It is one of the givens in India’s political scenario, especially within the media circles, that the BJP owes its growing electoral acceptability from the 1990s to the Ram Mandir movement and whenever any major election is in the offing, the sangh parivar unlocks the issue from its store house and unleashes one or another move towards building the temple.
The coincidence between the two has been noted by almost every newspaper/TV journalist as red stone slabs started their journey towards Ayodhya recently. However, has the “given” really enabled the BJP to reap the sort of electoral dividends it is credited with? The facts indeed fly in the face of this assumption. And these are not “manufactured” facts!
The first time the BJP came to power on its own in UP, home of Ayodhya, was in 1991 with the harvest of 221 seats, when the temple movement was just about coming centre stage under the leadership of LK Advani. Ironically, as his political fortunes declined in the 21st century both outside and within the BJP, he began to be hailed as an embodiment of secular politics in the media.
On the fateful day, December 6, 1992, the movement culminated in the demolition of the Babari Masjid, leaving as well preceding a huge trail of blood on the ground. Some months later, assembly elections were held in some states in the Hindi-speaking region, heartland of the movement. The BJP lost UP badly. Its present tally dwindled to a miserable 47 out of 403 in 2012 and does not look poised for a rocket rise in the elections in 2017, for which heat is being turned on in Ayodhya.
In the other major Hindi-speaking state, MP, then the biggest in the country in terms of area (before Chhattisgarh was carved out in 2000), the BJP lost power and was able to recapture it only after a 10-year hiatus when Digvijaya Singh had his days of glory.
In Himachal Pradesh, it won eight seats in a house of 68. However, in Rajasthan, the party survived because of two sorts of distances: the physical distance of the region from the scene of action and the discreet political distance its chief minister, BS Shekhawat, had kept between himself and the movement.
It thus becomes hard to get carried away by the equation between the Ram Mandir movement and the rising fortunes of the BJP, never mind the media. Indeed the connection between the movement, or the well worked out strategy of communal polarisation on the eve of elections, and electoral dividends has rarely worked in India.
The most recent instances are Delhi and Bihar, still fresh in memory. In Delhi, within about six months of the triumphal march of the BJP to the Lok Sabha, the BJP stoked communal fires here and there, but the results stunned it! The metaphor of a three-wheeler scooter as the vehicle for the entire BJP lot in the assembly of 70 is most telling. On the eve of Diwali, Bihar too has put to rest the communal strategy of the BJP. The one state where polarisation yielded a rich and durable harvest was in Gujarat, thanks to the active collaboration between the state’s political leadership, a pliant bureaucracy and the party. Everywhere else the results are far from reassuring for the BJP, or indeed for the sangh parivar. Why does then the parivar still persist with the failed strategy?
The mother organisation in the parivar, the RSS, since its inception has set its sights higher than winning elections and working a democratic polity. Its foundational texts, like MS Golwalkar’s We, the Nation Defined, have little love lost for parliamentary politics and adore Hitler for establishing a model authoritarian regime and cleansing the society of its “impurities”, i.e. the Jews, translated in the Indian context as Muslims and Christians. The vision goes beyond authoritarian regimes, focusing on reshaping India’s destiny in terms of its pure and singular Hindutva ideology.
Its aim is to make Hindutva Indian society’s “common sense” a la Gramsci. Winning state power, through elections or without them, is a step towards that end, not the end itself. Its chief target of attack is not corruption, for it has demonstrated a charming degree of tolerance of it within its offspring, the BJP, but the pluralist nature of Indian society, its religions and cultures. Ironically, Hinduism provides the most powerful support to this pluralism, with its denial of the singularity and finality of The Truth which characterises several religious as well as non-religious ideologies such as Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and Positivism/Marxism. Hindutva is thus the very negation of Hinduism.
The parivar strategy is an ensemble of quiet, long-term work of “education” at the ground level through shakhas, schools and other institutions as well as launching dramatic events to capture society’s attention. The BJP has another growing compulsion too: With its election promises collapsing, the economy rolling into the doldrums, India Inc’s growing nervousness about falling profits and rising doubts about higher GDP figures doled out by the government and recalling with nostalgia the much-maligned decade of UPA rule, with no rising employment figures in sight, and daily rise in the number of farmer suicides, with a number of visible blots on the promise of corruption-free governance, it needs a diversion. Will it succeed? History is not very promising. But then for the parivar, it is mythology and not history where the truth is!
Harbans Mukhia is National Fellow, Indian Council of Historical Research. The views expressed are personal.