Will Ram Mandir Politics Continue Till 2024?
The Supreme Court verdict has brought to a close one of the longest-ever judicial battles in India — one that has gone on for as many as 134 years.
However, what remains a million dollar question is, whether the end of the long drawn battle will also bring an end to the politics of religion, that was often played in the name of the Ram temple, and was instrumental in determining the political destiny of the country in general, and that of Uttar Pradesh in particular.
Hours after the judgment was pronounced by the Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, on 9 November, Saturday, professional politicians were out in the open to extract political capital out of the 1,045-page judgement spelled out unanimously by the five-judge Constitutional bench of the highest court of the land.
Will SC Verdict Take Ram Mandir Issue Out of BJP Election Manifesto?
If the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and leaders of its ally groups were busy attributing the clearance of decks for the construction of the much-debated Ram mandir to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there was also loud condemnation of the verdict from a vociferous Opposition leader, Asaduddin Owaisi, who heads a small-time Hyderabad-based political party. His bid to term the apex court’s order for allotment of the 5-acre plot of land for the construction of a new mosque in Ayodhya as some kind of “charity”, came under heavy criticism. “I will call upon Muslims of this country to spurn such an offer; Muslims may be poor, but they can muster up enough charity to buy land for their place of worship,” he told a specially-convened press conference.
The remark might have been in poor taste, but it served the purpose for which it was apparently intended – to gain ‘publicity’. Owaisi may not be of much political significance in Uttar Pradesh. But what he seems to have overlooked was that his remark also ostensibly served the ulterior designs of the lumpen element in the right-wing Hindutva forces, who more often than not, are looking for such cues to spread their venom with a view to promoting their politics of polarization.
Some BJP insiders contend that the court verdict may now take the Ram temple issue out of the BJP election manifesto – be it for UP or the national elections. But would it not be too naïve to believe that? Now that the Narendra Modi government has been formally entrusted with the task of setting up a trust for the construction of the Ayodhya temple, they have all the opportunity to move heaven and earth to systematically push the saffron brigade’s own political agenda via the temple, in different parts of the country.
Don’t be Surprised if Ram Mandir Rhetoric Continues Till 2024
Since UP state assembly elections are due in early 2022, it would be quite easy for a hardcore Hindutva leader like CM Yogi Adityanath to keep the temple fire burning. Even as he has sobered down a lot since he rode on to don the chief minister’s mantle 30 months ago, he is still quite adept at the art of keeping rhetoric alive in the name of Ram. And there is no reason why it would not work to influence the minds of voters when he gets down to spreading the word that “we have kept our word to build the Ram temple at Ayodhya.”
And don’t be surprised if the mandir rhetoric continues till 2024 when Prime Minister Modi will have to seek a fresh mandate from the people. It may not be a difficult task as the completion of the temple could be made to coincide with the next general election.
Back in the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas karyashala (workshop), neatly carved-out stone blocks are stacked and waiting to give shape to a grand Ram temple. According to artisans working on these stones, the already carved and sculpted stone pieces are enough to complete the ground floor of the proposed two-storey temple for which a sandalwood model was duly prepared by the Nyas (trust) several years ago. It is placed quite prominently at the entrance of the karyashala, where pilgrims keep making their offerings.
Modi Won’t Use the ‘Mandir Card’ Blatantly
But past experience suggests that unlike his party compatriots, Modi is unlikely to use the ‘temple card’ too blatantly. A master in showmanship, he would like to make only subtle references to the temple, while letting loose some of his select lieutenants to raise the pitch on the temple. It is also likely that in order to implement the judgment in true letter and spirit, he could take the lead in ensuring the construction of the mosque too, apart from the temple.
Such a move would be bound to enhance his profile. Some of his supporters believe that such a move could also make him an ideal contender for the Nobel Peace prize.
If the lumpen elements in BJP, VHP or other aggressive right-wing groups like the Bajrang Dal and the RSS have refrained from revelling over the SC judgment, the credit must go to none other than PM Modi, who repeatedly emphasised upon the need to exercise restraint, and to maintain calm.
When Did Ram Mandir Issue Gain Relevance?
Looking back, it is clearly evident that the Ram mandir issue acquired relevance in the politics of the country in general, and UP in particular, largely since 1986, when the Faizabad district judge ordered the unlocking of the gates to Ram Janmabhoomi. Entry of common Hindu devotees was banned soon after the deity of Ram Lalla (infant Ram) was planted under the central dome of the 16th century Babri Masjid building, way back on the intervening night of 22 and 23 December 1949, which led to rioting.
Then Faizabad district magistrate KKK Nair refused to carry out the government’s order to get the idol removed, and the matter went to the local court which ordered status quo, while allowing a set of four Hindu priests to perform routine prayers for which a side entry was granted, and the main gates were kept locked.
The unlocking of the gates came as a shot in the arm for the BJP, which had strongly stood by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) that had been spearheading a movement from the early eighties, against the locking of the makeshift shrine.
Congress Took the ‘Ram Mandir’ Plunge, But BJP Made a Comeback
Now it was the Congress party’s turn to take the plunge into the cesspool of Ram mandir politics. And that came with the then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi organising a shilaniyas (foundation) for the temple in 1989. However, even before he could make any political capital out of it, his government came down, following revolt by Vishwanath Pratap Singh, who succeeded him as prime minister of a Janata Dal dispensation.
Singh ordered the implementation of the Mandal Commission, thereby introducing reservation in jobs for the OBCs. The move was seen as a counter to BJP’s temple card, and often termed as a tug-of-war between ‘mandal and kamandal’ (reference to the temple).
The Mandal card did dilute the influence of ‘kamandal’ for sometime – following the rise of regional satraps like the Samajwadi Party founder Mulayam Singh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati, who grabbed power in the state for intermittent periods over almost a decade and a half.
But the mandir came back to the fold and marked the return of the BJP with a big bang. How far will this go on, only time will tell.
(The writer is a senior journalist and political analyst based in Lucknow. 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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