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As polls near, Ayodhya gains political ground

Ayodhya has returned to the centre stage of the country’s political landscape ahead of the coming poll season, albeit with a difference.

analysis Updated: Oct 27, 2018 08:17 IST
Sunita Aron
Sunita Aron
Hindustan Times
ayodhya,ram temple,RSS
This is the first time since the launch of the temple movement in the late 1980s that the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh are leading the chorus for the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya. (HT Photo)

Ayodhya has returned to the centre stage of the country’s political landscape ahead of the coming poll season, albeit with a difference.

There is nothing unusual in the chorus for a temple getting shriller as the elections draw near, but this time around there is less scepticism , even as the Muslim community continues to repose its faith in the court verdict.

What explains this confidence?

Firstly, this is the first time since the launch of the temple movement in the late 1980s that the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh are leading the chorus for the construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya. Till now, the VHP and its affiliate, the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas were the ones responsible for keeping the Ayodhya cauldron on the boil.

Secondly, again for the first time since the unlocking of the disputed structure in 1986, a numerically strong BJP government is are ruling in both the Centre and the state — and under the two most prominent faces of Hindutva.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi accompanied LK Advani on his chariot (rath) from Somnath to Ayodhya in the early 1990s, earning his political spurs, while chief minister Yogi Adiyanath and his guru Mahant Avaidyanath are known votaries of temple movement with much of the planning for a temple happening at Gorakhnath Peeth.

Both, perhaps because of the positions they enjoy, have refrained from making a direct comment on the issue, though Yogi has frequently visited the temple city and given broad hints.

Thirdly, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s recent statement asking the Modi government to pass a law to clear the path for construction of temple instead of testing the patience of the society has intensified the demand for a legislation to break the deadlock.

And finally, with the Supreme Court beginning to hear the case on October 29, there is an expectation that a verdict could come in four months.

VHP spokesperson Sharad Sharma said: “The recent developments (referring to Mohan Bhagwat’s statement on temple construction) have convinced the people that Ram temple is not a mere rhetoric but is going to be a reality very soon. This conviction has in fact drawn leaders, including Praveen Togadia and Uddhav Thackeray, to Ayodhya. They all want to take the credit for Ram temple construction.”

Togadia has already announced a new party in Ayodhya while Shiv Sena has been working for Uddhav Thackeray’s November visit to the temple city.

Incidentally, this is the first time that a Thackeray would be visiting Ayodhya. Even his father Bal Thackeray never visited Ayodhya though Shiv Sainiks came in numbers when the temple movement reached its zenith in the early 1990s.

Both Togadia and Thackeray are politically irrelevant in Uttar Pradesh.

Here’s how the public narrative has been built on Ayodhya.

In early October, Hindu saints met in Delhi and demanded that the government bring legislation, if the apex court fails to deliver an early verdict on the century-old dispute. They also met the President and handed over a memorandum demanding his intervention in speedy disposal of the case by the court.

According to VHP’s Sharma, the saints will wait for the court’s verdict till early December after which they will hand over memorandums demanding legislation on Ayodhya to governors across the country.

Their actual plan will be unveiled during the Kumbh in a Dharam Sansad meeting, likely to be attended by 5,000 saints from across the country. The Dharam Sansad is the VHP’s highest decision making body in which issues like Ram temple , cow, Ganga and conversions are discussed and decided. This congregation is organised in different parts of the country every year and is attended by at least 5,000 seers. Already, the Centre has directed the state government to make Kumbh a global affair.

It is now clear that the two communities as well as parties have given up completely on the possibility of a negotiated settlement of the Ram Janmabhoomi/Babri Masjid dispute.

Since the demolition of the disputed structure, the common refrain has been on solution by talks, court or legislation.

A year ago, when various intermediaries were trying for a negotiated settlement of the dispute, BJP president Amit Shah categorically said the matter could be best settled by the court.

However, as the court resumes hearing on the title suit, the demand for legislation is getting louder.

“At least 15 appeals were filed against the split verdict, delivered by the high court on September 30, 2010. The hearing is resuming, we are strong on evidences,” said Zafaryab Jilani, the lawyer representing one of the litigants in the case, the Sunni Central Waqf Board.

If the government goes for the legislation route, Jilani added, “we will challenge it in the court of law”. He says that he has full faith in the courts and also points to the fact that “the Prime Minister has not made any statement on legislation.”

However, the Muslim community is itself divided with the Shia Waqf Board chief Wasim Rizvi favouring a temple being constructed at the disputed site.

First Published: Oct 27, 2018 07:30 IST