As their pet issue of a Ram temple is caught in a legal rigmarole, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is marketing a heady mix of soft Hindutva and development to the people of Uttar Pradesh.
While releasing the manifesto for the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, BJP’s national president Amit Shah had proudly highlighted nine key issues that included everything for everybody--except the now forgotten promise of a Ram temple in Ayodhya.
Instead, finding prime position were the two inflammable issues of the Kairana exodus and cow slaughter that instantly trigger communal polarisation, especially in western part of the state that witnessed the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots. Without wasting time the party high command also deployed its most polarising figure, Mahanth Yogi Adityanath, whose influence area happens to be Gorakhpur in east of the state. He will be addressing many meetings in an already polarised west UP.
The new issues have taken centre-stage relegating the most exploited, yet emotive, issue of Ayodhya to page number 20 of the 24-page manifesto. Here too, the party stuck to the resolution of the knotty issue within the constitutional framework, instead of its earlier commitment of finding a legal solution if negotiations between Hindus and Muslims failed.
This was a cut-and-paste job from the party’s 2014 manifesto, and is a line the BJP has adopted since the countrywide frenzy subsided in mid-1990s.
Interestingly, the BJP’s vision document before the 2004 general election was much more categorical on the temple issue. It read: “The BJP remains committed to its stand that the judiciary’s verdict in this matter should be accepted by all. However, we believe that dialogue, and a negotiated settlement in an atmosphere of mutual trust and goodwill, are the best way of achieving this goal.”
The two central governments led by socialist leader Chandra Shekhar and Atal Bihari Vajpayee had initiated a dialogue to find a solution to the contentious issue that scarred the Hindu-Muslim relationship in India. The Narendra Modi government, however, has not moved an inch in that direction. The sants associated with the movement are awaiting an appointment with the prime minister ever since he came to power. As for the legal remedy, the case is pending since 1949.
The BJP has buried the issue as it lost its mass appeal after the loss of the disputed shrine on December 6, 1992. The BJP citadel also collapsed along with the shrine as people realised it was an empty promise, a mere election stunt. During elections, it can best ignite communal tensions but not necessarily deliver votes.
The BJP’s revival in 2014 was possible primarily because of Modi, in whom people saw both development and Hindutva.
There are valid reasons besides the proven fact that no issue can be perennially milked in elections.
The sangh parivar has not carried out any public mobilisation campaign, the backbone of the temple movement, to revive the issue. Some half-hearted yatras were organised till mid 2000, but they too lost their steam. Now even the much-touted customary celebration on December 6 hardly attracts any public participation as the construction of a Ram temple remains a distant dream for the devout.
The VHP-BJP leadership that had spearheaded the temple movement is either dead or sidelined — Ramchand Paramhans, Ashok Singhal, Lal Krishna Advani, MM Joshi, Kalyan Singh and Vinay Katiyar among others.
And while the VHP continues to intermittently play the Ram dhun, most of the BJP leaders have moved away from Ayodhya, unlike in the 1980s when they had come to the streets, walking shoulder-to-shoulder with the sants. The cadre have picked up new slogans like “Bharat Mata ki Jai” and “Bhagwan Gautam Budh ki Jai” while dropping the catchphrase “Jai Sri Ram” from their public discourse. Now newer divisive issues like “love jihad” and cow slaughter pay more political dividends.
This is also because of the sangh parivar’s efforts to consolidate the Hindu vote-bank by bringing in the lower castes to its fold. Temples in the countryside are symbolic of untouchability even though Dalits form bulk of the pilgrims to temple towns.
Moreover, the issue is now history for a generation born after 1992. The temple does not excite them any more unless their emotions are whipped up.
Or else the Centre’s surrender on Jallikattu, a bull taming sport in Tamil Nadu in the south, would have kicked off murmurs among the hardliners. The government brought in a law to circumvent the Supreme Court order.
The question, however is, can the temple still kick off an emotional storm like Jallikattu did? Or it is merely a matter of faith for both the public and the politicians.
For the BJP, the Ram temple exists. Only it has to be made magnificent.