PM in Nepal: Modi delivers VHP a subtle snub, sidesteps Ram Barat
Modi draws his political strength from the Sangh muscles. But, his priority is to scale new heights on international leadership chart.
Why did the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) keep its activists uninformed about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s polite snub over Ram Temple programme in Ayodhya? The VHP had hyped the possibility of Modi joining the Ram Barat that travels every five years from Ayodhya to Janakpur in Nepal.
This year’s barat is already on way to Janakpur. The VHP continued to capitalise on the prime minister’s anticipated participation through misleading announcements by different leaders despite clear indications of his unavailability. Over a fortnight ago the PMO had sent a regret note to VHP general secretary Champat Rai on his invitation to join the celebrations either at the beginning on 17 November or on the concluding day on 30 November. The VHP continued to play hide-and-seek till the PMO issued another announcement to set all speculation on the issue, to rest.
Even in Nepal people expectantly prepared for Modi’s Janakpur visit at the end of the SAARC summit. Sunday’s announcement by the PMO about the cancellation of the trip led to violent protests in that country. The Maoist government strove hard to avoid embarrassment before an important international event. While the Nepalese ministers are blaming each other for mishandling the Janakpur episode, Syed Akbaruddin, the spokesperson for Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) attributed Modi’s inability to visit there to “unavoidable domestic commitments”. Now he will travel only to Kathmandu to attend the Summit. "The Prime Minister deeply values the special relationship between India and Nepal and will always welcome every occasion to visit Nepal and interact with the leadership and the people of Nepal," Akbarrudin said, adding that the PM looks forward to an early opportunity to visit Janakpur, Lumbini, Muktinath.
During his last visit to Kathmandu, Modi had promised to include the three pilgrim towns in his itinerary. Modi’s maiden visit to Nepal as PM - first by an Indian PM in 17 years -- had a major impact on the local people. Nepal is now keen to add value to the SAARC summit by organising a Modi-Nawaz Sharif meeting. So, while the Hindutva issue gets side-lined a more vexing issue comes up on the agenda on the side-lines. Modi’s office has denied any such moves so far. But, the Nepalese are quite confident of bringing the leaders of the two key South Asian nations to engage in a dialogue.
The moderates are praising Modi for deftly handling the issue. The Ram Mandir Trust in Ayodhya along with VHP had been trying to rope in Modi since June last year. Uttar Pradesh Governor Ram Naik who threw propriety to winds and joined the programme in Ayodhya had heightened expectations saying Modi would find a solution to the vexing issue in five years. TheVHP knows that unless Modi associates himself with the Ram Mandir project there would be no thrust to the programme. Even during the election campaign the VHP had wanted to visit Ayodhya and join the prayers like he did in Varanasi. Just to reset the tone the VHP is now warning that it would not wait for five years for a decision on the temple.
Modi has refrained from commenting on the construction of the temple at Ayodhya ever since he assumed office. He is aware of the legal and constitutional ramifications of joining a mission that aligns him with VHP’s activity.
Modi draws his political strength from the Sangh muscles. But, his priority is to scale new heights on international leadership chart. The need to make a mark in the international comity and to stay in the good books of global investors he will need to steer clear of inflammable issues like Ayodhya, especially since courts have not been able to find a legal solution to them so far.
Though there have been numerous instances of heads of government participating in Ram Barat the VHP’s keenness to get the prime minister to join the Ram Barat had acquired communal overtones. Both Mohan Bhagwat of the RSS and Ashok Singhal of VHP have described the construction of Ram Temple at Ayodhya as soul of BJP’s agenda.
Another reason that keeps Modi away from VHP’s activities is his opposition to Praveen Togadia, a former colleague in the Sangh Parivar since the early eighties. The two parted ways after the 2002 elections in Gujarat and Modi has kept Togadia supporters in check ever since and under pressure from the Supreme Court. Togadia and VHP have lost much of their clout in Gujarat. Togadia had also mocked Modi’s effort to woo Muslims through Sadbhavna yatras. Those keen to see Modi shedding his hawkish image will welcome his new-found secular avatar.
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