Sangh Parivar urges sadhus to mobilise electoral support for BJP, invokes Babri Masjid demolition

Sangh Parivar leaders are trying to placate sadhus, a large number of whom are upset over the BJP government’s failure to fulfil its 2014 Lok Sabha election promise to construct a Ram temple in Ayodhya. SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images
18 April, 2019

The Bharatiya Janata Party is sending out messages to sadhus seeking to whip up a saffron tide for the ongoing Lok Sabha elections. The outreach is being conducted on a massive scale in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, with support from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and its affiliate the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The Sangh Parivar leaders are using direct messaging and appeals to placate the sadhus, a large number of whom are upset over the BJP government’s failure to fulfil its 2014 Lok Sabha election promise regarding the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya before the end of its term.

According to Rameshji Maharaj, a sadhu based in Mauganj town of Madhya Pradesh’s Rewa district, the union home minister Rajnath Singh has sent a text message to religious leaders assuring them that the BJP would fulfil its temple promise, irrespective of the pending Supreme Court judgment on the disputed Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi site. “Rajnath Singh’s message has been sent to all prominent sadhus who are associated with the Sangh Parivar,” Maharaj, who is a member of the VHP’s Kendriya Margdarshak Mandal—its central governing council, which is a body of sadhus—said.

Rameshji has been associated with the VHP since 1992, and works mainly in the tribal areas of Madhya Pradesh. “The assurance was reiterated in the meeting of the local heads of the RSS and its affiliates at Mauganj on 15 April,” he said. He added that the meeting was called by Surendra, an RSS pracharak—full-time worker—who is in-charge of the vibhag, or division, which covers the districts of Rewa, Sidhi and Singrauli in Madhya Pradesh.

“A good number of local sadhus were also invited,” Rameshji continued. “They supported me when I raised the temple issue. Surendraji then referred to the message of Rajnath Singh and said that the next BJP government would not be found lacking on this front and that it would bring legislation for the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya if the Supreme Court judgment goes against it.” Rameshji added that the RSS office-bearers were conducting similar meetings in other parts of the country as well.

For quite some time, especially during the last year of the BJP government’s tenure, the Sangh has been experiencing turbulent ties with sadhus on the question of the Ram temple. This became evident during the Ardh-Kumbh Mela—which is held in between two Kumbhs, a mass Hindu pilgrimage that takes place every 12 years—held in Uttar Pradesh’s Prayagraj, earlier this year. For the first time, several religious leaders boycotted the VHP’s Dharma Sansad, a much-hyped two-day conclave of sadhus at the Ardh-Kumbh. Winning them back and making them work towards mobilising Hindus in favour of the BJP, in the manner they did during the previous Lok Sabha elections, has become a major challenge for the Sangh Parivar.

Sanjeevji Maharaj, a pracharak-turned-sadhu who lives in Uttar Pradesh’s Varanasi city, the Lok Sabha constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, confirmed the claims of Rameshji. “Rajnath Singh’s message has been circulating among sadhus, but many religious leaders are still sceptical about the assurance,” Sanjeevji said. According to him, senior RSS office-bearers are working day and night to convince prominent sadhus of the BJP’s sincerity on the Ram temple issue, arguing that the outgoing government was helpless because of the delay caused by the Supreme Court hearing.

In addition to these messages and assurances, the Akhil Bharatiya Sant Samiti, or ABSS, an organisation of sadhus, has issued a two-page appeal to religious leaders across the country. It exhorts them to work “in coordination with different Hinduvadi organisations such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, etc” in their respective areas. The ABSS was formed in 1986, at the behest of the RSS, and has since virtually acted as a wing of the Sangh Parivar. The appeal is signed by Jitendranand Saraswati, the general secretary of the ABSS, who spent around fifteen years as an RSS pracharak until 2004, when he became a sadhu. In 2016, Saraswati was appointed the general secretary of the ABSS. The letter implores the leaders to convince their followers to support the BJP, which the ABSS states “suffered” for the demolition of Babri Masjid and its efforts to ensure the construction of the Ram temple in its place.

Without taking the name of any political party, the appeal makes it obvious that it wants sadhus to mobilise Hindus in favour of the BJP and against the Congress. Among other barely concealed references to the two parties, the letter refers to the fact that the Congress leader and advocate Kapil Sibal had represented the All India Muslim Personal Law Board in the title dispute over the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi site before the Supreme Court. “So venerable sants, do ponder over all these issues and decide whether the political party that puts up lawyers to defend the Muslim side is acceptable or the party that sacrificed its governments in four states on the question of the construction of a grand temple for Lord Ram at the site of Shri Ram’s birth place,” the ABSS appeal states, referring to the dismissal of the BJP governments in four states—Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan—following the destruction of the Babri Masjid. The letter continues, “The political leaders who shouldered the responsibility of criminal cases registered after we destroyed the symbol of slavery on 6 December 1992, who committed to the construction of the temple of Ramlalla, belong to us.”

Akhileshwaranand Giri, a Jabalpur-based sadhu who had a cabinet rank position in the Madhya Pradesh government until the BJP was defeated last year, told me, “Along with a group of sadhus, I have been travelling from village to village, explaining to the local religious leaders the need to mobilise votes for Narendra Modi.” According to Giri, who is a pracharak-turned-sadhu and a prominent member of the VHP’s Kendriya Margdarshak Mandal, the ABSS letter has had the desired effect. “It is not an appeal but a dharmadesh”—religious decree—“which would be adhered to by all real sadhus.”