Damp squib: Why the VHP Ayodhya yatra did nothing for SP, BJP

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad's Chaurasi Kosi Yatra, had it taken off and gained the proportions that were envisaged, would have had manifold benefits for several parties. The first party that stood to gain from it was the BJP. Though it scrupulously stayed away from being directly involved in the yatra, had the VHP succeeded in drumming up support and noise about Hindutva and the politics around it, the sentiments would eventually translate into votes for BJP. On the other hand, if the yatra had indeed taken sizable proportions, the SP would have got more ground to display its pro-Muslim and secular inclinations by stopping a massive rally.

However, with the yatra ending in a damp squib, it failed to offered any takeaway to any party. Though experts had predicted that the yatra will rake up the Ram Janmbhoomi versus Babri Masjid dispute again, nothing of that sort happened.

One of the primary agendas behind the yatra was to demand the construction of a Ram Temple in the disputed site in Ayodhya. VHP's move to organise the yatra in August instead of April was seen as an attempt to mobilise masses for the Ram temple movement, which could help the BJP start gathering popular support in the state right in time for the Lok Sabha Elections in 2014. The party, which has been on a slide in the state for the past ten years, desperately needs an agenda that can give it a poll push in UttarPradesh. The state has the most number of seats in Lok Sabha and hence the envy of many national political parties.

The handful of supporters who turned up for the yatra were held by the police. Danish Raza/Firstpost

The handful of supporters who turned up for the yatra were held by the police. Danish Raza/Firstpost

The SP, on the other hand, denied permission for the procession, to woo Muslims which constitute one of the biggest chunks of its vote-bank. By foiling the right-wing activists' plans, it felt it could cut a benevolent picture with its Muslim voters.

However, the calculations of both the parties went wrong, says Lucknow based political analyst and journalist Sharat Pradhan. “BJP is badly discredited in the state even as the Congress has failed to make much of a headway here. The only way it can revive its fortunes in the state is by stoking an emotional issue such as Ram Mandir. Since the VHP could not strongly motivate and mobilize even a handful of saadhus, at a place which was once at the heart of the Ram Mandir movement, the BJP's plans were foiled,” he said.

The SP, Pradhan says, did not gain from banning the procession due to two reasons. “It was expecting a much bigger show than what happened. The rally could not attract a sizable number of saints and seers stopping whom could have been an achievement for the state administration.”

Secondly, it is no more possible to galvanise Muslim votes by banning programs like Sunday’s, he said. “Muslims have begun to see through the party’s strategy to get votes by manipulating their emotions.”

According to Manzar Mehdi, editor of a local Urdu daily in Faizabad called Aap ki Taaqat, the SP was in need of an event like the chaurasi kos yatra more than the BJP as the former has to hold on to its current popularity among the Muslim community. “The state is in news for all wrong reasons. Many Muslim youths arrested under terror charges were found innocent. Some like Khalid Mujahid have died in prison. Many riots have taken place in the state in more than one year since the party came to power. By taking an anti- VHP stand, the BSP tried to divert the attention from these issues,” he said.

So far, the BJP has steered clear off the VHP- SP face off. Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitely made at best a mellow statement saying that the state government has given the yatra a political angle by banning it.

The VHP has maintained that it was a religious procession with no political connect. Sharad Sharma, VHP spokesperson for Ayodhya unit told Firstpost,“This is a religious procession and creation of Ram Mandir is one of the primary demands here. If any party draws advantage from it, let it do that. VHP is a religious organisation which has worked for rights of Hindus and will continue doing so.

More than 600 people were arrested in Faizabad district on Sunday as they confronted the police, confirmed the district magistrate’s office. Eleven prominent VHP leaders were placed under house arrest. Section 144 of CrPc will continue to be imposed in the district till September 25.

However, some politics watchers believe that politics over religion cannot guarantee votes anymore. The very argument that the BJP and the SP could have polarized votes over this procession is wrong, said A K Verma, political science professor at Christ Church College, Kanpur. “Muslims will not vote for the SP simply because it banned the yatra and Hindus will not support the BJP only as it still talks about Ram Temple. People from both the community have moved beyond identity politics. Whether there is any improvement in their daily lives or not, is what matter the most.”