On October 22, 1990, Rajiv Tuli, then a final-year student of B. Com (Hons) at Delhi University, left for Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh. His mother sent him off with a tilak on his forehead and the family braced for the prospect of not seeing their son again.

Tuli, then 20, was one of kar sevaks (volunteers) who dreamt of demolishing the disputed 16th century Babri Masjid and building a temple to Lord Ram on the site they believe marks the birthplace of the Hindu deity.

“We were aware of the dangers, there was a hostile government [led by Mulayam Singh Yadav] ruling Uttar Pradesh and we knew anything could happen. But we knew we had to go, no fear or government could stop us,” Tuli said.

On October 30 and November 2, 1990, 16 people were killed in clashes as police opened fire in Ayodhya. Two years later, a mob of kar sevaks succeeded in razing the mosque. That was exactly 26 years ago on December 6, 1992.

Now a senior Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) functionary, Tuli, who runs a manufacturing business, is one of the faces behind a renewed Ram temple movement – part of an army of professionals who believe the cause is key to asserting their Hindu identity.

Read: 26 years on, Ayodhya residents recall the horrors of 1992 tragedy

If Tuli’s reasons for joining the Ram temple campaign were fostered by his family’s connection with the RSS, one young lawyer who is now part of a team that is fighting a legal battle for the temple in a court of law grew up in a family that he says were supporters of the Congress.

The lawyer, who wants to remain anonymous, says it was a rebuke from a teacher at a premier institute in Mumbai that sent him on the journey to reclaim Lord Ram’s birthplace.

“I remember sitting in the cyber lab and watching the interview of one of the lawyers supporting the temple when one of my teachers passed by and abused me, my caste, and my religion. That is when I realised that while it is important to build the temple in Ayodhya because it is the birthplace of Lord Ram, it is even more important to build it there to prove a point and rub salt on the wounds of these Hindu-hating liberals,” he says.

Hindu identity, cultural connections and religiosity form the axis on which the Ram temple movement now spins.

Members of the RSS and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad claim that the campaign in its current avatar has more young people from a cross-section of society, most of whose families were not linked to Hindu organisations.

These people find a cultural connection with the movement, says Rajya Sabha member Rakesh Sinha, who likens the Ram temple movement to the freedom struggle.

“The youth has accepted that this is the birthplace of Lord Ram and Babar was an aggressor. There are scientific studies and reports from the Archeological Survey of India to prove that there was a temple at the site where a mosque later came up,” he says.

Historian Shireen Moosvi says she is sceptical about these records. She says the ASI report that is often quoted by the RSS functionaries has been “torn to shreds” by academics over “discrepancies.”

Read: Vishwa Hindu Parishad to observe Shaurya Diwas in Ayodhya on December 6

In 2003, ASI told the Allahabad high court that there was evidence of a temple having existed under a mosque. “That building was an example of upcoming Mughal architecture, it had nothing to do with a temple. All this is being done to misuse religion for political purposes,” she said.

For Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi alumnus Bharat Sharma, not having a temple at the site believed to be birthplace of Ram is yet another example of the “suppression” of the Hindu identity. He says the anger stems partly from the limits imposed on Hindu festivities and traditions.

“There is anger over issues such as the cracker ban on Diwali, Jallikattu [bull-taming sport in Tamil Nadu], the tampering of traditions at Sabarimala. The identity of this nation is Hindu, the original copy of the Constitution has Hindu imagery, but the population of Hindus is falling. This movement is about asserting our Hindu identity,” he says.

Is he motivated by RSS? The 43-year-old, who runs a manufacturing business, says he isn’t.

Political opponents of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) say the attempted revival of the Ram temple movement is an attempt to polarise the electorate ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. They allege that the BJP uses the temple issue as a prop to sway voters.

Shahid Siddiqui, a former member of the Rajya Sabha and a journalist, says the renewed temple movement is a “planned political move” by the BJP.

“The fact that they kept quiet for four-and-a-half years is not accidental. They had planned to bring it up just ahead of the 2019 elections. And if the BJP cannot pass a law in Parliament, they will tell people to vote them back with a majority so that they can construct the temple. BJP knows their economic policies will pay them no dividends; of late there is no mention of Achchhe Din [good days],” he said.

Read: Ayodhya admin takes preventive steps to ensure calm on Babri anniversary on Dec 6

In October, the Supreme Court turned down requests for an early hearing in the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi title dispute and said the top court will decide the course of hearings in the first week of January.

BJP president Amit Shah recently told a TV channel: “Had it been our way, the case would have been settled and the Ram temple been constructed in Ayodhya.” He claimed that the party has always been in favour of the courts hearing the Ayodhya case on a priority basis, but the Congress has been delaying the case.

Jawaharlal Nehru University sociologist SS Jodhka said: “This mobilisation is part of the larger Hindutva cause. A section of the upper caste Hindus has always had an inclination for Hindutva ideology, and some of them have a sense of belief that democracy has affected them negatively.”

Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said: “People are accosting the BJP government on unfulfilled promises on jobs, rural distress, corruption, demonetisation and the sad state of the economy. (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi thinks he can take refuge behind emotive issues and escape these valid questions. He also knows he will not succeed.”

First Published: Dec 06, 2018 10:09 IST

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