Over the last few days, the yesteryear poster boys of Hindutva, Ashok Singhal and Praveen Togadia, realised not only their fading appeal but also the increasing irrelevance of a confrontational topic that they dust off occasionally — the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya. The people of Uttar Pradesh cold shouldered the renewed efforts to bring the temple back to the forefront of the national agenda — which, is now preoccupied with a flailing economy. The absence of any significant mass support for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s (VHP)yatra around Ayodhya is reassuring. It shows that the people have evolved from the days of the early 1990s when communal confrontations shook the very foundations of India. The younger generation, which is demanding better governance from our politicians, is not easily swayed by cynical politics. But this reading of the situation must not make us complacent.
The VHP’s plans for Ayodhya, far from being an act of piety, are clearly designed for political ends. The BJP, an associate of the Sangh parivar along with the VHP, may still be tempted to fall back on some identity politics as the 2014 election nears. A huge increase in its UP tally is essential for the BJP to stay in the reckoning to form a government at the Centre. If the political climate in the country polarises into a binary situation, based on the single question of whether you are for Narendra Modi or against him, the possibility of religious mobilisation becomes more possible. While we cannot fault the administrative measures taken by the Samajwadi Party-led government in UP to avoid a showdown, the diatribe that is sought to be built by its leaders is a worrisome sign. The high decibel cacophony involving the BJP and the SP leaders in the state evokes the dark memories of the late 1980s and early 1990s, when both parties sought to gain from religious polarisation.
The last decade has been relatively calm in UP in terms of the communal situation, but the last 18 months have been troublesome. Ever since the current government led by Akhilesh Yadav took office, there have been nearly 150 communal clashes in the state. At least a dozen of them have been serious. An ongoing cow protection movement in the state has been a major source of friction in the state. Altogether, the situation in UP has never been worse in the last decade. So while we certainly have reasons to be proud that divisive politics is not easy to sell to India’s younger generation, we must constantly be aware of the tenuous nature of our social harmony. While the state must take strong administrative measures to ensure that hate is not propagated, the responsibility is more on our political parties to desist from disharmonious mobilisation, howsoever tempting that may be. Given the grave challenges that India faces to bring back the economy on track, we can ill-afford such social tensions now.