The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Wednesday criticised the state government of Uttar Pradesh for banning a 'yatra' (pilgrimage) planned by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in the communally sensitive city of Ayodhya. It is a move that can be politically precarious for the Indian right-wing BJP in an election year, as it seeks to regain power in the 2014 election under its controversial but popular development mascot Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The VHP, meanwhile in a statement, confronting the state administration, said that they will go ahead with the 'yatra' despite the ban.
The religious movement in the communally sensitive city of Ayodhya in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh gathers significance as the VHP is making efforts to revive Ram Janmabhoomi issue and the cause of the Ram Temple in the city. Hindus believe that Ayodhya is the birth place of Lord Ram, one of the most popular gods in Hinduism and is widely worshipped throughout the country.
Called the 'Chaurasi Kos Yatra,' the supposedly religious pilgrimage planned by the VHP has far reaching communal and political implications. Scheduled from Aug 25 to Sept 13, it is a 300-km journey around Ayodhya to revive the demand for a Ram temple in the city. The VHP plans to start from Ayodhya and travel through six districts - Basti, Faizabad, Ambedkarnagar, Barabanki, Bahraich and Gonda - before returning to Ayodhya on September 13.
The VHP had launched a Ram Janmabhoomi movement in 1984 to reclaim the site in Ayodhya for Hindus and erect a temple dedicated to Lord Ram at this spot. They alleged that the Babri Mosque at the site was previous a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Ram. The temple was demolished or modified to build the mosque - a contention that was opposed by Muslim groups.
On 6 December 1992, following a similar movement, the Babri Mosque structure was demolished by 150,000 strong karsevaks (religious volunteers) who travelled to Ayodhya from different parts of the country.
The demolishing happened despite a commitment by the government to the Indian Supreme Court that the mosque would not be harmed.
In the ensuing riots after the mosque was demolished, more than 2000 people were killed as Hindu-Muslim riots broke out in many major Indian cities including Mumbai, Delhi and Hyderabad.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) is a Hindu organisation associated with the Sangh Parivar. Based on the ideology of Hindutva, the Sangh Parivar is an umbrella of Hindu nationalist organisations which also includes the centre-right Indian political party Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the cultural organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Considering its close association with the VHP, it is natural that the BJP would come out in support of the 'yatra'.
However, what makes the BJP's move surprising is that it has taken its stand unmindful of the political damage it can cause to potential and future alliances in an election year.
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