The deep dilemma over the Congress Party attending the ‘pran pratishtha’ of the newly built Ayodhya temple, scheduled for January 22, was clarified through a statement released on Wednesday by the All India Congress Committee. The top leaders of the Opposition party — president Mallikarjun Kharge, chairperson of the Parliamentary party, Sonia Gandhi, and the party‘s leader in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury — have “respectfully declined” the invite from the delegation of Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust (a trust formed in February 2020 for the construction and management of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya).
The Congress said, “The inauguration of the incomplete temple by the leaders of the BJP and the RSS has been obviously brought forward for electoral gain.” With about ten days left for the event, the Congress’ decision was as much for its own leaders, as it was for the clarification of its stand on the sensitive issue, to the public.
Why did the Congress decline the invitation?
The Congress said that the event is “obviously brought forward for electoral gain”, pointing out that the temple is still incomplete but the ruling party is inaugurating it for political gains ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi being the centre.
The party said that the Ayodhya temple was made a political project by the RSS-BJP, while religion is a personal matter. It said that the party abides by the 2019 Supreme Court judgment, and honours the religious sentiments of Ram devotees but “respectfully declines” the invite, calling it an “RSS/BJP event”.
Drawing from the party’s statement, it can be understood that the Congress is convincing both those who are not happy with the building of the temple (by not attending the event) and those enjoying the event of consecration (by “honoring their sentiments” and abiding by the SC decision and favoring the temple). But, what has been the stand of the grand old party regarding the dispute? Looking back at history, it can be understood that the party has never been clear on its stance, and has always worked under the weight of different factors.
Where does Congress stand in history, with the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute?
Tracing back in time, we can see that the Congress party has always been in a state of confusion and has seen a division among its party members with regard to the Ayodhya case.
Going back to 1949, it was under the Congress’ rule in the state, when “unknown persons” placed some idols inside the Babri Masjid. This incident was not only ignored by the administration despite filing an FIR at Ayodhya Police Station but the Masjid was then locked and the Muslims were barred from entering it.
Fast forward to 1986, just six years before the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the locks of the Masjid were opened under the supervision of the Congress government when Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister. Although his supporters initially said that he was unaware of it, just three years later, he permitted the Vishwa Hindu Parishad to perform shilanyas (laying the foundation) at the disputed site.
In 1991, competing with the BJP in Lok Sabha, the Congress manifesto said that the party was in favour of the construction of a temple without the demolition of the Babri Masjid. And, just a year later, the mosque was illegally obliterated under the watch of the same Congress government at the Centre.
December 6, 1992, marked a dark day for millions of Indians when the Hindutva extremists demolished the Babri mosque. The groups believed that it stood on the birthplace of the deity Ram. The demolition took place under the protection of the BJP state government and the inaction of the Congress Union government, led by P V Narasimha Rao.
The government allowed the crimes to continue without taking any action against the culprits. Both the smuggling of idols and the demolition were declared as “crimes” by the Supreme Court. In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the building of the temple, despite agreeing in all terms that the land became vacant through acts of crimes and fraud.
The Congress government that sat silently watching Doordarshan on December 6th of 1992, continued doing the same on November 9th of 2019 when the Supreme Court ordered the construction of Ram temple in the disputed land. The Congress said that it welcomed the order, and was in favour of the building of the temple, but this time it did not even mention the Babri Masjid, perhaps in order to survive its political fight with the leading BJP government.
What is the response to the “respectful decline” of the invitation by the Congress?
Refusing to attend the day that saw ‘huge contributions from the BJP government’, the ruling party was not to take this refusal lightly. The response of the people, ministers and politicians is the same as predicted by a Congress MP, Shashi Tharoor, before the announcement on Wednesday. He had earlier said that the Opposition leaders must not be labelled as ‘anti-Hindu’ if they don’t attend the consecration event and neither should they be seen to be “playing into BJP hands” if they do. But that is exactly what happened.
Most of the ruling party ministers and supporters have called them ‘anti-Hindu’, ‘anti-Sanatan’ and ‘anti-Lord Ram’. In response to the refusal, Union Minister Smriti Irani on Wednesday said “Congress party’s anti-Lord Ram face has been exposed before the nation,”. Union Minister Ramdas Athawale said that the program is religious and not a BJP-RSS programme. He accused the Congress government of making excuses not to attend the event.
Senior BJP leader, BS Yediyurappa said, “It is an unforgivable and wrong decision that has hurt the sentiments of millions of Hindus.” While the Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said, “The Congress did not deserve such an invitation”.
The BJP even published a poster of those who refused to attend the event saying, “Recognize the faces of the opponents of Sanatan who rejected the invitation for the Ram Mandir Pran Pratishtha ceremony…”
What is the response of other Congress leaders and members?
Congress has clearly fallen into the trap thrown at it by the BJP. The two choices it was given by the invitation, were set to bring them to doom or risk their electoral votes one way or another. It was supposed to either “disregard the sentiments of the majority and be labelled anti-Hindu” or accept the invitation and show solidarity with the movement, upholding the “injustice”.
Now that it has taken a final call, a few of the Congress workers on the ground, or the state will have to spend more time convincing its people, explaining to them why their national leadership rejected the invitation to the ceremony, rather than working for its Lok Sabha campaign. The division of opinions within the party is already in the play.
On one hand, the Kerala Congress unit had urged the national leadership not to participate in the consecration ceremony. On the other hand, the Karnataka Congress unit leaders and members will perform special pujas in Ram temples in the State on January 22nd, as announced by CM Siddaramaiah on Friday. Siddaramaiah, who did not receive any invitation, said that he would be visiting Ayodhya after January 22nd only to pay obeisance to Lord Ram, and accused the BJP of politicizing the Ram temple issue.
Congress’ Himachal Pradesh minister Vikramaditya Singh said that he will attend the event and accept the invitation, out of respect for his late father who was involved in the Ram Jannmabhoomi movement. Upset over the national leaders’ call on the invitation, Congress leader and former president of the Gujarat Congress unit, Arjun Modhwadia said, “Lord Shri Ram is worshipped by many… This is a matter of faith and belief of the countrymen. @INCIndia should have stayed away from taking such political decisions.”
Now that the grand old party has declined the invitation, a question arises, ‘Has the party risked being branded faithless ahead of the Lok Sabha Polls?’ Or ‘was it successful in its move of gaining the favour of millions of Indians in the upcoming elections?’ with their response to this highly emotive and politically sensitive issue.