In a shocking development in the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya, the Ram Janmabhoomi Teerth Kshetra Trust that bears the responsibility of overseeing the project, has named some controversial figures as its members.
These are Nritya Gopal Das, president of the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas and Vishwa Hindu Parishad vice-president Champat Rai. Both are accused in the demolition of the Babri mosque on December 6, 1992. They face charges under Sections 120 B (criminal conspiracy), 395 (dacoity), 397 (Robbery, or dacoity, with attempt to cause death or grievous hurt), 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly), 436 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to destroy house) 153 A (promoting hate and enmity on grounds of religion) and 153 B (assertions prejudicial to national integration) of the Indian Penal Code. The case against them is ongoing and deals with the larger criminal conspiracy as opposed to the title suit that recently concluded in the Supreme Court. Both, Das and Rai are out on bail and the case is being heard by a special court in Lucknow.
But that’s not all, Nripendra Mishra, former Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will head the Nirman Samiti (construction committee) that has been established for the construction of the temple and management of 66.7 acres of land. Mishra is a retired IAS office from the 1967 batch from the Uttar Pradesh cadre. He is perceived to be a Modi loyalist and was at one point considered the most powerful bureaucrat in the country. Interestingly, in January 2020, Mishra was appointed chairman of the newly reconstituted executive council of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library.
Earlier this month, 9 permanent members of the 15-member trust were named. These include:
92-year-old K Parasaran, who represented ‘Ram Lala’ or the deity during the court proceedings. He will lead the trust.
Jagatguru Shankaracharya Jyothish Peethadheswar Swami Vasudevanand, Prayagraj (previously known as Allahabad)
Jagatguru Madhavarcharya Swami Vishwa Prasannatheerth, Udupi
Yugpurush Parmanand, Haridwar
Swami Govinddev Giri, Pune
Mahant Dhirendra Das, Nirmohi Akhara, Ayodhya
Vimlendu Mohan Pratap Mishra – a descendant of Ayodhya royal family
Dr Anil Mishra, Ayodhya
Kameshwar Chaupal, Patna
The six non-permanent members were to be appointed as follows:
Ayodhya District Magistrate will be the ex-officio trustee. In case the DM is not Hindu, Additional Magistrate will sit on the board
One serving members of the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) of a rank no less than that of joint secretary to be nominated by the central government
One serving IAS member to be nominated by the state government
Temple trust will select two prominent persons by majority resolution
The board will also appoint an ex-officio chairman
Apart from Das and Rai, Govind Giri has been appointed treasurer. Government officials appointed to the trust include:
Anuj Kumar Jha, Ayodhya District Magistrate
Gyanesh Kumar, Additional Secretary (Kashmir), Ministry of Home Affairs
Avneesh Awasthi, Additional Chief Secretary (Home), Uttar Pradesh
It is noteworthy that five out of the nine permanent members are religious ‘gurus’ and heads of important ‘maths’, while one is a lawyer, one a homeopathic doctor, one a descendant of the erstwhile royal family and only one is a Dalit. Chaupal, who belongs to a Scheduled Caste, had laid the foundation stone of the temple during a ‘sheelanyas’ or foundation ceremony organized by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad in 1989. It is interesting that a government that has always tried to project itself as committed to gender justice has failed to appoint even one woman as a permanent or non-permanent member!