The Kashi Vishwanath temple in Varanasi. (Express File Photo)

By Shyamlal Yadav / The Indian Express

Sunil Ambekar, the Akhil Bharatiya Prachar Pramukh, or all-India publicity in-charge of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) recently said on the Kashi-Vishwanath Temple-Gyanvapi mosque dispute: “I believe we should let facts come out in the open. In any case, truth always finds a way to come out. How long can you hide it? I believe the time has come to put historical facts in the right perspective before society.”

Sunil Ambekar, the Akhil Bharatiya Prachar Pramukh, or all-India publicity in-charge of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) recently said on the Kashi-Vishwanath Temple-Gyanvapi mosque dispute: “I believe we should let facts come out in the open. In any case, truth always finds a way to come out. How long can you hide it? I believe the time has come to put historical facts in the right perspective before society.”

While RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had described the Sangh’s involvement with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement as an “exception”, demands are being raised from various quarters that the organisation take up the disputes in Varanasi and Mathura as well.

The historical record shows that the RSS first raised its demand on Kashi as early as in 1959, but it took until 2003, more than a decade after the demolition of the Babri Masjid, for it to adopt a resolution to support the demand for the “restoration” of all three shrines to Hindus.

The beginning: RSS raises the issue of Kashi Vishwanath in 1959
After the founder of the RSS, Dr K B Hedgewar, passed away in 1940, M S Golwalkar took over as Sarsanghchalak. As the RSS gained in strength across several states and the allegations of its association with the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi began to fade, some swayamsewaks launched the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), a political front for the organisation.

The issue of the “return” of Hindu temples was first taken up in 1959, and mentioned only Kashi Vishwanath — not Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya or Krishna Janmabhoomi in Mathura. At the annual meeting of the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha (ABPS) of the RSS that year, a resolution on the “Issues of Temples Turned into Mosques” was adopted.

It said: “Many intolerant and tyrannical foreign aggressors and rulers in Bharat have, during the last one thousand years, destroyed many Hindu temples and built mosques in their place, with a view to smiting the nationalistic sentiments of our people… Out of all such temples, the Kashi Vishwanath temple occupies a special place of honour because of its unique position as the centre of devotion and faith of all Hindus throughout the country… The Government, keeping in view the right of freedom of worship guaranteed in the Constitution and with a view to creating an atmosphere of mutual tolerance and goodwill, should take steps for the return of all such desecrated temples and ensure their renovation.…. The Sabha (ABPS) urges the Government of Uttar Pradesh to take steps to return this temple to the Hindus…”

Meenakshipuram: The turning point in Hindu mobilisation, 1981
After the collapse of the Janata Party experiment, the leaders of the BJS broke away and founded the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in April 1980. The following year, there was deep concern in the RSS after about 150 Dalit families in Meenakshipuram district of Tamil Nadu’s Tirunelveli district converted to Islam to escape caste oppression.

At the meeting of the Akhil Bhartiya Karyakari Mandal (ABKM) of the RSS in 1981, a resolution was passed calling on Hindus to bury the differences of caste. In the years that followed, the activities of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, which had been formed in 1964 but did not until then have a focussed purpose, gained momentum under Ashok Singhal.

The 1981 ABKM resolution called upon “the entire Hindu Society to bury deep the internal caste dissensions and the pernicious practice of untouchability and stand up as one single homogeneous family, so that the neglected and down-trodden sections will be assured of a place of equality, security and honour in the Hindu fold”.

The resolution “heartily appreciate[d] the initiative taken by several religious and social leaders and organizations in this direction and urge[d] the people to whole-heartedly support their efforts”.

The Meenakshipuram incident changed the dynamics of the RSS’s Hindu renaissance project. Ashok Singhal, who had been moved after the Emergency as Prant Pracharak of Delhi (and Haryana) from his post of Sambhag Pracharak in Kanpur, and who had organised a Virat Hindu Sammelan at Boat Club in New Delhi under the chairmanship of Dr Karan Singh, was deployed to the VHP.

