In run-up to the 1993 mid-term elections, ‘temple hero’ Kalyan Singh pompously told a public rally near Ayodhya-Faizabad, the nerve centre of the movement, “Don’t worry about the overcast sky. I have a direct connection with Lord Ram. It will not rain.”
The BJP had launched Janadesh Yatra with temple mascots Lal Krishna Advani and Kalyan Singh on board, ahead of assembly polls in four BJP-ruled states dismissed after December 2, 1992 demolition. The results came as a shocker -- Singh won assembly elections from two seats, BJP failed to reach the majority mark.
Since then, the BJP has remained on a slippery ground though it rode the tiger every election. The party made a comeback after Narendra Modi changed the contours of state politics -- from emotional to developmental in 2014.
But after suffering humiliating defeats in recent state elections -- especially in Bihar -- the BJP is again trying to re-create the temple magic before 2017 elections. UP is high on their agenda as it will boost party’s sagging morale and increase its strength in the Rajya Sabha.
Raising the temple pitch this time is the BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, as both the firebrand votaries of temple movement -- Ashok Singhal and Mahant Ramchand Paramhans -- are deceased. The current leadership of Ram Janma Bhumi Nyas lacks the tone and tenor of the two late leaders.
But can the temple issue pay dividends in 2017 when aspirational politics has taken centre-stage? The history of the movement tells a different story -- the BJP citadel fell along with the shrine.
Since 1989, eight Lok Sabha and nine Vidhan Sabha elections have been held in the state. The BJP’s rapid growth started slowing down after December 1992. It has not formed a majority government till date though the VHP and its associated saints kept pitchforking the emotive issue in public domain, sporadically humming the Ram Dhun. Their loudest and the largest show of strength -- shila daan program -- ahead of 2002 assembly and 2004 Lok Sabha polls came to a naught; the party lost both the elections.
However BJP did taste power once in 1997 in coalition with Mayawati. Later it broke parties and changed chief ministers to survive till 2007. Sadhus again boarded Chetwani Sabha Yatra bus from Ayodhya to Delhi only to lose both the state and subsequent Lok Sabha polls in 2009.
In fact, in Lok Sabha elections, the party peaked in 1998 -- winning 57 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats. Thereafter the decline began. Notably, the Congress was then led by PV Narsimha Rao as Sonia Gandhi was mourning her husband Rajiv Gandhi’s death.
Now some similarities then and now! In 2002, then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee faced the heat, with VHP demanding his resignation.
Prior to the 2004 Lok Sabha polls, PM Vajpayee tried to build bridges with estranged VHP leaders by visiting Ayodhya in August 2003, stoking the temple fire to appease the Sangh Parivar but lost elections to the Congress.
So, the BJP has remained out of power since 2002 in the state and since 2004 at the Centre till its return in 2014 and is now desperately eyeing UP.
But some learn their lessons the hard way.
The views expressed by the author are personal.