Kameshwar Chaupal was named among the members of the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teertha Kshetra Trust constituted for the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. But unlike others, his name raised many eyebrows.
Chaupal, more than just a BJP leader
Chaupal is a senior Bihar BJP leader who has twice been a member of the legislative council in the state and fought on a BJP ticket in 2014 general election from Supaul Lok Sabha constituency. This is primarily the reason many eyebrows are being raised after his inclusion in the trust.
Last December, Union Home Minister Amit Shah had promised something contrary. "I want to make two things clear: there won't be any trustee from among BJP members and the government will not spend anything on the project. The trust will have to collect donations from the society to build the temple," he said in an interview.
This February, Shah told Parliament, "Ram Janmabhoomi Teertha Trust will have 15 members, out of which one member will always belong to the Dalit community. I congratulate PM Modi for such an unprecedented decision that strengthens social harmony." While Shah has kept his word by including Chaupal, a person from the backward class, Chaupal's close proximity to BJP has raised questions.
But, to be fair, Kameshwar Chaupal is more than a BJP leader. He had a key role in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in the early 1990s. He was a critical part of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the organisation that steered the movement at that time. Chaupal was the organisation's General Secretary.
"The struggle of Ram temple started from Mithila. Today, the District Magistrate of Ayodhya also belongs to Mithila," he told IANS.
November 9, 1989 has been a red-letter day for Chaupal who laid the first brick at the Ram Mandir Shilanyas event in Ayodhya. Speaking to IANS, Chaupal said, "That day was the most important and happiest day of my life. Today the time has come to fulfill the resolution I took that very day."
As he spent his lifetime on this endeavour and looks back as part of the 15 key decision-makers of the all-important trust.
In fact, much before the 1990s when politics hijacked the movement, in the 1980s, Chaupal crisscrossed the country to mount a "final battle" for Ram Janmabhoomi.
But apart from his affiliation with VHP, his links with the BJP is making people's heads turn. In his political life, he has been a BJP Legislative Councillor from 2002 to 2014. Chaupal has also contested Assembly and Lok Sabha elections.
But all Chaupal would say is, "I will take it as a responsibility. My life is for the Ram temple. The struggle has never disappeared from my eyes."
While some perceive it as BJP playing the Dalit card, appointing one of its own from Bihar also sends a political message ahead of the crucial Bihar Assembly election later this year. With the Ram Mandir issue resonating strongly across Uttar Pradesh and Bihar's Hindi heartland, the BJP hopes to reap political benefits with Chaupal's appointment.
But the question remains the same: Has the BJP not gone back on its word against appointing a party leader in the Ram Janmabhoomi trust?
(With inputs from IANS)