Has Ayodhya lost its relevance as India’s communal fault line? Or is a stage being set again in the temple town in eastern Uttar Pradesh, 136 km from Lucknow, for another round of bitter tussle before the 2014 general elections?
The Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri mosque controversy — especially after the demolition of the mosque, built by Mughal emperor Babar in 1528, on December 6, 1992 (see graphics) — began to fizzle out as India moved on.
On December 6, 2012 — precisely two decades after the demolition — the town wore a deserted look, despite beefed-up security, sealed-off roads and increased police pickets. The leaders of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad — an RSS-led Sangh Parivar offshoot, which led the demolition — and their kar sevaks (volunteers) were nowhere to be seen.
The shrill war cry of ‘Mandir yahin banayenge (We’ll build the Ram Temple at the disputed site)’ mellowed down following the Supreme Court stay on the Allahabad High Court order dividing the disputed site into three sections in May 2011.
The only sign of the temple movement left in the town was huge stacks of carved pillars meant for building the temple. The last mass mobilisation programme by the VHP was the 2002 shila pujan, followed by the distribution of Ram and Sita idols in villages.
But things — or, at least, the perception — are changing fast. After Gujarat CM Narendra Modi took over as the BJP’s poll campaign chief, his confidant Amit Shah paid several visits to Ayodhya, giving rise to the speculation that the Parivar would again play the Hindutva card.
Interestingly, the ruling Samajwadi Party, a sworn enemy of the Parivar, finds the return of the temple ghost quite convenient. For, it may help the party strengthen its hold on the minority vote bank.
According to a political observer, although the VHP had planned to nettle the Muslims through their proposed Parikrama — walking around Ayodhya — they were actually worked up by retired justice Palok Basu’s move to find an amicable solution to the issue.
As he succeeded in mobilising about 10,000 signatures, the VHP rushed to SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav and urged him to begin talks on the temple tangle. But Yadav decided to ban the Parikrama instead – and made the temple issue relevant again.
Earlier, Swamy Chinmayanand, former minister of state for internal affairs in the Vajpayee government and a temple protagonist, lost his cool when the media wanted to know why the BJP and its associate parties remembered Ayodhya only before the elections. Soon after, the delegation met Yadav and his CM son Akhilesh.
As the VHP decided to begin a new controversy by holding the Parikrama, the reactions followed the expected lines. The state government banned it, the VHP dared it and the SP’s minority leader Mohammad Azam Khan criticised Mulayam for meeting the Parivar.
A day after the Parikrama ban came the state cabinet’s decision to earmark 20% of the funds spent on 85 public welfare schemes run by 30 departments for minorities. The party will now claim to have implemented the recommendations of the Sachar committee — set in 2005 to look into the plight of the minorities — even though the UPA 2 sat over it. Game 2014 has begun.