Will Ram Temple return as en election issue in 2019?
Looks likely if the time table set by the Supreme Court for completing in two years the trial of BJP veterans for allegedly conspiring to bring down the Babri mosque is adhered to.
The court on Wednesday revived the criminal conspiracy charge against party patriarch LK Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti and others.
It ordered day-to-day hearing in the case 25 years after the Mughal-era mosque was razed by a Hindu mob in Uttar Pradesh’s Ayodhya, sparking communal riots that left 3,000 people dead.
The promise of a temple to god Ram what many believe is his place of birth has been pivotal to the BJP’s rise in the country.
The trial has to begin by the middle of May. The case would have been decided or in the final leg by the time voters would head to polling booths in 2019 to decide if Narendra Modi should return as the prime minister.
“It is for political leaders to assess what will be its (trial’s) impact on the election,” VHP general secretary Champat Rai said. He is one among the 15 leaders going on trial.
The temple has figured in almost every election manifesto of the BJP since 1991. The party’s position has remained steady – the temple should either be built through a consensus or through a court judgment.
The top court is hearing a challenge to the Allahabad high court order that ruled for a three-way division of the disputed area, between the Sunni Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and the party for ‘Ram Lalla’.
The BJP, which is in power in the Centre and recently swept Uttar Pradesh, has been silent on its demand for construction of the temple through a law passed by Parliament, as it looks to expand its poll base and reach.
The demand for such a law was first made at the BJP’s national executive in 1987. The party was then a marginal player in national politics dominated by the Congress.
But Advani’s Ram Rath Yatra in 1990 saw a dramatic shift in party’s fortunes and the BJP successfully built on the gains.
Uttar Pradesh was instrumental in it winning the 2014 Lok Sabha election, bagging 73 of the 80 seats in the country’s most populous state.
Last month, the party ousted the Samajwadi Party to come to power in the state with a brute majority.
A repeat of 2014 is needed if Modi has to return in 2019.
The case against Advani, Joshi, Bharti and others, say observers, will keep the temple issue on slow simmer over the next two years. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu hardliner, will also keep the issue alive.
A combination of Modi, Adityanath and Ram Temple could just be the winning recipe for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, which sends the highest number of members to the Lok Sabha.
The BJP plans to play it on the front foot. It has decided to stand by its leaders as they go on trial. The government was quick to rule out Bharti’s resignation from Modi’s council of ministers.
If the leaders are acquitted, the party can take a high a moral ground. In case of a conviction, the leaders could emerge as Hindutva heroes. Whatever the outcome, the BJP stands to gain.