Mathura & UP Poll: A Nervous BJP Is Playing on the ‘Mandir’ Card Again
BJP’s hold on UP has been shaken by many factors, including the farm stir and allegations of Thakur domination.
Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister, Keshav Prasad Maurya, who stirred a controversy in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh by tweeting that preparations were underway for constructing a grand temple in Mathura on the lines of Ayodhya and Varanasi, is the first senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader holding an official position in government to make such a statement in the run-up to the next Parliamentary election.
Maurya’s statement commits the BJP and the state government to the demand of a new temple to deify Lord Krishna in place of the existing Shahi Idgah mosque.
The long-standing dispute over the Muslim place of worship was considered a settled matter following an October 1968 court-decreed agreement between the Trust that manages it and the Shri Krishna Janmasthan Seva Sangh, which was at one point also headed by former Vishwa Hindu Parishad president Vishnu Hari Dalmia. But this was revived in the wake of the Ayodhya agitation.
It’s Now the Official Line for 2022 Polls
The demand to nullify this agreement and hand over the entire temple-Idgah complex in Mathura to the Hindu parties however, has, to date, not been formally part of the BJP’s agenda. Even the RSS in recent decades has not lent support to it formally, although it was once part of a resolution in the late 1950s.
Although the demand for a Krishna Janmasthan temple was raised immediately after the Supreme Court delivered its verdict in the Ayodhya case of 9 November 2019 by a BJP Rajya Sabha member, Harnath Singh, this was not an official position of the party.
The call was reiterated in February 2020 by local Sangh parivar-linked individuals, but the plans were shelved because the COVID-19 pandemic set in.
In July 2020, Shri Krishna Janmabhoomi Mukti Andolan Trust was established. Immediately after the groundbreaking ceremony in Ayodhya in August 2020, former Bajrang Dal chief, Vinay Katiya, demanded that plans should be made for constructing a Krishna temple in Mathura.
A Shri Kashi Gyanvapi Mukti Yagna Samiti was also established in early 2020, with BJP MP Subramanian Swamy as its president. Immediately after assuming office, he declared: “Liberation and restoration of the Kashi Vishwanath Jyotirling Mandir is a fundamental part of Hindu Renaissance. I hope the Muslim community will cooperate with us Hindus on this and help us restore the temple.”
It goes without stating that ‘cooperation from Muslims’ is tantamount to the community agreeing to hand over the Shahi Idgah.
However, someone as important as a Deputy Chief Minister raking up this demand demonstrates that the party is attempting to polarise the electorate on religious lines for next year’s Assembly polls. Not insignificantly, Maurya rhymed his tweets with the old full-throated slogan: “yeh to bas jhanki hai, Mathura-Kashi baaki hai” (this is just a glimpse, Mathura-Kashi is yet to be taken).
BJP’s Piling Heap of Worries
The demand for a grand temple in Mathura on the lines of the Ram temple in Ayodhya adds to efforts already being made to whip up communal passions.
In recent days, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has gone ballistic with the ‘we for ganna (sugarcane), they (opposition) for Jinnah (Mohammed Ali)’ rhetoric. Likewise, Union Home Minister Amit Shah has attempted to arouse passions by referring to Friday namaz and how it disrupts traffic.
These efforts, coupled with Maurya’s provocative tweet, may point to the BJP’s piling heap of worries. For the past several months, several of the party’s actions were aimed at appeasing or placating various social and economic groups in the hope of winning back their support that was instrumental to its victory in 2017 and its performance in the state during the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
While former Congress leader Jitin Prasad was made a Cabinet Minister in Uttar Pradesh in September, the party tied up with seven smaller parties, previously part of a front named Hissedari Morcha. Importantly, this pact with the lesser-known parties was aimed at setting right the party’s ganit, or social arithmetic, that has gone awry because of allegations of Rajput or Thakur domination after Adityanath assumed office in March 2017. There are several factors behind the weakening of the formidable caste coalition forged since 2014.
