The Union government’s decision to seek the Supreme Court’s permission to restore the excess land around the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site to its original owners — which would mean the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) backed Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas — is the outcome of stated ideological commitment, electoral vulnerability, and political signalling. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) immersed itself politically in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in the late 1980s. It helped establish the party as the second pole of Indian polity. Secular parties and liberals saw it as an assault on Indian constitutional values; the cultural and political right saw it as correcting historical injustice, and resurgence of national — or Hindu — pride. Since the destruction of the mosque in 1992, which remains a dark chapter in Indian history, the BJP has reinforced its commitment to construct the temple at exactly the disputed site but with little success. But its hardline base became increasingly impatient over the past few years. The Sangh leadership, and the Hindu saints, who constitute an important element of the saffron constituency, asked a simple question: If the party, despite being in power at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh (UP) with a full majority, and with the ideological climate in its favour, cannot commence the construction of the temple now, when will it ever do so?The BJP’s top leadership may have wanted to do so itself. But it realised that it could not be seen as bypassing the court. The legislative route was not easy either — an ordinance would be immediately challenged in court. There was also the possibility of communal tensions, marking a dent on governance record. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement in January that they would wait for the judicial process to reach a conclusion emanated from this assessment. But four things have led to a reassessment. For one, there was the immediate threat of a gathering of saints in Kumbh making their displeasure with the government clear and pushing their way to Ayodhya in the next few weeks. Two, there was the sense within the Sangh cadre that the BJP was not committed to its ideological agenda. Three, there was a feeling of political vulnerability after the state elections at the end of the last year where its original supporters appeared demotivated. And finally, there was the UP factor where the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party have forged a formidable alliance and Priyanka Gandhi has entered the fray and could steal away a section of the BJP’s upper caste voters. To show intent of its commitment, appease both its cadre and religious base, and to construct and sustain a Hindu voter who would go beyond caste in UP, but without excessive legal or constitutional jeopardy, the BJP found a way to ask for the “excess land”. If the court says no, the party can once again portray the judiciary as a villain. If it says yes, it gives the religious conservatives space to symbolically initiate construction activities. Whether this will indeed reap electoral dividends is to be seen. But the government’s motivation is easy to discern.