Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Ashok Singhal, who played a prominent role in the Ram Janambhoomi movement since the late eighties, died on Tuesday at a private hospital in Gurgaon.
A committed Hindutva votary, Singhal was born in 1926 near Agra in western Uttar Pradesh. He studied to be a metallurgical engineer, graduating from the Banaras Hindu University Institute of Technology in 1950. However, his life would take him in a completely different direction.
Singhal came in contact with the RSS at an early age in 1942 and became a full-time member of the organisation. The next seven decades were spent in organising Hindus. True to the organisation, he remained a bachelor.
In 1980, he became the general secretary of the VHP, an affiliate of the Sangh. The coming decade saw the Ram Janmabhoomi movement gather steam, and Singhal marshalled the energies of the VHP for the movement’s cause, aimed at constructing a Ram temple in Ayodhya at the site where the Babri mosque had stood. He was active in the VHP’s 1984 Dharma Sansad, a congregation of hundreds of Sadhus, where plans were made to reclaim the ‘Ram Janmabhoomi’, which had been locked in dispute for long.
Singhal was a fiery orator — often taking hardline Hindutva positions — and used his skills to the hilt in those days. He planned the VHP’s shila-poojan and Ram Jyoti campaigns as part of the movement. The campaigns did polarise the atmosphere and sparked violence in many places — Kota and Jaipur in Rajasthan, Khargone and Indore in Madhya Pradesh, Gonda and other places in U.P. and Bhagalpur in Bihar — says Amrita Basu in Violent Conjunctures in Democratic India .
Twenty years ago, Mr.Singhal asked VHP volunteers to observe 1995-96 as the year of cow protection. Mr. Jain recalls the movement: “He asked us to put up 30,000 cow protection posts. We rescued as many as three lakh cows from butchers that year.” Singhal also helped plan the overseas expansion of the VHP.