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Ashok Singhal, Class of 92: Remembering the Chief Architect of the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement on his death anniversary

Ashok Singhal's lived his life staying true to his conviction. He graduated as a Metallurgical Engineer but engineered the greatest mass movement of Independent India. He had one demand from the party but felt betrayed when the party decided that time hadn't come yet for the construction of the Ram Temple.

Four years ago, on this day, one of the greatest stalwarts of the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement, Ashok Singhal, passed away at the ripe old age of 89 after suffering from poor health for a while. From an affluent family and a graduate in Metallurgical Engineering from the Banaras Hindu University, Ashok Singhal dedicated his life to the resurgence of the Hindu religion.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah remembered him today on the occasion of his death anniversary. He hailed the stalwart’s contribution in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and said that he sacrificed a comfortable life to dedicate himself to the country and Dharma.

Ashok Singhal’s ‘tryst with destiny’ began in 1984, three years after he became the National Joint General Secretary of the VHP. It was the year when the VHP organized its first ‘Dharma Sansad’ to discuss the Ram Janmabhoomi issue. Sants and Sadhus contributed participated in the event in significant numbers and the late Hindutva stalwart played a critical role in making the event a grand success.

Then on, Ashok Singhal became the working president of the VHP. He chalked out strategies and made the Hindutva ideology popular among the masses. More than that, he was the valuable link between the BJP and the community of Sants and Sadhus. Singhal is also credited with convincing the party to include the issue of Ram Janmabhoomi in its 1989 election manifesto.

Read: A Hindu perennially ashamed and guilty: How narrative after Ayodhya verdict is trying to achieve it

From 1984, through the stormy days of the opening of the locks to allow Hindus to worship at the sacred site, the Shilanyas in 1989, the organization of the Kar Seva and ultimately, the demolition of the disputed structure at Ram Janmabhoomi, Ashok Singhal remained at the helm of affairs. In many ways, he was the chief architect of the movement. Subsequently, an FIR was registered against him for his involvement in the demolition.

Ashok Singhal was one of those individuals who lived by his convictions. After the BJP stormed into power on the back of the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement, his personal relationship with the party soured. He felt that Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s government was not doing enough for the cause of Ram Mandir. It is said that he felt cheated. And thus, he was compelled to go on a hunger strike against the government accusing it of taking a callous approach towards the campaign for Ram Mandir.

Read: As liberals claim South Indians don’t care about Ram, read about the history of Ramayana in South Indian states

At that point of time, Ashok Singhal was not even on talking terms with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and at times directed his wrath against Lal Krishna Advani who was the Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister at the time. He demanded publicly that Advani stop saying that the 6th of December, 1992 was the “saddest day of my life”. According to Singhal, the say ought to be celebrated as Shaurya Divas.

However, whatever angst he had against the earlier BJP government, Ashok Singhal’s opposition to it appears to have been dissolved by the time Narendra Modi was elected the Prime Minister of the country in 2014. He heralded the Narendra Modi’s victory as the beginning of a revolution.

“I was at the Sai Baba Ashram where Sai Baba told me by 2020 the entire country will be Hindu and 2030 the entire world will be Hindu. I feel that revolution has started,” Ashok Singhal said at an event in New Delhi. “This is not a modest revolution. It will not remain confined to India but present a new ideology before the world,” he said. According to Ashok Singhal, Narendra Modi’s victory at the polls was the end of 800 years of slavery.

Ashok Singhal played a monumental role in the rise of Hindutva from a fringe ideology to the dominant power in the country. However, there are other facets to the leader that is not very well known. For instance, he was a trained classical vocalist, his guru was the legendary Pandit Omkar Nath Thakur. It is said that he had a melodious voice.

In an interview with DNA, Singhal spoke at length about the work that he had done during his lifetime. He said, “In 1981 after the mass conversion of Scheduled Caste people to Islam in Meeankshipuram in Tamil Nadu, I became part of the VHP. We went there and talked to the leaders of the SC community in the villages. Their main complaint was that they were not allowed into the temples. We built 200 temples for the scheduled castes. The conversions stopped.”

Read: The comprehensive legal History of Ram Janmabhoomi case: A case that will have its relevance for generations to come

Ashok Singhal also appeared to have much favourable opinion of Narendra Modi in comparison to Atal Bihari Vajpayee. When asked about BJP’s prospects in the 2014 Lok Sabha Elections, he said that times were changing and he believed in destiny. He said, “Things are changing. They have brought Modi to the forefront. I believe in destiny. God guides the temple movement. It is not dependent on political parties. The battle has been going on since the Babri Masjid was built in 1528. There have been 76 battles over the last four hundred years and three lakh people have died.”

The stalwart’s opinion on ‘interfaith dialogue’ was also consistent with the conviction with which he had conducted himself throughout his life. He said, “There is no need for a dialogue. People are coming to us (Hinduism) without a dialogue. Patanjali Yoga is becoming popular all over the world. We did not go out. People are coming. We do not need conversions.”

As early as February 2013, Ashok Singhal had compared Narendra Modi’s popularity to that of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister. “There was demand from the masses in the first general elections to make Nehru prime minister… I see a similar demand for Modi now,” he had told reporters.

Like many great men before him, Ashok Singhal passed away without witnessing the conclusion of a dispute centuries old. He passed away at Medanta Hospital in Gurgaon following a multi-organ dysfunction and sepsis. He had been diagnosed with right lower lobe pneumonia, carbon-dioxide retention, sepsis and drowsiness.

Ashok Singhal’s lived his life staying true to his conviction. He graduated as a Metallurgical Engineer but engineered the greatest mass movement of Independent India. He had one demand from the party but felt betrayed when the party decided that time hadn’t come yet for the construction of the Ram Temple. Towards the end of his life, however, he could foresee that the cause for which he had sacrificed his whole life would soon come to fruition.

Although Ashok Singhal did not live long enough to witness the resolution of the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute, he died with the knowledge that it will be resolved soon enough. It took five years for the matter to come to its logical conclusion but the matter has come to rest. The Supreme Court verdict has honoured his legacy and the cause he dedicated his life to. And when all of this is said and done, Ashok Singhal will be remembered as one of the pioneers of the Ram Janmabhoomi Movement.

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