This weekend, on 9 and 10 January 2016, the Faculty of Arts at the Delhi University was host to a seminar titled, “Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Temple: Emerging Scenario.” The event was organised by the Arundhati Vashishtha Anusandhan Peeth, an organisation founded by former Vishwa Hindu Parishad president Ashok Singhal, who passed away last year. Framed and garlanded portraits of Singhal, the Hindu deity Ram and a symbolic representation of “Mother India” adorned one side of the stage. Another portrait was placed on the opposite end of the room, just above the switchboard, albeit unembellished: a black-and-white-image of Mohandas Gandhi. The audience sat with its back to this picture. Those on the stage were afforded a clear view of the image, but appeared to take little note of it. Senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader Subramanian Swamy set the agenda for the discussion with his inaugural address and said, “Construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya is mandatory for revival of our culture.” Members of the Congress’ youth faction, the National Students Union of India, and the Aam Aadmi party’s youth wing, the Chhatra Yuva Sangharsh Samiti, were protesting outside. Several policeman guarding the block in which the seminar was being conducted ensured that these students were not allowed inside.
Over the course of two days, this gathering of “leading saffron intellectuals and scholars” deliberated upon the facts, history and legalese of Ram Janmabhoomi temple. The long and bloody chapters of the temple’s controversial history were glossed over. Not one of the speakers from the five sessions that were conducted seemed to entertain a shred of doubt over either the idea, or the need for this temple. This conviction was contagious. The audience that had politely applauded a speaker’s provocative statements until then, now bellowed “Jai Shree Ram”—an incantation hailing Ram—in response.
The second-last session of the seminar dealt with “legal controversies about the temple.” Swamy took the stage along with two additional solicitor generals of India—G Rajagopalan and Ashok Mehta. Mehta, who spoke first, began by chanting name of Ram—a majority of those present in the room followed. During his 20-minute speech, he cited passages from the Supreme Court judgement on the dispute between Ram Janmabhoomi and the Babri Masjid. “It is not a dispute,” Mehta explained, “It is a problem.” He joked with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad leaders sitting in front row about the cases of violence against them. Towards the end, he stated, “Mandir wahi banayenge, aur Ashok Singhal ji ki ichcha ke anusar banayenge”—The temple will be constructed there [in Ayodhya], and it shall be constructed according to Ashok Singhal’s wishes.