New Delhi: An engineer by education and a trained classical singer, VHP leader Ashok Singhal, who died on Tuesday, became a nationally known figure for spearheading an emotive campaign against the 16th century Babri Masjid in Ayodhya that was eventually razed in 1992.
It was a watershed event in independent India, one that shook the country’s secular foundations, led to unprecedented Hindu-Muslim riots and virtually rewrote the political discourse.
Although the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) immensely profited from the mosque destruction, taking power in 1996 and then in 1998, the man who was the architect of the campaign was Singhal, an unapologetic Hindutva votary whose only mission was to transform India into a “Hindu Rashtra”.
The seeds of Hindutva were sown in Singhal’s mind as a youngster.
Singhal — born to a government official in the Taj Mahal city of Agra in 1926 — was highly inspired by social reformer Dayananda Saraswati and grew up in a religious Hindu household.
He joined the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1942 — the year the Indian independence struggle reached a new peak — after meeting Rajendra Singh, popularly known as Rajju Bhaiya, the fourth Sarsanghchalak (chief) of the RSS.
Rajendra Singh persuaded Singhal’s mother to let her son join the Sangh, and she agreed.
It marked the start of a long journey that, decades later, made Singhal one of the most respected figures within the Hindutva family for being an ace organizer and a good orator.
After finishing college, he became a full time ‘pracharak’ of the RSS.
He spent many years in Kanpur as an RSS worker and was known to be close to its chief M.S. Golwalkar. Another man who influenced his thinking was Veda expert Ramchandra Tiwari.
In 1980, the RSS deputed him to the VHP, making him its joint general secretary. Four years later, he became its general secretary and, later, the working president, a post he held till 2011.
Singhal played a key role in the mega Hindu summit held in New Delhi in 1981 called by Congress leader Karan Singh.
He was also the main organiser of the first VHP ‘Dharma Sansad’ (Religious Parliament) in 1984 in New Delhi that sowed the seeds of the movement to destroy the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya.
Singhal, who raised an army of ‘kar sevaks’ across the country dedicated to building a Ram temple at the site of the Babri Masjid, himself led an assault on the mosque in 1990 that security forces repulsed.
Two years later, by when the BJP ruled Uttar Pradesh, hundreds of frenzied ‘kar sevaks’ brought down, in just six hours, all three domes of the ageing Babri mosque, as Singhal and others cheered.
Unlike many BJP leaders who distanced themselves from that event, Singhal was proud of it — and vowed to keep working till India ceased to be a secular republic and became a “Hindu Rashtra”.
Singhal, who had a degree in metallurgical engineering from Banaras Hindu University Institute of Technology, also had deep interest in Hindustani classical music. He composed many songs for the RSS.
In 1948, when the RSS was banned for the first time in independent India after Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, Singhal went to jail. He completed his graduation in 1950.
Singhal did not hide his glee when Narendra Modi became the prime minister in May 2014. According to Singhal, Modi’s win marked a victory of Hindutva.
No wonder, former VHP president Vishnu Hari Dalmia demanded that Modi should gift a grand Ram temple at Ayodhya to Singhal on his 90th birthday on September 15, 2016.
Fate willed otherwise. On Tuesday, suffering from kidney and heart problems, Singhal, 89, passed away at a Gurgaon hospital, marking the end of an era.