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Ram Mandir: Advani Came and Saw, but Can Modi Conquer Hindu Triumphalism?

The challenge for Narendra Modi now is that he must refurbish a spent weapon and turn it into an election winner.

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As they drove away from the ruins of the demolished Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992, the man who began it all, LK Advani, is believed to have told his now deceased close aide Pramod Mahajan in a morose voice, "They have destroyed my movement.’’

Advani’s candid assessment of the political hit that the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) most potent issue took that fateful day was revealed many years later by veteran journalist Vir Sanghvi in his blog Ask Vir.

The tumultuous events that followed the demolition proved Advani prophetic. A year later, the BJP lost the Assembly Elections in the three Northern states of UP, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan.

The Ram temple issue went on the back burner as Advani was replaced by the consensual figure of Atal Behari Vajpayee whose wider acceptability led the BJP out of "majestic isolation’’ consequent to the demolition into an era of coalition politics which brought it to power as head of an alliance government.
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Ram Mandir: How BJP Revived a Forgotten Issue

It's status remained unchanged even as Narendra Modi took the BJP to new heights with a full majority in 2014. The temple found but a cursory two-line mention in the party manifesto that year as Modi swept on the twin planks of "sab ka saath sab ka vikas’’ and "acche din’’.

Three decades later, the wheel has come full circle.

Bereft of a new forward-looking agenda to win a third term, Modi’s BJP has turned to the past and is seeking to resurrect an issue that Advani’s BJP had shelved fearing it had lost popular traction after the demolition of the mosque.

The challenge for Modi now is that he must refurbish a spent weapon and turn it into an election winner. It’s a tough call but every organisation associated with the temple – the Ram Mandir Trust, the BJP, the RSS, the VHP, and all its affiliates – has thrown itself into a vigorous effort to make the 22 January inauguration of the temple into 'The Greatest Show on Earth'.
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Can Modi Take Credit for Advani’s Initiative?

There’s an element of desperation in the way in which their workers and supporters are going from neighbourhood to neighbourhood across the country to organise yatras and meetings, schedule kirtans and artis to coincide with the consecration of the Ram Lalla idol, publicise Ram Dhun mobile tunes and plaster every nook and cranny with posters and saffron flags.

Modi is canny enough to understand that the same card cannot be played twice. He has added new layers to the mandir plank and stamped it with his individual imprint to erase the last vestiges of an Advani recall.

Where Advani’s movement was fraught with communal and polarising sentiments against the mosque as a symbol of Muslim oppression, Modi hopes to turn the inauguration into a celebration of Hindu reclaim with the emphasis that it is happening under his watch.

Everybody loves a festival. Modi’s team of event managers intends to turn 22 January into a second Diwali, a homecoming for the infant Ram no less important than the return of the adult to his throne in Ayodhya.
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Inauguration Divides Sects; Modi Doesn’t Seem Worried

Ironically, while Advani succeeded in dividing Hindus and Muslims with his mandir movement, Modi has split not just the political class but Hindu seers and saints as well.

Most political parties, notably the Congress whose leader Rajiv Gandhi was responsible for opening the locks to the mosque and turning it into a makeshift Ram temple, are boycotting the event.

The reaction of the Opposition is hardly surprising. From a land dispute between the Wakf Board which claimed the mosque and the Nirmohi Akhada which was the original litigant, the Ram mandir became the BJP’s main political plank after a resolution passed by the party in Palampur in 1987.

The promise to construct a "grand temple’’ in Ayodhya has been in every election manifesto of the party since.

What is surprising is the reaction of the shankaracharyas who head the four main Hindu peeths and the Nirmohi Akhada. All have expressed concerns that the temple inauguration and the consecration of the idol are not being done in accordance with Hindu traditions and rituals.
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Modi doesn’t seem unduly worried by the criticism. The boycott by the Opposition feeds into his narrative that these parties are 'anti-Hindu'. The concerns of the seers and saints have been dismissed by the Temple Trust Secretary and VHP leader Champat Rai as nitpicking.

If religion is the opiate of the masses, Modi feels he is keeping his Hindu constituency happy with temples and revadis in the form of labharthi schemes.
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Modi’s Spate of Religious Conquests

The Ram Mandir is an example of Modi’s "guarantee’’. Work is underway to reclaim two more mosques, one at the Shahi Idgah in Mathura for a Krishna Janmabhoomi temple and the other is the Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi. More Modi guarantees.

He just has to keep the tempo going till the elections to prove his erstwhile mentor Advani wrong. The question is can he maintain the momentum till the summer? And will the voters overlook his inability to fulfill his promises on the economic front, particularly job creation?

We will know in May 2024.

(Arati R Jerath is a Delhi-based senior journalist. She tweets @AratiJ. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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