It was Singhal who turned the focus on Ayodhya. Singhal took some pracharaks like Vinay Katiyar from the RSS to assist him. Katiyar was appointed convenor of the Bajrang Dal, a youth wing of the VHP.

In a meeting of the VHP in 1984, a resolution was passed to “free” the Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya. Even as the Faizabad (now Ayodhya) court was hearing the matter of opening the locks of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, the movement gained strength.

Earlier in 1983, the VHP had launched an Ekatmata Yatra with a message of unity of Hindus. A former Congress MLA and former minister in the UP government, Dau Dayal Khanna, got associated with the VHP that year. Shrish Chandra Dikshit, who retired as DGP of UP in 1984, also joined the VHP. Singhal was able to obtain the support of sadhus belonging to various sects for the temple movement.

1980s: VHP raises demand for Ayodhya-Kashi-Mathura, but Sangh stays focused on Ram Janmabhoomi
In April 1984, the first Dharma Sansad organised by the VHP demanded the removal of the three mosques at “Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi”. On June 18, 1984, the Ram Janmabhoomi Mukti Yagna Samiti was formed with Khanna as convener.

On September 25, 1984 a Ram Janki Rath Yatra was launched from Sitamarhi in Bihar. The Yatra reached Ayodhya on October 7, and Lucknow on October 14. A delegation met then Chief Minister N D Tiwari in the state capital.

The Yatra was supposed to conclude on October 31 that year in New Delhi, and a delegation was to subsequently meet Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. However, the Yatra was still at Ghaziabad, when Indira was assassinated by her bodyguards on October 31, 1984. In the turmoil that followed, all programmes were put on hold.

During the Rath Yatra, while the focus remained on Ayodhya, some speakers mentioned Kashi and Mathura as well. The RSS lent support from the background, and declared that while the other two temples were important, it was for the moment focussed on Ayodhya.

In its ABPS at Nagpur on March 15, 1985, the RSS said that “Ramjanmbhoomi Ayodhya, Krishna Janmabhoomi Mathura and Vishwanath Temple Kashi are most sacred places for Hindus”, but its demand was concentrated on Ayodhya as it “expected that UP government will realise the truth and will return it (disputed site at Ayodhya) to rightful owner Hindu samaj”.

After the locks of the Ram Temple were opened in February 1986, at a meeting in Lucknow of RSS district pracharaks of Eastern UP, then Sarsanghchalak Balasaheb Deoras signalled swayamsevaks to become part of the VHP’s programmes.

The ABPS meeting held in March 1986 passed a resolution thanking the sants and the VHP for “pressing the demand (of Ram Temple) at all concerned levels through democratic channels”, and urged the government “to hand over the Janmabhoomi place and adjacent land, to the Ram Janmabhoomi Trust created for the purpose of developing that hallowed spot in a befitting manner”. The ABPS also appealed to the Trust “to formulate the new construction project”.

The ABPS resolution of the following year (1987) said: “Just as the renovation of Somanath Temple was carried out and statues of English rulers and their victory-monuments were removed, the ancient but dilapidated Ram Janmabhoomi temple too needs to be restored to its old glory… The ABPS appeals to the government to allot sufficient open ground and extend all necessary facilities to the Sri Ram Janmabhoomi Trust… The Sabha calls upon the entire Hindu Society in general and the Sangh Swayamsewaks in particular to whole-heartedly take part in the task of putting up an imposing shrine at the Ram Janmabhoomi…”

1989: BJP’s Palampur resolution on Ayodhya, but no mention of Kashi-Mathura
On June 9-11, 1989 in the meeting of its national executive at Palampur in Himachal Pradesh, the BJP said, “The sentiments of the people must be respected, and Ram Janmasthan handed over to the Hindus — if possible, through a negotiated settlement or else, by legislation. Litigation certainly is no answer.” (However, the party was to later deviate from its stand on seeking a resolution in the courts.) The Palampur resolution made no mention of Kashi and Mathura.

