“India has moved on,” said Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram, reassuring the country hours before the Ayodhya verdict was delivered.
His assurance, born out of anxiety, had reasons. All major riots since 1987, including Gujarat 2002, have had Ayodhya links. Three days after the verdict that upheld the Hindu belief that Lord Ram was born at the mosque site and divided the disputed land into three, India is calm and the politics around it muted.
So has India moved on? “It’s too early to say. The verdict is sinking in and the political fallout of it will take a while to play out,” says Zoya Hassan, professor of political science at JNU.
Though Ayodhya politics stirred the entire country, its main soil was the north and west of India. The BJP, Congress, Mulayam Singh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party (SP) in UP and Lalu Prasad-led Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) in Bihar have been the key players. Communal and caste polarisation – triggered by the implementation of the Mandal Commission report – helped the BJP, SP and RJD. The upper castes went with the BJP; the backwards and the Muslims with the SP and RJD. The Congress lost its base to these emerging parties, a trend it managed to offset after the Gujarat riots. In the past eight years, the BJP, SP and RJD have been on the downslide while the Congress is on the ascendant. Does the Ayodhya verdict change this trend?
BJP: Keeping the Faith
“The verdict has enthused the party workers while holding out the possibility of a resolution,” says BJP spokesperson Ravishankar Prasad. Another senior BJP functionary who did not want to be named said: “We have been promising the temple for so long. Now there is a sense among our voters that we can deliver too.” The BJP brass is hopeful that the vindication of its position on Ram’s birth in a court of law will energise its cadre. The party is also conscious of the changed demography of India and is calibrating its stance on the issue. “We cannot be screaming this time,” a leader admitted. “BJP politics has traditionally been based on victimhood. This time they are the winners and the political potency of it is limited,” says Hassan.
Congress: Treading the middle path
The judgment gave enormous relief to the Congress, which dreaded a “winner takes all” verdict. “There is no winner, no loser,” said Janardan Dwivedi, Congress spokesperson. But the disquiet among the Muslims is bad news for the party. Its revival strategy in UP and Bihar has been primarily based on winning back the Muslims. “The Congress may not have anything to do with the verdict, but perceptions are not based on facts. The demolition of the Masjid happened while the Congress was in power, and now the vindication of the sangh parivar,” a party leader said. The party is likely to accelerate the implementation of the Sachar Committee recommendations on Muslims’ employment in government jobs.
SP-RJD: Looking for Muslim insecurity
Mulayam Singh Yadav tried to gauge the mood of the Muslims, stating that the community felt cheated. Lalu Prasad, facing an election currently, has remained silent but can’t hide his glee, says an RJD leader. “He is convinced that the Muslim flow to the Congress has been reversed,” he said. Social scientist Shaibal Gupta has a different take on the matter. “An earlier political alliance cannot necessarily be revived,” he says.
Political mobilisation around any issue is a two-way process – a receptive public and a proactive leadership. For instance, the VHP tried in vain to build a campaign on Ayodhya, which took off only after the BJP pledged its muscle and money power for the cause. The Indian public, sold to TV serials Ramayan and Mahabharat,found a resonance. Currently, the BJP, RJD and SP are not sure of the public mood and hence undecided on their course of action. “The Bihar elections will give the first indication of the political fallout of the verdict,” says Hassan.