Special Report

Why the sudden chorus for Ram temple in Ayodhya?

Why the sudden chorus for Ram temple in Ayodhya?

written by A L I Chougule FPJ- November 9, 1989, was the day when the Berlin Wall was brought down. It ended 40 years of division between the capitalist west and the communist east. The collapse of the concrete and barbed wire divide across the German capital and the broader cold war schism it represented was probably the most important political event of the second half of the 20th century. As the wall came down, the entire Soviet power structure, called the communist ‘Eastern bloc’, started to fall with it. During those early heady days of change as well as the months and years that followed, the near-universal opinion among most western commentators was that the fall of the Berlin Wall was the ultimate triumph of capitalism and liberal democracy. In reality, it hasn’t worked exactly as expected but nearly 30 years later, practically all the post-communist countries lives are richer, happier and longer than they were in the 40 years when the Berlin Wall was in place.

November 9, 1989, is also significant for India when the Shilanyas ceremony for construction of a Ram temple took place in Ayodhya: it transformed the temple-mosque conflict from a marginal strife to a national movement. While on that day, the fall of Berlin Wall led to unification of West and East Germany and integration of Eastern and Central Europe into European Union, paradoxically in India, the Shilanyas ceremony divided the country on religious lines. It became the graveyard of communal harmony, took a bloody toll and rekindled communal tensions in several parts of Uttar Pradesh as well as in rest of the country. The BJP was just a marginal player with only two seats in parliament then. But with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) as its public spearhead, the Sangh parivar successfully put the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation on India’s political centre-stage. Soon the BJP, after dabbling in secularism and Gandhian socialism, returned to its original Hindu moorings of the Jan Sangh days.

Apart from voicing support for the Hindu Rashtra at the Hedgewar centenary rally in April that year, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the so-called moderate with RSS DNA, warned the minorities to either give away their distinct identity, or face the worst. He also declared that the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute was an election issue for the BJP. At its quarterly executive meeting in Palampur in June 1989, the BJP passed a resolution that the ‘nature of controversy was such that it cannot be sorted out by court of law’. In their resolve to defeat the Congress, other opposition parties overlooked BJP’s communal and overtly anti-Muslim political stance and fought the 1989 general election in an alliance with the BJP. The BJP improved its tally from two seats to 85 in the ninth Lok Sabha. With that the political ostracism of the BJP ended.

While the Opposition helped the BJP gain political legitimacy, the VHP and the larger Sangh privar laid the political ground for its ascendance to emerge as a mainstream centre-right party. Since then, the BJP has not looked back and the Ayodhya conflict has assumed ideological proportions. The 1991, 1996 and 1998 elections saw a period of consistent growth for the BJP and its allies. This was largely because of two factors: one, stronger and broader alliances with regional parties and other previously unaffiliated players; and two, the Ayodhya movement which has had its impact on mainstream politics and elections since 1989.

In 2014, the Ayodhya conflict remained on the back burner in BJP’s ascendance to majority in Lok Sabha. But given Narendra Modi’s ideological and controversial political past, his candidature as BJP’s prime ministerial face did keep the debate on the nature and content of Indian nationalism alive. Though he rode to power on a strong anti-Congress and anti-corruption narrative, promising development, jobs, good days and bright future, for BJP and Modi, it was only a tactical retreat from the hardcore Hindutva agenda. Once the election was over, the Hindutva agenda took over: the building of Hindu unity and translating it into an idea of the nation by breaking new grounds of ultra-nationalism, while the government mostly remained silent as the foot soldiers went about hitting new lows of bigotry.

Various opinion surveys over the last one year have indicated that the BJP’s popularity is waning. Modi is the chief vote-catcher for his party, but his popularity has also witnessed a sharp decline. With the assembly polls in five states in November-December not entirely likely to go in BJP’s favour and 2019 Lok Sabha polls not far away, Modi and his party need an issue to build a narrative that will swing public opinion in BJP’s favour. The right-wing party views Ayodhya conflict as a potent issue that may polarise public opinion and salvage its diminishing popularity. Hence, the sudden shrill in demand for the construction of Ram temple in all too familiar language: ‘matters of faith cannot be decided by a court of law’.

What’s difficult to fathom though is the Hindutva brigade’s — the RSS and all its affiliates, including the BJP — double standards: they celebrated over triple talaq verdict but find it difficult to accept the same court’s progressive ruling in the Sabarimala case. Since the Sangh parivar’s idea of justice is different for different communities, it is not comfortable with the idea that the judiciary can intervene in matters of faith of the Hindus and set constitutional precedents. It is why the sudden demand for legislative action to pave the way for an early construction of the Ram temple.

Just as in 1989, when the Sangh and its affiliates raised the tempo for temple and the BJP joined in later, the same tactic is being played now: the top leadership of the BJP is silent, while most of the talking is being done by the RSS, its affiliate bodies like the VHP and the fringe elements. So, expect the BJP to enter the scene once sentiment has been polarised. Not that the BJP is entirely silent; some of its leaders like Ram Madhav, Uma Bharti and UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath have also joined the chorus for a temple. It is no coincidence that the RSS has suddenly upped its ante on Ayodhya. May be it has timed the temple dispute to make it a core issue for the BJP to ride on in 2019 general elections.

A L I Chougule is an independent senior journalist.


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