The Sangh Parivar through its affiliates including the BJP, VHP and the RSS have mobilised its cadre going door to door, collecting funds for the Ram Mandir.

Mohan Bhagwat with Mahamandaleshwar Krishna Shah Vidyarthi at Sri Ram Janmabhoomi Mandir Nirman Nidhi Samarpan AbhiyanMohan Bhagwat (Left) with Mahamandaleshwar Krishna Shah Vidyarthi (Right)
Delve Ram Temple Monday, February 08, 2021 - 19:17

“The entire country is celebrating today as a centuries-old wait has finally ended. For our Ram Lalla, who has been under a tent for a rather long time, a grand temple will be constructed now." This was the clarion call on August 5, 2020 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he participated in the bhoomi pooja of the Ayodhya Ram temple. The history of the upcoming temple is contentious — the land where the temple is to be built is where the Babri Masjid stood until 1992, when it was demolished by a mob of Kar Sevaks. While the issue of whether a temple should even be built on the spot, or if a mosque should be rebuilt there, was raging for decades, the temple was given a go-ahead after a controversial Supreme Court judgment of 2019. Now, the Sangh Parivar, and the BJP, aim to finish the construction of the temple before 2024 — just in time for the next General Elections. 

In January this year, Swami Govind Dev Giri Maharaj, the treasurer of Ram Janmabhoomi Tirath Kshetra Nyas (RJTKN) — the trust set up for the construction and management of the temple — told the media that the Ram temple in Ayodhya will be built in around three years, and that the construction cost of the main temple will be around Rs 300-400 crore, with another Rs 1,100 crore to fully develop the 70-acre land.

What’s underway across the country now is the task of collecting funds for this temple. RJTKN is being aided by organisations under the Sangh Parivar — mainly the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). A massive donation drive was started on January 14, 2021, and the 42-day drive is set to conclude on February 27. According to Dr Anil Kumar Mishra, a member of the trust, the target is to reach each household across 11 crore families and 55 crore people. Just 15 days into the drive, Govind Dev announced on January 29, 2021 that Rs 230 crore had already been collected. The drive is called the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Nidhi Samarpan Abhiyan.

The blueprint

The Sangh Parivar has set statewise targets for their cadre to meet the target for the construction. According to VHP and RSS leaders, the target set for each state is on the basis of the number of households. However, sources say that each state also has a target to achieve as far as the money goes. 

In states like Telangana, the Sangh Parivar is said to have achieved 60% of their collection target of Rs 100 crore by the first week of February. Karnataka has wrapped up the collection, having reached around 90 lakh households in a matter of weeks. The VHP and RSS have stopped all other events during this time and have put their entire energy into the collection drive.

The funds collected would reflect higher amounts for each state if cheques are cleared sooner, says Ravinuthala Shashidhar, Convener spokesperson for VHP (digital) in Telangana. The Sangh Parivar in the state aims to reach 90,000 villages through 1,25,500 karyakartas working for the drive. The state began the donation drive on January 10, five days earlier than the official launch, and will conclude on February 10. 

The bulk of the door-to-door collections so far have been through cash. 

Door-to-door campaigns

In Telangana, the fund collectors are organised in teams of five. “Every team has five people who will go door to door, spend time with them, talk to them about the movement, give them literature and apply door stickers,” says Ravinuthala. They identify the homes that have donated through these stickers. 

Anyone who makes a donation is given coupons as a receipt — the team is ready with coupons of Rs 10, Rs 100, and Rs 1,000, and they collect cash up to Rs 20,000. Any amount over Rs 20,000 is collected via cheque, says Ravinuthala.

“Our main focus is to go to every home personally, sit down with them, and talk and get a contribution. For those who are busy during the day, we are holding special events that talk about the Abhiyan,” he says. The Sangh Parivar is also making requests to head priests of temples across states to assist them in mobilising funds.

“Temple committee members are individually donating funds from their own pocket,” says Keshav Hegde, VHP Organising Secretary for Karnataka. “A temple priest collects donations, as a samarpan for the mutt,” he adds. In many places, temple committees have started fund collection drives from devotees. 

“For every 10 villages, we have one team in Telangana,” says Ayush the RSS General Secretary for the state. “In each village, we coordinate with the temple committee and the village sarpanch — we call it the Jana Jagran. We have the smallest unit which is the basti covering a 10,000 population, about 2,000 homes. So we have a unit for every basti, in urban areas,” he says.

The donors

In Kerala, a controversy erupted when Alappuzha District Congress Committee Vice President Reghunathan Pillai inaugurated a fund collection drive for the Ram temple. When the media asked Pillai why he started the drive, he replied that he was also a temple committee president.

It isn’t just Pillai. VHP and RSS leaders TNM spoke to from many states confirmed that almost all opposition leaders have been approached for making donations — and most have. This is not surprising as parties like the Congress have openly welcomed Ram Mandir and leaders like Digvijay Singh and Hardik Patel amongst others have made contributions.

In Gujarat and Rajasthan, there has been a huge response for the donation drive, says Gopal the VHP General Secretary for both the states.

