Development needed more than temple card

Harihar Swarup

Can the Ram Mandir agitation of the 1990s be revived in 2018? Politics of Ram Mandir may just be a spent force. Even Indira Gandhi could not revive “garabi hatao” slogan twice. Come election and the “Build Ram Mandir in Ayodhya”, or Mandir Wohin Banayenge slogan — comes to fore like a seasonal crop and then peters off. This Diwali, the last before the general election in 2019, Lord Ram returned to Ayodhya, and the city dressed up to welcome the victorious king. We are seeing the philosophical luminosity of the festival of lights dimmed by political disharmony and empty ritual of politics. Once again the political class is attempting to imprison Lord Ram in the ballot box.
Supreme Court has adjourned the Mandir-Masjid issue to the next year declaring “we have other priorities”. Mandir agitationists reacted to this with predictable outrage. “Hindus are running out of patience on Ram Mandir issue”, said BJP’s Girirajraj Singh. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath vowed to deliver goodies on Diwali. RSS spokesperson Bhaiyaji Joshi said the organisation is ready to carry out a 1992-type “movement” for Mandir. Not to be outdone, Uddhav Thackeray and Shiv Sena are planning a journey to Ayodhya. Supreme Court’s timeline on the temple clearly doesn’t suit those who believe that Ram Mandir is still an electoral trump card.
But is it? Can 2018 be compared to 1990 when Ram Mandir wave first swept the country, transforming BJP into a national party? Even in 1993, just a year after demolition of Babri Masjid, BJP lost its majority in UP, lost its governments in Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh, and only scraped through with the help of Independents in Rajasthan.
In India, elections are not won by galvanising the core and mobilising the fervent base but on floating votes, the fence sitters vote and incremental vote. This is the vote that went to BJP in 2014 when it got the winning 31 per cent vote share by promising not just Hindtutva but an alternate model of governance and vikas. Now after four years of patchy record on governance, won’t a return to the politics of 1990s be seen by voters as turning the clock back?
Opinion polls at the moment suggest that anti-incumbency is high in the states going to polls this month and December where BJP has ruled for over a decade. To expect the promise of Mandir to prevail over agrarian distress, high fuel prices and unemployment, may reveal a failure to recognise that emotive issues have a limited shelf life.
Do the majority of Hindus across India want a Ram Mandir in Ayodhya? There is no hard evidence to support this, nor has there been a national referendum on the issue. Also given the fact that 2019 is being seen as a war of alliances, an insistence on the Mandir agenda may affect BJP’s acceptability among potential alliance partners. The liberal Hindu versus conservative Hindu divergence is also important here. Even if we accept that all Hindus want Mandir, do they want it achieved through aggressive political confrontation that possibly entails dangers to lives and livelihoods?
There is a distinct sense of boredom about Ram Mandir today. It’s an issue associated with old generation of saffron-glad Sangh faithfuls, a hoary campaign from the previous century, a time which the entire generation of voters born after 1990 can barely remember: Present day BJP leadership did rise through the Mandir movement but Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi have been at pains to keep the issue on backburner, preferring to identify themselves with more contemporary themes of Shinning India, Vibrant Gujarat, New India et al.
The Mandir campaign may have been new in the 1990s, but today with the antics of gau rakshaks, love jihad and ghar wapsi street warriors, hardline Hindutva issues have lost their startling novelty. Even the Gujarat-supported laboratory of Hindutva has reached Hindutva saturation point where saffron issues now bring diminishing returns. In 2017, Gujarat assembly elections, BJP staved off defeat only by a thin margin.
Besides, there has never been an example in India of the same issue winning more than one election. Also riding two horses of vikas in Delhi and Mandir in Ayodhya is a risky balancing act. BJP senior may have succeeded in Ratha Yatra, but today wouldn’t the same BJP leadership rather be identified with Niti Ayog than VHP? Ratcheting up Ram Mandir rhetoric this Diwali could lead to voter fatigue in an electorate growing increasing cynical. (IPA)

Sunday, 18 November, 2018