Lord Rama is back on the BJP’s electoral agenda where he first appeared in 1989 at the height of the Ayodhya campaign led by Lal Krishna Advani. There is a sense of déjà vu in the unfolding scenario as poor political management by the Congress has helped the saffron parivar in its quest for another emotional issue with religious overtones to appeal to voters with.
Earlier it was all about a temple site associated with Ram’s birth. This time, it’s a bridge talked about in religious texts, whose historical legitimacy could be questioned in the seminar circuit but not in the public space up for grabs in a climate surcharged by speculation of early elections.
By filing a controversial affidavit in the Supreme Court questioning the existence of the deity whose name the Ram Setu invokes, the UPA government seems to have walked into the BJP’s lair and that of the Sangh Parivar. Little surprise that Ram is back on the political centrestage, raising the right wing parivar’s hopes of mobilising the Hindutva constituency at a time when the Ayodhya movement has lost steam.
Juxtaposing the event with the divided opinion on the Sachar report for ameliorating the lot of the Muslims provides an idea about the openings available to the BJP at the hustings. On UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s intervention, the ruling combine has effected a quick course-correction by announcing the decision to submit a supplementary affidavit that will expunge the objectionable portions in the ASI’s first version. But to stop Ram campaign II in its tracks, the UPA needs to think on its feet, an art the coalition hasn’t exactly refined in the years it has spent in power since 2004.
BJP is already claiming credit for putting the Centre on the defensive. Quite amazing for political observers is the fact that the controversial ASI affidavit reached the apex court without any serious study of its political implications by the ministries in the loop — Law and Culture ,where senior Congresspersons like HR Bhardwaj and Ambika Soni are at the helm.
One can question the saffron brigade for its anxiety to focus on a religious issue rather than ‘real’ issues. But their effort is to capture the minds of Indians where terrorism and the threat to the culture make for a heady mix. While the Ayodhya movement was largely focused on the Hindi heartland, the Setu campaign will enable the BJP to nurture the hope of reaping some dividends in the south.