Besides the grand backtracking from the rigid stance on ‘no repeal’ of the three debatable farm laws, the Centre has also reportedly sent out feelers to establish a committee for examining the thorny issue of Minimum Support Price (MSP) as a legal right, an issue that is now an integral demand of protesting farmers.
The Wind Blows From the West
It cannot be ignored that the BJP and its leaders have been on a spree to name new projects that are connected with local deities or forgotten caste leaders — Amit Shah laying the foundation stone of Ma Shakumbhari University in Saharanpur on December 2, or the earlier engagement with the Jat king Mahendra Pratap Singh, after whom, too, the foundation stone of a university was laid by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with Adityanath in tow.
While the dent in BJP’s bastions in almost 120 Assembly seats – mainly in western Uttar Pradesh – due to the farmers’ protests has been widely noted, the party’s actions point to its anxiety in other regions in the state as well. In western Uttar Pradesh, the BJP won 51 of the 71 seats in 14 districts in 2017. Further, the alliance between SP-RLD can worsen BJP’s prospects.
Uttar Pradesh goes to the polls in multiple phases, beginning with western Uttar Pradesh, and trends and sentiments established in this region cascade – or even galvanise – across the state. There is a saying in the state that the electoral wind blows from the west. If the tide turns against the party here, it could have disastrous consequences.
The state witnessed high levels of communal and ultra-nationalistic mobilisation in successive elections in 2014, 2017 and 2019. But with Muslims constituting 19.3 percent of the total population – higher than the national figure – there have been long phases when communities have been driven by the ‘accommodative spirit’.
As the communal bonhomie in the course of the farmers’ protest and the recent resurrection of the conjoined Har-Har Mahadav-Allahu Akbar chant at a rally showed, this phase of bhaichara (brotherhood) has made a quiet return.
BJP leaders such as Maurya hope that by upping the ante on Mathura, the party will be able to again forge an all-encompassing Hindu consolidation and sweep elections.
The Import of the Ayodhya Order
But as the decision of the local unit of the Hindu Mahasabha to call off the plans of installing a Krishna idol inside the Shahi Idgah on 6 December (anniversary of the demolition of Babri Masjid) reveals, it is not very easy to run a government and simultaneously mount an unlawful agitation.
Furthermore, all shrines on the Sangh Parivar’s ‘list’ of structures that must be ‘restored’ to the Hindus are protected by the Places of Worship Act, passed in September 1991 by the PV Narasimha Rao government.
The November 2019 Supreme Court judgment on the Ayodhya dispute said that the aforesaid law “embodies the secular values of the Indian Constitution and strictly prohibits retrogression”.
It said, “Act imposes a non-derogable obligation towards enforcing our commitment to secularism under the Indian Constitution. The law is hence a legislative instrument designed to protect the secular features of the Indian polity, which is one of the basic features of the Constitution.”
The Sangh Parivar has for long waged a legal contest against the law, challenging its constitutional validity, but every effort came to nought.
Efforts were revived once again after the Ayodhya judgment. In March this year, a Supreme Court Bench headed by former Chief Justice of India SA Bobde issued notice to the Union Home and Law ministries after a fresh petition was filed by a BJP leader challenging the constitutionality of the Act.
It was a paradoxical decision because CJI Bobde was part of the 2019 verdict that spoke glowingly about the 1991 law.
But the judiciary’s decisions on Ayodhya were perplexing on several occasions and open to allegations of partisanship at times.
Undeniably, Maurya has stirred the communal cauldron. But it is too early to say if the ploy will succeed or if people will make their electoral choice on the basis of factors that are closer to their lives and survival.
(The writer is an NCR-based author and journalist. His latest book is The Demolition and the Verdict: Ayodhya and the Project to Reconfigure India. His other books include The RSS: Icons of the Indian Right and Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times. He tweets at @NilanjanUdwin)
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