Nagpur, MAHARASHTRA — The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) owes its political success and majoritarian politics to the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya and the now-successful demand that a Ram Temple be built on the exact same spot.
But in Nagpur, the headquarters of its ideological parent the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP demolished a decades-old Ram Temple, over the objections of devotees, in the name of development.
The contrasting fates of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya — where Prime Minister Narendra Modi will preside over the laying of its foundation stone on August 5 — and the Ram Temple on Nagpur’s outskirts, critics say, reveals the hollowness of the BJP and RSS’s religious agenda and their insistence that the physical sites of temples is non-negotiable.
“The BJP people play politics in the name of Ram but come to Koradi and see what they have done to a Ram temple,” said a member of the trust that oversaw the now demolished temple.
The two-storied Shri Ram Mandir in Jakhapur village of Koradi gat gram panchayat, not far from Nagpur city, was demolished in November 2018 on the orders of Chandrashekhar Bawankule, a BJP MLA and Nagpur’s guardian minister, during the tenure of former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP. Bawankule was also Maharashtra’s Minister for Energy at the time.
Documents reviewed by HuffPost India reveal the temple was managed by the Shree Ram Mandir Koradi Trust which was registered on 29 May 2001. Bawankule became the president of this trust on 11 Jan 2007, a position he continues to hold to this day.
In 2010-11, when the Congress-NCP alliance was in power, Rs.20 Lakhs were sanctioned for the development of this Ram temple under the C category pilgrimage development program, the documents show.
Then in 2018, as mentioned earlier, the temple was torn down at Bawankule’s direction, the idol of Ram, the presiding deity of the temple, has been locked in a room in the nearby the Shri Jagdamba Mata temple, much to the chagrin of the local residents.
In an interview, Bawankule said that the temple was demolished as part of a broader redevelopment plan authorised by Fadnavis. The idol of Ram from the now-demolished temple would be placed in a Hanuman temple that is part of the same temple complex.
“The Ram temple was becoming a hindrance to the development of the pond which was authorized by the (Fadnavis) government,” Bawankule said, adding that the Ram statue would soon be shifted to the Hanuman temple. “There was no opposition as such to its demolition.”
Bawankule said the demolition and proposed redevelopment went through eight committees and was finally approved by a committee headed by Fadnavis, who was the chief minister at the time.
“It was done under the redevelopment plan approved by the government of Maharashtra,” Bawankule said. “We have not demolished the Ram temple, we have just shifted it.”
Yet, the rubble of the demolished temple was still visible when this reporter visited the site. HuffPost India reached out to Devendra Fadnavis, who did not respond.
A member of the Ram Mandir Trust, the same on which Bawankule presides over, contested Bawankule’s breezy characterisation of events.
“You can not just relocate and demolish a Ram temple in the name of redevelopment. It was an old temple probably dating back many decades,” said the member, requesting anonymity to speak freely, who said the temple had already gone through a round of redevelopment before it was demolished at Bawankule’s behest. “The temple was vibrant. People would flock it on every occasion but a thought came in this man’s (Bawankule’s) mind and the Ram temple was demolished. There was no need for it.”
Several local devotees, including this trust member, said they could not speak up at the time as they feared reprisals from Bawankule.
“Koradi witnessed a reign of terror when Bawankule was the guardian minister of Nagpur district and state energy minister. Anyone who dared to say a word against him either lost his employment or business. It was a one-man rule,” the trust member said. “He did not even spare Lord Ram. Have you heard of Lord Ram’s statue being put in Hanuman temple and beside his disciple Lord Hanuman’s? This is exactly what these people are planning to do,” the trust member claimed.
“We could not speak when this temple was demolished,” said another devotee. “But look at what happened to him in 2019. No politician suffered the kind of humiliation he had to suffer. It was a curse of Bhagwan Ram.”
Nana Kambale, a resident of Koradi and a member of Congress party said, “This Ram temple was almost a hundred-year-old temple. It was demolished and destroyed under the direction of Chandrashekhar Bawankule. All the Hindu residents of Koradi were shocked over the demolition but no one came forward because of Bawankule’s terror.”
The curse, residents say, is visible in the fact that Bawankule was denied a BJP ticket for the 2019 election.
Despite being a three-term MLA from Kamathi assembly segment, a senior minister in Fadnavis cabinet, and a close aide to Union minister Nitin Gadkari, Bawankule was publically humiliated when his own party leaders sent his wife to file nomination papers but at the last minute gave the ticket to another candidate.
But Bawankule swallowed the insult saying that he was thankful to the BJP for making an auto driver a minister. He was recently inducted into the state BJP unit as a general secretary
Bawankule laughed when asked about his terror among people and said, “ Nobody is scared of anyone in today’s age. There would have been opposition if people had not liked it. The Ram temple was falling right in the middle of the Pond development project. It was the Gram Panchayat that demolished it.”
When HuffPost India reached out to Koradi Gat Gram Panchayat Sarpanch Sunita Chinchurkar, she abruptly gave the phone to her husband Bhaskar Chinchurkar, who conceded that the Gram Panchayat demolished it, but at Bawankule’s directions.
“It was done on Chandrashekhar Bawankule’s orders who was the then guardian minister of Nagpur,” Chinchurkar said.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost India and has been updated.