 31 January and 1 February at the Ardh Kumbh Mela in Prayagraj. The sadhus are upset with a recent remark by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In an interview to the news agency ANI on 1 January this year, Modi ruled out an ordinance on the Ram temple in Ayodhya until the judicial process is over. He said that the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit “is before the judiciary,” and the government would let that process “be completed” first. “Once it comes from the judiciary, wherever the responsibility of a government begins, we are ready to make all efforts,” he said.

The statement was at odds with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s stance. The RSS has been attempting to rekindle the communally sensitive issue of the Ram temple ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections. In recent months, it has made a renewed pitch for an ordinance or central legislation to expedite the process of building the Ram temple in Ayodhya. The Dharma Sansad is important to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s efforts—the Ram temple is the VHP conclave’s single-point agenda. The Sansad aims to declare a date for the construction of the temple and ask the government to take appropriate steps to facilitate the process.

In the aftermath of Modi’s interview, the VHP has launched a massive exercise to placate the sadhus and persuade them of its commitment to the issue. It has mobilised its entire core committee—including its top office-bearers, such as Champat Rai, Rajendra Singh Pankaj, Jiveshwar Mishra, Ashok Tiwari, Dinesh, Vinayakrao Deshpande and Ras Bihari—to convince sadhus that the Sangh Parivar is sincere about the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.

But prominent sadhus from Ayodhya are adamant that they will stay away from the VHP’s Dharma Sansad. Several noted religious leaders from other areas, including some former RSS pracharaks, also plan to boycott the Sansad.

“The VHP can count on me only if the entire Sangh Parivar speaks with one voice,” the sadhu Yatindranand Giri, who was formerly an RSS pracharak, said. “When the prime minister has already said that he would not bring an ordinance on Ram temple, why should we be wasting our time on Dharma Sansad?” Giri is a prominent member of the VHP’s Kendriya Margdarshak Mandal—the organisation’s highest decision-making body. He is also a mahamandaleshwar—a high-ranked sadhu elevated by his peers—of the Juna akhara, a militant ascetic order.

Another pracharak-turned-sadhu, Sanjiv Maharaj, of Varanasi, has also decided to boycott the VHP’s event. “Every time VHP leaders come to persuade me, I tell them to go and make up their mind,” he said. “Modi ji is saying he won’t bring ordinance, the VHP and the RSS are saying Modi ji should bring an ordinance. Why should sadhus be part of this mock fight?”

According to Devanand Saraswati, one of the secretaries of Juna akhara and a prominent leader of the VHP, “Modi ji has said what a prime minister should be saying. But that cannot deter us from making our effort to pressurise the government.”

That the VHP has been unable to win over the prominent sadhus of Ayodhya, the epicenter of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, is a matter of serious concern for its leadership. Two of the three Vaishnava akharas headquartered at Ayodhya—the Nirvani and Nirmohi akhara—are still unwilling to align with the VHP. Vaishnava akharas are those that consider Ram to be their principal deity. Both akharas want an early construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, but are not in favour of an ordinance or a central legislation. The two Vaishnava akharas had also boycotted the VHP’s previous “Dharma Sabha” held in Ayodhya on 25 November last year.

Dharam Das, the chief of the Nirvani akhara, said, “The Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute is in the Supreme Court. How can the government take a decision on this? If the VHP is so concerned about Ram temple it should ask the government to pressurise the Supreme Court for early resolution of dispute.”

Despite being a member of the VHP’s Kendriya Margdarshak Mandal, Dharam Das has stopped participating in VHP events ever since the latter renewed its pitch for a central legislation on the Ram temple. The Nirvani chief is a disciple and the successor of Abhiram Das, the sadhu who surreptitiously planted Ram’s idol in the Babri Masjid on the intervening night between 22 and 23 December 1949. His claim to the legacy of Abhiram Das has overriden his loyalty to the VHP, resulting in his decision to oppose the Sangh Parivar’s bid to monopolise the issue.

The sadhus of the Nirmohi akhara nurture a similar feeling. The 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 in 1992. Despite repeated requests by the VHP to attend its Dharma Sansad in Prayagraj, Nirmohi’s Ayodhya head, Dinendra Das preferred to stay away from the Ardh-Kumbh.

“Who doesn’t know that the Sangh Parivar is worried about the forthcoming Lok Sabha election and not about the Ram temple in Ayodhya?” he told me over the phone. “But they are in power and I don’t want to confront them. That’s why I have decided to stay back in Ayodhya.”