The BJP promised on Saturday to push for a controversial temple to Hindu god Ram if it won power in Uttar Pradesh, unveiling an election manifesto that appeared designed to appeal to voters along religious lines.
The party’s apparent return to an agenda of Hindutva marks a departure from its initial election narrative built around two of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s boldest decisions: The scrapping of high-value banknotes to fight corruption and a “surgical strike” against militants across the de facto border with Pakistan.
The change in tack also contrasts with the party’s election plank three years ago when it swept the political bellwether on a promise of development. The BJP’s lurch towards Hindutva comes in the backdrop of an election alliance between the ruling Samajwadi Party and the Congress, which are traditionally backed by Muslims, who form a fifth of the state’s population.
The party’s election promises included ascertaining opinion of Muslim women over the Islamic divorce practice of triple talaq, closing down illegal slaughter houses and stemming the alleged migration of Hindus from riot-hit Muslim-majority towns in western Uttar Pradesh.
The manifesto, released by party president Amit Shah, also made a raft of populist proposals, including waiving off loans for small farmers, abundant electricity, new hospitals and universities, free school education for girls and free laptops to all college students with one 1 GB free internet a month.
The party also promised to raise “anti-Romeo” police battalions to tackle crimes against women, a proposal that appeared to ring of a controversial campaign by Hindu groups against love between Hindus and Muslims.
But the charter referred to neither the surgical strikes nor the demonetisation move, although Shah told reporters that the vote could be a referendum on the decision to junk 500-and 1000-rupee notes. Instead, the manifesto appeared to talk up a Hindutva agenda to win back power in a state it last ruled 15 years ago. The state votes in seven phases starting February 11.
“A BJP government in UP would press for an early solution to the temple tangle within the ambit of the constitution,” Shah said, referring to a disputed religious site that remains India’s most potent communal flashpoint between many Hindus and Muslims.
For decades, both Hindus and Muslims have revered the disputed site in Ayodhya town. In 1992, a Hindu mob tore down a 16th century mosque at the location, saying the Muslim ruler, Babar, destroyed an original temple to Ram and built over.
Muslim groups then appealed to the Supreme Court, which is still hearing the matter.