September 25, 2007
Vishwa Hindu Parishad General Secretary Praveen Togadia talks to Nistula Hebbar on Ram, the Ram Sethu and the VHP-Bharatiya Janata Party relationship.
You have raised the Ram Sethu issue in the past, but your point of view has got a boost because of the government's controversial affidavit, rather than the movement itself?
Our movement has got a boost from the faith of the people, not from anything that the government has done to undermine Ram. The government may have precipitated matters by its blasphemous affidavit, but the underlying anger among the people was there to begin with. The media was not aware of the movement but people have supported us fully.
What do you say to people who say that Ram is a mythical character and that he never existed?
According to rationalists, anything that cannot be proven does not exist. Therefore, since God's existence has not been proven, he too does not exist. I want to ask them: Has it been proven that God does not exist? So, why are you so eager to believe that God does not exist? To compare the history of Islam or Christianity to that of Hinduism is not fair. Those are products of fairly young civilisations, not like Hinduism, which is a product of the oldest living civilisation in the world.
You have said that the government has deliberately filed a blasphemous affidavit in court. Why?
The government filed that affidavit on September 11 and the VHP organised a chakka jam (road blockade) on September 12. Had the affidavit been filed by mistake, the government would have withdrawn it immediately. Instead, after it realised that it had offended Hindus beyond breaking point, it had to withdraw the affidavit. This clearly illustrates the intentions of the government.
The National Democratic Alliance government initiated the Ram Sethu project. Don't you think you should protest against them as well?
The NDA government had not approved the project, and I refuse to believe that it would. They, like us, have not been against the (Ram Sethu) canal, but against a channel. We too are not opposed to the project per se, but the destruction of the Ram Sethu. We are for a land route which will save the Ram Sethu. If there are alternative routes, we too are in favour of the project.
What about Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi's remarks on the veracity of Ram and his engineering degree? What about attacks on his family?
Karunanidhi is a known atheist, so there is no surprise if he denies the existence of Ram. The people of Tamil Nadu will give a fitting reply to his words as Ram's appeal cuts across caste and regional lines. As for the attacks on him and the Tamil Nadu state transport bus, no VHP worker was involved. Someone engineered the attacks to discredit us. Ours is a peaceful movement. Even during the September 12 chakka jam, there was no violence.
There are other issues people have against the Ram Sethu, like the destruction of marine ecology and the plight of fishermen in the area. Why aren't you highlighting them?
We are and what's more, the fishermen at Rameshwaram and Dhanushkodi, among them Hindus, Muslims and Christians, are supporting us. I have met many of them and even the communist party-led fishermen's union is opposing the Ram Sethu project.
You have said that this movement will not depend on other organisations. Are you going to keep it a VHP-specific movement?
This is not a VHP-specific movement. Over 40 Hindu organisations and many others have joined us in this movement. This is a movement for Hindus across the country.
Is the BJP a part of this Hindu coalition? There has been some talk about you not wanting the BJP to join in, looking at the way the Ram Janmabhoomi panned out, with the NDA government not doing much to build a temple at Ram Janmabhoomi.
Well, it is up to the BJP to decide whether it is a Hindu party or not, how can we decide for them? All Hindu-minded organisations are free to join us. The question of them joining the movement starts from there. For this, I am afraid you will have to direct your question to the BJP, not to me.
What if people like Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, with whom your relations are not among the best, use the Ram Sethu issue at election rallies. Would you say he is politicising it?
Narendra Modi or whoever talks about the Ram Sethu issue, whether on a political platform or otherwise, will have to examine his own motivations for doing so. For us, Ram is a matter of faith, he cannot be a political issue. But that is our stand. I cannot tell you why he will speak of the Ram Sethu, I only know what motivates me.
Much has been said about Ram as God, a man or a historical figure. What is your belief?
For me, Ram is God, a man and a historical figure. I am a practising Hindu, a believer and this comes out of my convictions. As I said earlier, rationalists only believe what can be proven. Well, nobody has proved that Ram did not exist. What crores of people believe and have believed over centuries has not been convincingly disproven. People said that Krishna did not exist, then what about the submerged Dwarka city that scientists have discovered?
What are you going to do to take this forward?
From September 28 to October 10, we will be asking Hindus and Hindu organisations from all districts across India to spread the movement, carrying with them copies of the Ramayana, the Rameshwaram Jyotirlinga and illustrations of the Ram Sethu. It will be like the Ram Shila movement all over again, with a massive mobilisation of people from all over the country.
What is the scope of this movement? Do you think that it will be as big as the movement over the Ram temple in Ayodhya?
Yes. This is going to be huge, as big as the Ram Janmabhoomi movement. Our motivation and zeal are as they were during that time and the people also appear to be with us on this. Log jag gaye hain (people have awakened). This issue will have major implications on the politics and future of the country just as the Ram Janmabhoomi movement had.