By Shobha Misra
In a disparate move to create a Ram wave to win the coming electoral battle, the BJP-led NDA dispensation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi moved the Supreme Court to grant permission to hand over most of the 67.703 acres of land acquired by the government 25 years back to its original owners.
The original owners are Ram Janambhoomi Nyas (RJN)-a trust set up to build a temple at the “disputed” site by the protagonists of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). The two organisations have been at the vanguard of the Ram Janambhoomi movement and have been exerting pressure on the Modi government to make a temple possible either through legislation or an executive order. The move has come after the visit of BJP chief Amit Shah to Prayagraj during the ongoing half-Kumbh congregation to take a dip in the Sangam and meet saffron cladded saints and seers who have been asking the government to facilitate the construction of a grand temple at the birth site of Lord Ram in Ayodhya.
The government’s move needs to be viewed in the background of the Prime Minister’s categorical stand taken during his interview to the ANI that was published on January 1 this year. Modi had made clear that any decision on an executive order on the Ram temple issue cannot be made unless the judicial process is over. The BJP government is only trying to circumvent the route of an executive order by approaching the Supreme Court.
“Nobody can deny that those sitting in the government in the last 70 years have tried their best to stall a solution to this (Ayodhya) issue”, Modi said trying to blame the Congress.
The Prime Minister had chosen to elaborate on the issue of Ram temple three days before the Supreme Court was going to fix a date for hearing of appeals challenging the Allahabad High Court order in the Ram Janambhoomi-Babri Masjid title suit.
If the Supreme Court agrees and grants permission to the government to hand over the land then Modi would emerge a popular hero in popular perception brightening his chance to return to power and if not then still his government would be perceived as having done the best for the cause.
Earlier, the RSS and its affiliated outfits had started to prepare the grounds for the government to act. RSS Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat in October had asked the government to bring in a law for the construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site in Ayodhya and urged the Supreme Court, where the hearing on the title suits was to resume later that month, to expedite its verdict.
Bhagwat’s demand came during his customary annual address at the organisation’s headquarter in Nagpur to his followers. Bhagwat had timed his move few weeks before the five assembly elections and couple of months before the general elections to swing the public opinion in the BJP’s favour. The BJP lost three Hindi heartland states of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
“The place of Janambhoomi is yet to be allocated for the construction of the temple although all kinds of evidence have affirmed that there was a temple at that place. There is an obvious game plan of a few elements to stall the judgment by presenting various newer interventions in the judicial process. It is in nobody’s interest to test the patience of society without any reason” Bhagwat had said in a seemingly warning tone in the presence of Union Ministers Nitin Gadkari and K Alphons, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Nobel laureate Kailash Vidyarthi.
“The construction of the temple is necessary from the self-esteem point of view; it will also pave the way for an atmosphere of goodwill and oneness in the country. The matter of national interest is being obstructed by some fundamentalist elements and forces that play communal politics for selfish gains. Despite such machinations, the decision regarding ownership of the land should be expedited, and the Government should clear the path for construction of the grand temple through appropriate and requisite law”, the Sangh supremo said.
While Bhagwat stressed upon the need to bring in a law, others in the saffron family have suggested to taking recourse to issuing of an ordinance for facilitating the path of construction of a grand Ram temple at the disputed site.
By repeating its very old argument that Ram temple is an article of faith that cannot be challenged in a court of law, Bhagwat had struck at the very roots of the Constitution of the country. Every community has its faith not only Hindus. Modern civilisations and contemporary societies are built upon logic, reason and rule of law and not on issues of faith, Bhagwat must know.
Bhagwat’s view that temple construction is necessary for the sake of “self-esteem” is bizarre. It does not stand the test of a microscopic scrutiny. RSS does not represent all practicing Hindus. While the RSS’s membership is not known as it is purported to be a trade secret, the BJP had polled 31 percent odd votes nationally in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls that was the best it had ever polled. By no definition, the BJP has the support of the Hindu community. Then how can he claim to be the representative of all Hindus?
In fact, society has become more polarized and divided ever since the Sangh sponsored VHP-led and BJP supported Ram Janambhoomi temple issue gained momentum in late 80s and early 90s of the last century. There are more fissures in polity and society than ever before. A large section of Hindu society rather the silent majority that follows tenets of Sanatan Dharma has felt a terrible let down by the aggressive Ram Janambhoomi temple movement. There is a strong feeling among Hindus that forces of Hindutva have forcibly hijacked Santan Dharm.
The Modi government had come to power in 2014 and demanded a law for construction of a Ram temple at the Janmbhoomisthan in October 2018 or moving to the apex court to handover the acquired land is nothing but an attempt to influence the electoral battle in favour of the BJP.
The need to play the Ram temple card arose and became urgent because of the abjectly poor performance of the Modi government on economic parameters. Unemployment is high, touching unprecedented levels. Social security and communal harmony are fragile. Social peace is disturbed and is reflected in popular perception. People coming to attend rallies and meetings of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other leaders including BJP chief Amit Shah are being seen getting restless and bored. Growing disillusionment among the non-RSS and non-BJP sections of the electorate emitted panic signals that required urgent attention.
The BJP and the RSS, in their own calculations, had succeeded in isolating liberal, left and centrist ideological stream and had discredited them in popular perception as anti-nationalists. That is why now a decisive push was the need of the hour.
Sharpening of communal and religious polarization was in the Sangh calculations the only way through which the BJP could return to power in the Hindi heartland states that is a door to New Delhi. Mob lynching, love jihad, cow slaughter, urban naxals, helped in creating a suitable environment for creating religious divide. Now with the Ram temple the BJP under the Modi-Shah duo is trying to build a national narrative in the fervent hope that it would not remain confined to north India and Hindi heartland but would also mobiles opinion in its favour in the south too.
The RSS’s strategy is still to pass the test of time. Whether it finds the approval of the electorate or not would only be known when ballots are counted after the Lok Sabha elections and results are announced.