By Poonam I Kaushish
Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci’s ‘War of Positions’ and ‘War of Manoeuvres’ indicate two different phases in a power struggle. While the former is the slow, hidden conflict where forces seek to gain influence and power, the latter is a phase of open conflict whose outcome is decided by direct clashes between the Parties. A time when Parties gerrymander vote-shares to appease voters with the sole objective of the winner taking it all!
The Ayodhya saga runs on par. Come elections the Sangh makes the Ayodhya agitation a recurring theme to make political capital and suit its electoral ends. However, the Supreme Court’s latest ‘snub’ on deferring the Ayodhya case hearing again due to unavailability of a judge has not only paid put to early resolution of the dispute but has made the Government play out its last gambit prior to poll announcement.
Namely, seek the Supreme Court’s permission to restore the ‘excess 67.703 acres land’ around the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid site to its original owners — Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas which is backed by the RSS?and VHP.
Questionably, is the Sangh Parivar making a play on Hindu consolidation to retain power at the Centre? Seems so, as time seems to be running out for the Modi Government with elections round the corner and election surveys showing the BJP on a decline, despite Modi having no competitor and the Opposition bandying togetherin a Mahagadhbandhan . Today from 282 Mps in the Lok Sabha the Party is down to a simple majority of 273 MPs.
The change in strategy is due to three reasons. One, there is a sense within the Sangh cadre that the BJP is not committed to its ideological agenda wherein the anxiety within the Sangh Parivar over the construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site is palpable as voices from the ground are getting restless and showing signs of frustration.
More, the gathering of sadhus and akharas at the Ardh Kumbh in Prayagraj could make their displeasure known by going to Ayodhya in the next few weeks which could lead to communal tension and law and order problems. Said a senior leader, “If we cannot begin temple construction now when we are in power both at the Centre and UP, then when will we be ever able to do so?”
Two, given the Government and Party’s electoral vulnerability post its defeat in the three heartland Hindu States it wants to show its intent and commitment to construct the temple which would not only mollify its core supporters, cadres and religious base but could also help sway the Hindu voter in UP beyond caste and elsewhere.
Add to this, key State UP is in the throes of political regrouping which could harm the Saffron Sangh. At one end the BSP-SP’s Bua-Bhatija have joined hands and at the other Congress’s Priyanka Vadra has entered the fray wherein both could steal a section of BJP’s upper caste and new-found Dalit voters.
Besides, Mayawati-Akhilesh combine poll victories in the 2018 bye-polls and the Lalu-Rahul gadhbandhan in Bihar as also Naidu-Rahul in Telengana has given the “khul ja sim sim” code to other regional players for bandying together to take on Modi and stop his juggernaut.
Also, given the aam aadmi’s growing disenchantment, the BJP’s desperation is understandable and makes it imperative for it to sell another dream and come up with vote-catching an out-of-the-box formula for the forthcoming elections. As a victory probable a year back, today seems uncertain. And what better than to fall back on its tried and tested ‘temple at Ayodhya’ card where its expertise lies which it hopes will consolidate Hindu votes to propel it to India’s Raj gaddi again.
Three, the Government wants to politically signal its intent and commitment that it means business without stepping on legal and Constitutional toes hence it has come up with the plot of returning the “excess land”. If the Court declines its plea, the BJP could portray the judiciary as a villain. If the Court accepts it, it gives the Sangh Parivar a lifeline to initiate construction. Whether this will reap it electoral dividends is to be seen.
For the RSS and BJP, the Ram temple at the disputed site has always been central to their faith-based politics of majoritarianism. The Hindutva forces believe matters of faith cannot be held subservient to law of the land, hence the Sangh Parivar is not comfortable with the idea that judiciary can intervene in matters of faith and set Constitutional precedents.
Furthermore, what if the Supreme Court sets aside the 2010 Allahabad High Court judgment that divided the disputed land equally among the three contenders – Sunni Waqf Board, Nirmohi Akhara and Ram lalla or the infant lord Rama? What if the Supreme Court casts the entire controversy in a new narrative that jeopardises the construction of the Ram temple?
Recall, the 67.03 acres in contention was acquired by the Centre in 1993 through the Acquisition of Certain Areas of Ayodhya Act, 1993 in the wake of the demolition of the Babri Masjid on 6 December 1992 to maintain communal harmony. It was challenged the next year (Ismail Faruqui case) whereby the Supreme Court upheld the 1993 law and ordered the acquired land remain with the Central Government until the dispute was decided. This arrangement was reasserted by the Supreme Court in 2003 (Mohd Aslam case) when the then Vajpayee Government wanted the excess land to be returned to the RJN.
The BJP’s anxiety is explicable. Ayodhya is a symbol of its do-or-die battle for retaining power at the Centre as 80 Lok Sabha seats are from UP and it hopes Bhagwan Ram will oblige. For a defeat at the hustings could end its dream of ruling India, making it Congress mukt and sound the death knell of its political survival. Remember, its catapultion as the single largest Party has primarily been by playing the Hindutva card and pandering to the majority Hindu vote bank.
What next? Undoubtedly, with the Government’s popularity demonetised, the BJP and the Sangh want to fall back on the time-tested formula. Bringing Ayodhya rhetoric back on centre-stage might help salvage some morsels of credibility among cadres and traditional voters in the build up to the Lok Sabha elections.
Consequently, the Sangh seems to have timed it rather cleverly to make the mandir a core issue around which sentiments can be polarised yet again thereby appeasing both its cadre and religious base, and to construct and sustain a Hindu voter who would go beyond caste in UP, but without excessive legal or constitutional jeopardy.
Is the Modi Government ready to take gamble on Ayodhya despite likely opposition from some allies and friends? What if the Ayodhya gamble fails? The BJP is caught in a bind, knowing too well that faith exacts its revenge. The Gods, they believe always have their way. For now, it is giving the Sangh a taste of its own complexities. It remains to be seen if the voter feels the Ram temple is a top priority of Hindu society. —- INFA