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Will temple politics pip development narrative in Maharashtra?

The next general elections are round the corner and as such the question being asked if the Ram temple issue will be dominant in the 2019 polls

mumbai Updated: Nov 27, 2018 00:08 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
Shailesh Gaikwad
Hindustan Times
Maharashtra,Uddhav Thackeray,Shiv Sena
Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray made his much-talked about visit to Ayodhya last week to take up the issue of building Ram temple. (Deepak Gupta / Hindustan Times File)

Finally, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray made his much-talked-about visit to Ayodhya last week to take up the issue of building Ram temple. Though he tried to corner ally BJP by repeatedly pointing out that those who won elections in the name of Lord Ram didn’t bother to build the temple, Sena’s revival of the temple issue has also fuelled speculations whether Thackeray is preparing the ground to align with the BJP in the upcoming elections. It’s not only the Sena that is raising the temple issue. Outfits like the Vishwa Hindu Parishad that are part of BJP’s ideological fountainhead Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh have also begun to get aggressive on the issue. The next general elections are around the corner and as such the question being asked is if the Ram temple issue will be dominant in the 2019 polls. In state’s political circles, there is talk about what kind of politics people in the state will vote for: Will the BJP-Sena get the benefit of the Hindu sentiments over Ram temple issue or other issues would dominate the voters’ mind?

Next year will see Lok Sabha as well as Assembly elections in the state. The two elections could be held simultaneously or within a span of six months.

The history of elections in the state shows the temple politics did benefit the BJP-Sena but not beyond a limit.

During 1989-1991 when the Ram temple agitation was at its peak, the BJP-Sena combine could win limited seats while Congress bagged more Lok Sabha seats in the state. In 1989 elections, Congress won 28 out of 48 seats while BJP won 10 and Sena 4. Significantly, in 1990 assembly polls Congress managed to retain power in the state though Sena-BJP alliance emerged as a strong opponent. In 1991 Lok Sabha elections held following the assassination of former PM Rajiv Gandhi, the Congress won 38 seats while BJP (5) and Sena (4) could not cross single digit. However, things changed after the 1992-93 communal riots as well as 1993 serial bomb blasts in Mumbai. The saffron combine for the first time wrested power from the Congress in 1995 assembly elections. It was not just polarisation of voters but the allegations of corruption against the then Congress government also benefitted the saffron combine. A year later, it dominated the Lok Sabha polls by winning 33 seats. The BJP won 18 while its ally Sena won 15. The Congress could win only 15. Two years later, in 1998 things changed as Sharad Pawar who was in the Congress then stitched up a coalition of the Congress and smaller parties. The Congress won 33 while its allies won 5 seats while remaining 10 seats went to Sena (6) and BJP (4).

So what will happen in 2019?

The Congress-NCP led Opposition is planning to use issues such as agrarian crisis, inflation and Rafale controversy to campaign against the BJP. The ruling party in the state has planned to bank on its performance on infrastructure development, water conservation and industrial investment. The Maratha reservation issue will be used by both the sides. Most of these issues are related to economic, developmental and social problems and as such would make sense.

The dominating narrative in 2014 elections was development. Will it be repeated? Or will it be the politics over the temple? And in that case, how will the voters in Mumbai and Maharashtra respond to it? It remains to be seen.

First Published: Nov 26, 2018 23:48 IST