People with Ayodhya Ram Mandir donation receipts outside a namghar in Margherita.
MARGHERITA: The months of January and February were hectic for Harish Saikia and Rubul Chetia of Margherita, a small town at the farthest corner of Assam, not far from the Myanmar border.
The duo was among the almost 13,000 karyakartas of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its sister outfits in the northeast who tried to connect as many households as possible to the mandir movement by contributing to the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.
Although the Rs 35 crore they collected from the seven northeast states might be a drop in the ocean, the fact that they managed to reach even far-flunG border villages bears testimony to the Sangh’s ever-increasing presence and the gargantuan effort to link every nook and cranny of the oft-neglected region to the fundraising drive.
But it was a challenging task, for, historically, people in the region haven’t worshipped Ram as a deity.
The fund-collection drive for the temple started on January 15 and continued till February 27 under the aegis of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a Sangh affiliate. According to a VHP statement in March, nine lakh volunteers collected Rs 2,500 crore from across the country for the construction of the temple.
Saikia says they faced questions regarding the significance of Ram in Assam and why people in the state have to contribute to a temple that is coming up in UP.
“I tried to explain to people that the Ram we have in our prayer chants and husoris (Bihu songs) is the Ram of Ayodhya. We don’t have photos or idols of Ram but he is embedded in Assamese culture and tradition,” says Saikia.
He says their campaign slogan was ‘From Namghar to Ram Ghar’. Namghars are community places of worship in Assam that are related to revered Vaishnavite saint and 15th-century reformer Srimanta Sankardev.
Akhil Ranjan Dutta, professor of political science at Gauhati University, explains that the perception of Ram is different in Assamese society from that in north India.
“Ramayana mi issue found a natural resonance in the Hindi heartland states, RSS and its sister organizations have intelligently adapted themselves to local cultural idioms and motifs of the northeast that are far removed from the narrative of Ram,” says Bhattacharjee, adding, “The appropriation of Sankardev’s Eka Sarana Nama Dharma in Assam, Donyi Polo in Arunachal Pradesh and Rani Gaidinliu of Nagaland are interesting examples of the same.”
The Ram Mandir fundraising drive was conducted in every district of the region and no one opposed it, claims VHP’s northeast organisational secretary Dinesh Tiwari.
He says 12,800 karyakartas fanned across the region and raised Rs 35 crore in the northeastern states, at times negotiating difficult terrain.
Interestingly, in three of the seven states, Christians are in a majority and in two others, they form a substantial chunk of the population.
Some Christians and Muslims also came forward and contributed towards the temple, claims Tiwari.