LUCKNOW: With the 40-day hearing on the vexed 70-year-old Ayodhya dispute concluding in the Supreme Court of India on Wednesday and the verdict likely to be pronounced next month, the Ram temple issue is firmly back on the political centre stage.
Back in the 90s, the issue had given religious identity precedence over caste politics, especially in the Hindi heartland. If the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992 changed the political narrative of the country, it also enabled the saffron brigade to make inroads into the political horizon and eventually rule it too.
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While the Jan Sangh's political avatar BJP used the Ram temple issue as the launch pad, the Congress had taken the first step to reap its political benefit in 1989. Then Prime Minister and Congress chief Rajiv Gandhi dug out the decades-long issue and promised ‘Ram Rajya’ by 'facilitating' the unlocking of the disputed site and symbolically allowing the ‘shilanyas’ at a piece of land a few yards away from the disputed site in November 1989. He also chose Faizabad and Ayodhya to launch his election campaign.
Political pundits called it a bid by Rajiv Gandhi to revive the sagging political prospects of his party. However, the Congress attempt backfired and it failed to capitalise on it. But the BJP leveraged the issue to bolster its own political fortunes so much so that today the opposition has diminished a great deal in front of the saffron might.
Post-demolition, the temple issue accorded the BJP an identity and stature as a national party in the country. Before that, it was just a part of the herd of parties pitched against the Congress. “Moreover, the temple movement and its culmination gave the BJP and RSS acceptability in the country,” says a senior Congress leader.
The saffron party has been making the temple issue the highlight of all its poll manifestos since the 1996 general elections. It consolidated the narrative further by anointing Yogi Adityanath as UP CM after the 2017 Assembly elections. Notably, Yogi Adityanath’s mentor Mahant Avaidyanath had headed the Ramjanmabhoomi Nyas or the Trust entrusted with construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya.
Political analysts believe that the BJP has been keeping the issue alive by pushing religious tourism in Ayodhya, planning the highest statue of Lord Ram there and also organising a grand Deepotsav in the temple town for the last three years.
“The temple movement and demolition in 1992 pushed the country towards a more defined majoritarianism despite the Constitution of India keeping it out of the nation’s social framework,” says Prof AK Mishra, a political scientist.
While the BJP based its narrative on cultural nationalism and always associated the temple issue with Ram Rajya (good governance), other political players including the Congress, Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have been treading very cautiously.
“Taking a cue from Rajiv Gandhi’s failed bid to capitalise on the religious issue, the other parties became cautious. Moreover, they were not in a position to side with either community involved in the dispute. It has been a tightrope walk for other parties who have a considerable clout among minorities also. As a result, they have been somehow grappling to strike a balanced approach on the issue,” says senior political commentator JP Shukla.
“However, during the last couple of elections, the Congress has tried to be identified with soft Hindutva by indulging in frequent temple runs and holding yagnas,” adds Shukla. The visits of Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi to Ayodhya in the recent past, albeit skipping the darshan of Lord Ram in the makeshift temple, seems to indicate their changed approach to the issue.
Even SP patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav tried to side with Hindus during the 2017 Assembly elections by conceding his fault as UP CM to have ordered firing on Kar Sewaks in 1990 in Ayodhya. But the party didn’t take it further as it is seen as a ‘Muslim messiah’ in UP. Similarly, BSP chief Mayawati has been airing her views by supporting a court order to settle the issue. Notably, both the regional satraps have been depending more on caste politics than religio-cultural issues.
“Now the call has to be taken by the Supreme Court. The hearing is over and whatever the decision is given by the apex court should be respected and accepted by all peacefully with an open mind,” says a senior BSP leader seeking anonymity. However, the SP leadership chose to remain mum over the issue calling it sub-judice.
While the BJP UP leadership, seers and saints of Ayodhya and even ordinary Hindus are pinning their temple hopes on the apex court, Muslim litigants and those belonging to the minority community said they would accept whatever the court decided.
“All the arguments have been heard by the court. All the evidence has been produced before it by both sides. Now, whatever will be the decision of the Supreme Court, we are ready to accept it in letter and spirit,” says Iqbal Ansari, one of the main litigants on the Muslim side.