“In Rajasthan, 50 people have given Rs 1 crore each, some have given more. In Gujarat, a shop owner gave Rs 11 crore, a paint shop retailer gave Rs 5 crore. Eight people gave Rs 5 crore each; in villages also the donation drive is strong,” says Gopal.

“In Rajasthan we will not leave a village or door, we will go door to door,” says Gopal adding, “From Rs 10 to whatever they wish to give, we accept. Even children are breaking their savings box to donate. A 5-year-old child broke his savings box, donated Rs 450 for the Ram Mandir construction,” he adds.

Many RSS leaders told TNM that the drive in Kerala was robust and was reaching many households as the state has the highest number of shakhas in the country.

Read In Kerala, RSS plans to expand across state by end of 2019

When the VHP and RSS leaders were asked if the target was achieved, they said the total amount collected through the drive will be announced by the trust after the fund collection drive concludes on February 27. 

 

 

The data collection

“This is a transparent system,” claims Ravinuthala from Telangana. The trust initiated by the Abhiyan has a ‘collector’ or ‘depositor’ tasked to collect the funds from the karyakartas at the village level, explains the spokesperson.

In almost every state, for every one lakh people, the Sangh Parivar has one depositor, who is in-charge of depositing the funds collected to a bank account. The Sangh Parivar collects many details from the donors such as — area from where the funds were collected, details of the depositor, apart from details on the amount donated and to which of the three Trust approved bank accounts the money will be deposited in.

The details of donors and those issuing receipts to them are then uploaded on to the exclusive app developed specifically for the purpose of keeping track of the money being collected.

“The details of the karyakarta collecting the funds at the grassroot level will be uploaded on these portals, along with the receipt books. An authorised person keeps the receipt books to prevent misuse of funds. No one without authorisation will get the receipt book. All the receipt book serial numbers are also uploaded,” says Ravinuthala while adding that the mobile app is only for their internal purpose, “The trust has developed the app for calculating the amount collected, district-wise, state-wise, and at the all India level,” says the spokesperson.

The Sangh Parivar has also deployed additional “depositors'' for Gujarat and Rajasthan owing to the high influx of donations.

There is concern among many that the data collected could be used by the Sangh to clearly identify its supporters and those who are not willing to donate money to the mandir.

What about money collected before?

The collection drive of the Sangh Parivar is not free of its share of controversies. In 2017 Nirmohi Akhara, a party in the Ram Mandir dispute, had accused the VHP of embezzling Rs 1,400 crore in the name of Ayodhya temple. These funds were collected as part of the nationwide ram rath yatra undertaken by LK Advani in 1990.

The national spokesperson for Nirmohi Akhara, Mahant Sitaram Das, had at the time alleged that the Rs 1,400 crore donated for the cause was being used to construct VHP’s buildings. Accusations were also levelled that funds were used in elections rather than for the Ram Mandir cause.

Other than the Nirmohi Akhara, many others too have questioned the Sangh Parivar on what happened to the money collected before.

 

 

CS Dwarakanath, a lawyer at the Karnataka High Court and former Chairman of Karnataka State Commission for Backward Classes wrote on Facebook that he raised the question to a bunch of people who came to collect money at his residence.

On January 31, the TRS legislator from Parkal, Challa Dharma Reddy alleged that the Telangana BJP was issuing fake receipts. He also accused the BJP of using Lord Rama for political gains. BJP leaders of the Warangal Urban unit pelted stones at Dharma Reddy's residence chanting ‘Jai Shree Ram’ slogans. Another TRS legislator, Korutla MLA Vidyasagar Rao accused the BJP and its affiliates of communalising the state. The legislator also asked the public to not donate to the Ram Mandir but instead asked the public to build temples in their own villages. “Whoever asks for money, tell them that you’ll construct a Ram temple in your own village. Will you go to Uttar Pradesh to see the Ram Mandir there?” Vidyasagar asked.

Violence during collection

In the last week of December 2020 instances of violence were reported from Ujjain, Indore and Mandsaur of Madhya Pradesh. In January this year clashes were reported between mobs of two communities in Kutch, Gujarat. Both these instances of violence allegedly took place during rallies held by the Sangh Parivar as part of their donation drive for Ram Mandir.

At Indore, a seven-member fact-finding team visited Chandan Khedi village in Depalpur tehsil from where the violence was reported. The fact-finding team told the media that the participants of the rally were found carrying swords, rods and sticks. Medha Patkar who led the fact-finding team told Frontline that at Chandan Khedi, there was communal harmony in the Muslim dominated locality until fund collection rally was organised by the BJP. It was alleged that those who took part in the rally shouted provocative slogans aimed at the Muslim community.

The clashes allegedly broke out after three youths climbed on top of a minaret and began vandalising it with swords. The incident led to stone pelting from both sides which later spiralled out of control. Five members of a family were injured and one person suffered a bullet injury in the riots. The local police booked 23 residents from the village holding them responsible for the rioting. The fact-finding team, however, said most of those who took part in the rally were from neighbouring villages.

In the clashes reported from Gujarat, the police-imposed Section 144 prohibiting the gathering of more than five persons and had to use tear gas to disperse the crowds.

 

 

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