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February 1, 2002

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The Rediff Interview/Ashok Singhal

'Unless the BJP gives Hindu sentiments importance it has no future'
For the last two decades Ashok Singhal, the international working President of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, has led a movement for the "restoration" of the birthplace of Lord Rama at Ayodhya. Instrumental in propelling the BJP into political power, the Ramjanambhoomi Mukti Movement has once again become a flashpoint in the approaching assembly election in Uttar Pradesh. As the BJP has maintained a cautious distance from the VHP's demand, Singhal says the reconstruction movement has nothing to do with the election.

In an interview to Shahid K Abbas, he stressed that the Ram temple movement had become a matter of self-respect for Hindus all over the world and the Hindu society should be ready for any kind of sacrifices, for the reconstruction of the temple. Excerpts.

The situation has changed from the time the Ram Mandir movement was at its height, yet you trooped to Delhi from Ayodhya in the Sant Chetavni Yatra. Has it yielded any response or the issue, as many observers say, has lost its emotional sheen?

I question the question itself. It has not gone through any change and if there is a change, it is for the better. The sant yatra received a tremendous response. The only word I can say is tremendous. The scenes of 1992 -- they could be seen at all places the yatra went through.

How far have you been successful in your demand to the government to remove all obstacles towards the building of the Ram temple at the site of the Babri Masjid?

It is a temple for all practical purposes. The worship is going on for the last 50-54 years by the orders of the court. Now the entire country recognizes this as a spot where Rama was born. The site itself is very sacred to the Hindus. Itís a question of faith for the Hindus. And all the political parties realize this. And I think in the near future we will be able to start the building work.

And as regard the obstacles from the government's side?

That will be removed.

Last year at the Mahakumbh mela in Allahabad you had given an ultimatum to the government that the construction will begin irrespective of any permission or legal bindings by March 12, 2002. What is your assessment of the governmentís mood as the scheduled deadline is hardly 6 to 7 weeks away?

It is now for the government to see. How they can give land where the proposed temple is to be built. And, of course our sadhus and our mandir nirman samiti has said that as far as the disputed area is concerned, they may for the time being give some time. But the rest of the portion they want the proposed temple. The entire area belongs to the Niyas and it has to be returned by the directives of the Supreme Court. So they should return it.

Now if the government remains indifferent and continues its dilly-dallying attitude, are you going to defy the legal bindings?

I donít think such a situation will arise. I donít think.

You claim your movement is getting a thumping response. But, as I may recall only last year the focus immediately shifted from your mandir model to Sonia Gandhi, the moment she reached the ghat for a holy dip at the Sangam.

What answer should I give to this question. Sonia Gandhi is a non-Hindu. How can people flock to her. There are three or four sadhus whom she visits. And those sadhus are regarded as Soniaís sadhus. So she has only three or four sadhus whereas we have lakhs of them. So what impression could Soniaji have carved on them. She cannot influence the Hindu sadhus at all. Not a single Hindu sadhu.

Acharya Ram Chandra Paramhans has publicly decried the BJP for the latterís failure to hand over the site to the Ram Mandir Nirman Trust and has urged people to vote against the party in the ensuing polls. Do you think the BJP no more takes up the cause of the Hindus?

Now the BJP has to see that the sentiments of the Hindus are given importance. And unless they do it they have no future. They also know this. The Ramjanambhoomi movement has great sentiment for the people. It is their (BJP's) responsibility now to give back the land to the Niyas. The Supreme Court has also given a directive that they have to give the land back to the original owners. We are the original owners.

And Sir, the first part of my question pertaining to the noises Acharya Ram Chandra Paramhans and several other VHP leaders were of late making against the BJP?

Ram Chandra Paramhans has never asked them not to vote for the BJP.

You had earlier postponed the construction of the Ram Temple in the backdrop of the mounting Indo-Pakistan tension and the looming possibility of a war. Now you have once again revived the call. Do you feel the tension has now receded?

No, no the tension has not receded. There can be a war between Pakistan and Bharat anytime. And we would welcome it. I think the prime minister will have to adhere to his stand of eliminating violence and terrorism from this country. In case of a war between Pakistan and Bharat, of course we shall have to think about our entire programme. We have told the prime minister that we are with him in case of a war.

If such an eventuality prevails are you prepared even to postpone your construction programme?

In that situation, of course. The sadhus have themselves said that if there is a war theyíll think about this movement.

But, the fact is that the current form of the movement is not yielding much public response. You can compare for yourself the crowd that had swelled your programmes in the early nineties and the skeleton crowds that your agitations draw now.

There is a tremendous response from the entire country. I think millions and millions of people are going to participate in the Ramayagya throughout the country. And youíll see that lakhs of people will come to Ayodhya for the programme.

You have urged the Hindu community to take on "Islamist extremism" and unite under one umbrella. Do you think that could be possible as the entire Hindu society is divided on caste lines, particularly due to economic reasons and social disparities?

Hindus are one so far the Dharma is concerned. The entire country is one. Of course Islamist extremism is a global problem. And America is also tackling it. Our country has to fight it alone. It has sufficient strength to fight terrorism both inside and outside.

Shall we say that the doors will be closed on the government for talks after you have served your point and placed your demand before the prime minister?

The doors for talks with the government are open. We will continue to talk till March 12. The sants made a clear plea that, leaving aside the disputed area, for which the PM may have some problems, the 67 acres of undisputed land should be returned back to us. We also clarified that there was a misgiving about the status quo enforced on the 67 acres owned by the Niyas and the reality was there was no such status quo.

The land has two parts -- the disputed area measures around 80x40ft for which a case is going on and for which it is being said that the court verdict would be honoured. Our sants pointed out that over the last half century, the issue could not be decided in court. Ram Chandra Paramhansji explained that excepting him all others who were in the party have died. So how can such a case be solved. It can only be solved on the basis of some documents. That there was a mandir which was demolished, can be established through archeological proofs. The prime minister after listening to us agreed that the law minister should examine if that land can be handed over to the Mandir Niyas.

Were you satisfied with the prime ministerís response?

Considering his compulsions I understand that he could not have done more than what he has done. Because the National Democratic Alliance meeting was held just a day earlier. And if the NDA had done some home work, then perhaps the talks would have reached some solution. But I think the PM had no information.

We placed our plea and he (PM) said he believes the issue could be resolved either through negotiations or through the court. Perhaps he could have been under the impression that the entire land was disputed and due to litigation could not be handed over. I now feel that the real information will now be served to him by the law ministry.

Have you also met some of the NDA allies?

We had a nice talk with George Sahab (Fernandes). I met Mamata Banerjee. She didnít seem to have much information but had asked all her MPs to be present and to study the issue. Earlier I had also met J Jayalalitha. She was very well informed about all the aspects of the issue.

But, some other parties have already started making noises that they will not allow the mandir to be constructed. Now that land is ours and had it not been snatched away by Narasimha Rao, perhaps the construction would have started long ago.

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