Sangh’s electoral gambit has many hurdles

Harihar Swarup

Howsoever hard Prime Minister Narendra Modi may try to construct Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya, there appears to be no possibility of the temple coming up before 2019 Lok Sabha elections. That was why the PM has stated that the government would abide by the Supreme Court’s verdict. Meanwhile, the hearing of the apex court is being extended on one pretext or other.
Neither of the two BJP-led governments under Vajpayee and Modi, put the Ram Temple at the top of their election campaign or governance agenda. The demolition of the Babri Masjid, after all, was one-time event. It changed India’s political landscape that also unleashed powerful vigilance by non-BJP parties, civil society and higher judiciary. It has been much more difficult for any government to cross legal and administrative lines.
The RSS and the VHP have clearly increased pressure since last year, putting the BJP government in a bind. The running battle between RSS affiliates and Vajpayee government ahead of the 2004 election and the RSS’s lukewarm support to Advani’s prime ministerial bid in 2009 are seen as major contributors to the BJP’s disappointments. The BJP’s old coalition compulsions no longer exists, and the party has been getting feedback that the Ram Temple still resonates with party cadres who believe that the government should be sympathetic to it.
In a shift to the Ram temple-Babri Masjid title suit, government has moved the Supreme Court seeking permission to return the ‘excess’ land surrounding the disputed site to its original owners, including Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas. It will be recalled that the Centre had acquired the disputed site surrounding land totaling 67.703 acres in 1993 to maintain peace and communal harmony, after criminal demolition on Babri Masjid led to riots and bombings. But the Centre now argues that the excess land – 67.39 acres by its calculation – can be returned as 26 years have elapsed and the property dispute is still in court.
The move appears to be a last-ditch effort by the Modi government to pacify Ram Temple votaries who believe that BJP hasn’t done enough to built it. Various bodies of Sadhus, VHP and RSS have been demanding an ordinance for the temple. While the BJP maintains it wants the judicial process to run its course. It also feels that delays in the hearing in the apex court hurt the party’s political prospects.
It’s against this background that the BJP feels the need to show progress on the Ayodhya issue, failing which, it fears, its core Hinduvta constituency won’t support it in the coming Lok Sabha election.
Since the destruction of the mosque in 1992, which remains a dark chapter in the Indian History, the BJP has reinforced its commitment to construct the temple at exactly the disputed site but with little success. The Sangh leadership and the Hindu saints, who constitute an important element of the saffron community asked: If the party, despite being in power at the Centre, and UP, cannot commence the temple construction now, when it will do so? The BJP’s top leadership knows if it cannot be seen as bypassing the court. An ordinance would be immediately challenged in the court. There was possibility of communal tension. Prime Minister Modi’s statement in January that they would wait for the judicial process to reach a conclusion emanated from this assessment. But four things have led to a reassessment. For one. There was there was immediate threat of a gathering of sants at the Kumbh making their displeasure with the government clear. Two there was the sense within the Sangh cadre that the BJP was not committed to its ideological agenda. Three, there was a feeling of political vulnerability after the state elections at the end of year.
And finally, there was UP factor where Samajwadi Party and BSP have forged a formidable alliance and Priyanka Gandhi has entered the fray and could steal away a section of BJP’s upper caste votes. To show intent of its commitment, the BJP found a way to ask for ‘excess land’. Whether this will reap electoral dividends is to be seen. But the government’s motivation is easy to discern. (IPA)

Tuesday, 12 February, 2019