VHP fooling people to help BJP politically, says priest

‘Ram Mandir is an election promise BJP has not kept’

Updated - November 27, 2018 11:17 pm IST

Published - November 27, 2018 09:17 pm IST - AYODHYA

Satyendra Das at his house in the Gopal Mandir complex in Ayodhya.

Satyendra Das at his house in the Gopal Mandir complex in Ayodhya.

It’s a little past 1.30 p.m. and Acharya Satyendra Das (80)has just returned home from his work-place, the makeshift Ram Janmabhooomi temple at the disputed site.

The Gopal Mandir complex he runs, close to the famous Hanumangarhi temple, has lots of open space: a verandah and two courtyards. However, much of the furniture is ordinary. Entry is also unrestricted, belying the significance of Satyendra Das, the headpriest of the makeshift Ram Janmabhooomi temple, a position be has held since March 1, 1992.

“All the agitations organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad for Ram Mandir have been only to bring the BJP to power, and nothing else,” says the priest.

While the VHP on November 25 staged a ‘Dharma Sabha’ here to mobilise support for the construction of a Ram temple, Das, the man who oversees the prayer and aarti at the makeshift temple daily, says the VHP is politically motivated. He was among the prominent Ayodhya seers who did not attend the meeting.

The priest says the sabha was only an attempt by the VHP to show that it is still “strong and capable.” “What was the end-result of the sabha,” he asks, pointing out that the matter is in court and no new construction can take place at the site, which is heavily guarded by the CRPF jawans.

He dares the VHP to breach court orders and place a brick at the disputed site if its threats were genuine. Das says the VHP has only tried to deceive Hindus and ‘Ram bhakts’ to help the BJP politically.

It pocketed crores of money that came in as donations for the temple, he alleges.

“First they started with the Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir, and when they saw people were mobilised over the issue, they spoke of three temples [Ayodhya, Varanasi and Mathura]. After that they said not three, but 3,000 such mosques have been built after demolishing temples,” says Das.

Born in Sant Kabir Nagar district of Purvanchal, earlier part of Basti, Das came to Ayodhya in 1958 to study Sanskrit and Hindu texts. He then served as a priest at the Hanumangarhi temple, before earning the title of ‘acharya’ from Varanasi. Das, who then acquired an M.A in Sanskrit, one of the three degrees be holds, taught at a Sanksrit university in Ayodhya till 2007 when he retired.

In March, 1992, he was appointed the headpriest of the makeshift Ram Lalla temple by the government on the basis of his qualifications and clean record. The administration struggled to find a priest who either didn’t have a criminal record or was attached to a political party, Scharda Dubey notes in her book Portraits from Ayodhya .

Das spends his mornings at the makeshift Ram Lalla temple. On November 25, the day the VHP staged a rally, over 67,000 persons visited the temple, in which Lord Ram’s idol is placed under a tent, heavily guarded by armed forces. The day after, it was business as usual. On any given day, 5,000 devotees offer prayers at the temple, says one of Das’ assistants.

Visitors have to go through four gates of metal detector frames and frisking, and deposit every item except money and jewellery (which can be donated) at the security check.

After that, they must pass through narrow caged barricades and stop a few metres away from the idol, which is placed at an elevated platform where the dome of the Babri Majid stood. Idols of Lord Ram’s three brothers are also kept there.

Remnants of the Mughal-era structure and the brick-walls constructed by karsevaks on the day of the demolition in 1992 and stone-slabs are still present. Devotees can only take prasad from priest, usually of Das’ deputies, and offer donations.

The priest says he “can’t see a way” how the temple will be constructed. He claims the SC is purposely delaying the matter as it “does not know” how to resolve the case. He is also pessimistic about the BJP. But if it brings an ordinance in the winter session, it will be a “good thing,” he says.

“If they don’t, they will mislead Ram bhakts. It was in the election manifesto of the BJP they would prioritise the construction of Ram temple.”

While the VHP’s cry has brought the focus back on Ayodhya, the Yogi Adityanath government moved to clear a 221-metre statue of Lord Ram on the banks of the Saryu, days after it renamed Faizabad district as Ayodhya.

Das says all these annoucements are “inducements” to mislead “Ram bhakts” to bring the BJP back to power in 2019.

“They are not delivering on their promise to build a Ram Mandir,” he charges.

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