The disputed holy site in Ayodhya, which changed politics in Uttar Pradesh in the 1990s, has become an issue for politicians once again. The Allahabad High Court's verdict on Thursday may lead them to believe that the contentious issue can still earn them votes.
Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav, on Friday, said the court judgment had "cheated" Muslims. "I am disappointed at the judicial verdicts that give precedence to faith over law and evidence. This does not augur good for the country, the Constitution and the judiciary itself," said Mulayam in Lucknow.
"Besides, the Muslims in the country are feeling cheated by the verdict and there is a sense of despair in the entire community," he said. Before he met the media, he had informal talks with minority leaders.
The reason Mulayam is "disappointed" is because he wants to regain Muslims' support to bring back his party to power in a caste-driven state where upper castes are fondly looking back at the Congress, dalits remain aligned with BSP chief Mayawati and he is left with just Yadav votes.
The court verdict has given Mulayam a potential tool to win back minority support, but it's too early to say which side the pendulum would move after the court verdict. Elections are still far off in Uttar Pradesh but Mulayam and Mayawati are testing their political fortunes in neighbouring Bihar.
Mayawati, who on Thursday night asked the Centre to implement the court verdict, did some damage control this morning when she talked about "maintaining status quo" at the disputed site. Dalits, Brahmins and Muslims paved the way for her party's victory in 2007. She can't afford cracks in that.
But Mulayam and Mayawati together cannot turn the clock back without the BJP in picture. The RSS might have displayed restraint, but voices demanding construction of a "magnificent Ram temple" at the sanctum sanctorum of the disputed site have started emanating from the BJP quarters, who feel their stand on the disputed site has been somehow vindicated.
The day the judgment was delivered, Hindu dharmacharyas were holding a meeting organised by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in Allahabad. In one voice they stated: "The hurdles have been cleared for the construction of Ram temple." One day they may launch a mass campaign on temple building even though they know that the High Court has ordered status quo in the dispute for three months during which the matter could go to the Supreme Court.
With Mulayam's initiation, lame voices to build a "magnificent Ram temple" at the dispute site may turn into a crescendo and could lead to communal polarisation once again in rural UP.
As political parties break their neutrality and take stand the either way, it's the Congress which finds itself in a tight spot. Rita Bahuguna Joshi, state president of the party, has said in a guarded tone: "Politicians should keep out of it (the dispute). Let the contesting parties find a way out. We will keep our focus on the aam admi."
It was the Congress who had suffered most from the mandir/masjid issue. The party's decline in Uttar Pradesh started in 1989, when the Congress government in the state allowed shilanayas outside the disputed after taking a written undertaking from the VHP that it would respect any decision of the courts. The party improved its performance in the state in the last Lok Sabha elections, but masjid/mandir politics may once create roadblocks for it.
Perhaps the coming days would prove if Uttar Pradesh has truly left caste and communal politics to walk on the path of development path. As of now the signals are disturbing.