BELIEVERS call Hanumanji “sankat mochan” (saviour in distress) and whenever the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in distress, it turns to the evergreen Ram Mandir (temple) issue.
Jittery about their electoral prospects, the Narendra Modi and Amit Shah duo has in tandem with the mothership – the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) decided to make the construction of the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya the centrepiece of the general election in 2019.
So, the coordinated challenge to the Supreme Court is by the leading lights of the Modi government and the Sangh CEO Bhaiyyaji Joshi, who in an unusual intervention, warned of a 1992-type stir in which the Babri Masjid was brought down.
Joshi said: “Hindus are feeling insulted that the case was not a priority for the Supreme Court.” This cake after RSS supremo Mohan Bhagwat said the Modi government should bring in an ordinance for the construction of the Ram temple.
The RSS and the BJP are reading off the same script as earlier Shah had criticised the Supreme Court over allowing entry to all women into the Sabarimala temple.
Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh and the “Mahant” (head priest) of the Goraknath temple in Gorakhpur, pledged that he would celebrate Diwali by starting the construction of a huge statue of Ram in Ayodhya.
The Ram Mandir issue has changed the BJP’s electoral fortunes, but the blow hot, blow cold approach has ensured that every time the party is nervous, it reaches for the Ram Mandir and polarisation as its default mode.
A senior Samajwadi Party (SP) leader mocked: “Mandir wahi banaeygey, tarikh nahi bataenge (we will build a temple there, but won’t disclose the date). This describes the BJP’s complex relationship with the potent Mandir issue.
The prospect of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) tie-up in Uttar Pradesh, which is the real state to win with 80 seats to rule in Delhi, has made the BJP extremely nervous. Shah knows that he cannot repeat the 73 out of 80 Lok Sabha seats the BJP managed in its historic sweep in 2014.
Both Modi and Shah realise that it will be impossible to run on Modi’s governance track record in the centre and Adityanath’s in Uttar Pradesh. Hence, there is majoritarian muscle flexing in a bid to win another general election on what Shah calls “Ram mudda” (Ram issue).
However, even senior BJP leaders, who were part of the original Ram Janambhoomi (birthplace) agitation, say the BJP can’t keep making it a central issue again and again.
A senior leader who was part of the Rath Yatra says: “Every issue has a life and after the Masjid was brought down, the issue lost its electoral efficacy. All Hindus will be happy if a temple is constructed, but Modi is mistaken if he thinks that people won’t remember his track record. The Ram Mandir issue is potent for the BJP’s convinced base, but bread and butter issues matter to the voter. They keep asking about “acche din” (good days) and jobs. What should we say to them?”
Modi, who is a Member of Parliament from Varanasi, had made twin promises – one was to clean mother Ganga, who he had said then called him, and the other was to transform Varanasi into Kyoto.
Disillusioned voters now say both the promises have been broken. One resident said: “Woh to sirf Abe (Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe) koh laye. Abe hamara toh kuch nahi badla” (he only bought Abe, but nothing has changed for us).
Large-scale voter disillusionment is what the opposition is banking on coupled with strategic local alliances such as the two regional giants SP and BSP in Uttar Pradesh.
The opposition is aware that the BJP wants to make it a presidential style contest between Modi and Rahul Gandhi in which Modi will score. And, to buttress his position as “Hindu Hriday Samrat” (king of Hindu hearts) he will make the construction of the Ram Mandir the only issue for elections. This will take the sting away from Modi’s mediocre track record in governance.
That’s the reason for the fervent devotion to the issue in the BJP. Shah has also ratcheted up the volume. One of the BJP’s official spokesmen described Gandhi as “son of Antonia Maino” on national television.
Will it work? The Indian voter is very wise and always likes to give a shock to leaders who believe they are all conquering.
Swati Chaturvedi’s book “I am a Troll - Inside the BJP’s secret digital army” has received international acclaim. Her twitter handle is .@bainjal