The RSS, in its Akhil Bhartiya Karyakari Mandal (ABKM) meeting in 1989, passed a resolution: “Prime Minister Sri Rajiv Gandhi is on record to have said that he was instrumental in withdrawing the case pending in the Calcutta High Court about the Holy Koran with the observation that the Courts cannot have jurisdiction over the holy book… But in the matter of the Rama-Janmabhhomi the same Prime Minister and the Central Government are bent upon making it a debatable issue for the courts to decide. The ABKM strongly resents this discriminatory policy of the Government, which parades itself as being secular… The ABKM appeals to all our Hindu brethren to extend their hand of generous help and support for the erection of the temple in every possible manner and participate actively in every activity.”

ABKM in 1990 resolved: “In response to the call given by the president of the Ram Janmabhoomi Mukti Yajna Samiti to all the Hindu organisations and eminent personalities of the country to extend their whole-hearted support to the decisions of the ‘Sant Mandali’, the ABKM assures the all-out co-operation of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in this most sacred venture and calls upon all our countrymen to consider no sacrifice as too great in accomplishing this glorious task of restoring the honor and self-respect of our Nation.”

In 1991, the ABPS called upon “the entire Hindu society in general and the Sangh Swayamsevaks in particular, to brace themselves up for any amount of sacrifice and hardship and take forward this agitation with all earnestness and dedication. Victory is assured. Lord Shri Rama’s blessings are always with us.”

But again, Kashi and Mathura had no mention.

1992 onwards: Post Babri Mosque demolition, Ayodhya on BJP’s backburner
In 1994, the ABPS passed a resolution saying, “The Pratinidhi Sabha urges the Central Government that it should not try the patience of the Hindu society and promptly hand over the acquired piece of land to Shri Ram Janmbhoomi Nyas…”

The governments under Atal Bihari Vajpayee from 1998-2004 kept the Ayodhya issue on the backburner. The BJP appeared to be putting its faith in the judicial process. There was talk in political circles about the uneasy relationship between Prime Minister Vajpayee and the leadership of the RSS on the Ayodhya issue.

In January 2001, with Vajpayee as Prime Minister and Rajnath Singh as Chief Minister of UP, a Dharma Sansad held in Prayagraj urged the removal of “all hurdles” in the way of Ram Temple by March 12, 2002, Mahashivratri of the following year.

In its 2001 resolution, the ABPS of the RSS said it “welcomes the wise decision of the Dharma Sansad to allow sufficient time for the Government to do away with the hurdles which have been needlessly obstructing the temple construction over almost a decade… The ABPS feels the ball is in the Government’s court and it is up to them to explore every single avenue to respect the deep-felt national sentiment vis-a-vis Ayodhya Ram Temple.”

Singhal was annoyed at the approach of the BJP governments in Delhi and Lucknow. The BJP in its Raipur national executive in July 2003 stated its inability to take the legislation route on the Ayodhya issue without the backing of the other partners of the NDA, and of opposition parties like the Congress.

But again, Kashi-Mathura were not part of discussion.

2003: RSS raises Kashi-Mathura with Ayodhya for the first time
With the BJP government headed by Vajpayee at the Centre, the ABKM of the RSS, in 2003, reiterated “its unqualified support to the just demand of the Hindu society for restoration of the holy shrines of Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi to them”.

It said: “Bhagwan Ram, Bhagwan Krishna and Bhagwan Shankar symbolise Bharat’s age-old civilisation, cultural and spiritual identity. Restoration of the pristine glory of these holy places is the bounden duty of independent Bharat… It is not out of place here to remind the countrymen about the restoration of the glory of Somnath immediately after independence. On the same lines, restoration of three other important holy places — Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi — should also be done.”

The ABKM also called upon “the Muslim leadership to seize the historic opportunity and give up their claim over the sites at Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi so as to pave way for creation of mutual goodwill and respect between Hindus and Muslims forever”.

Following 2003, however, the RSS did not return its focus to Kashi and Mathura again. In 2020, the ABKM adopted a resolution praising the clearance for the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. The ABPS meeting of 2021 praised the start of the construction. But neither resolution mentioned Kashi and Mathura.

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