Ayodhya remains quiet. There are no signs of a popular mobilisation either among the saints or among the people that could turn into some kind a mass frenzy on Sunday morning on the banks of Saryu river. From here, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad-sponsored Chaurasi Kos Parikrama would start for the first grand stop, Makhawada in Basti district, a place where according to mythological narration, King Dashrath had performed Aswamedh Yagna.
The heavy deployment of police and para-military forces, restrictions from all sides along roads, and the river that could make outsiders, particularly the sants and VHP activists, enter this otherwise sleepy temple town, gives a certain sense of uneasiness.
The tough statements issued from both sides, the Samajwadi Party and the VHP, is indicative of a confrontation that could just be waiting to happen on Sunday and the days to follow. The SP is keen on not letting the parikrama to start and the latter is determined to defy the state government order at whatever cost.
Less than 24 hours before proposed start of the parikrama, the Akhilesh Yadav government got a shot in the arm with the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court rejecting a plea to allow the yatra. The VHP, which is back in news after a long time, is unrelenting and refuses to either withdraw or alter its 20-day programme covering six districts of Uttar Pradesh.
Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav is known for not being averse to using force, even to its extreme limits, in such situations and the VHP’s credentials in the past suggest that the outfit does not believe in remaining most peaceful on an issue which it thinks is part of its conviction. Mulayam and the VHP have clashed in the past, which eventually earned the SP chief the sobriquet of 'Maulana Mulayam'.
Ahead of parliamentary elections, the stakes are too high for Mulayam and his chief minister son Akhilesh in the country’s most populous state which accounts for around one-seventh of the total strength of Lok Sabha.
Take the most basic thing of parikrama: its route. Though conventionally laid out, the politics around it directly affects three players - the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the BJP. It was a major shift in voting pattern in the six districts - Faizabad, Basti, Barabanki, Gonda, Bahraich and Ambedkar Nagar through which the Chaurasi Kos Parikrama is supposed to pass - saw a surprise upswing in the Congress fortune in 2009 parliamentary elections.
At the bottom of the Congress' sudden rise in the electoral graph was the shift of a substantive section of the traditional BJP supporters to the party. The other converts included a section of Muslim voters disenchanted with Mulayam’s flirtation with Kalyan Singh.
There can’t be any prizes for guessing that the intent and purpose of the parikrama is political for the VHP and the Sangh Parivar, howsoever hard they might explain that it is strictly limited to religious purposes. The same is true for the Samajwadi Party. Howsoever, strongly the party leaders and government officials may argue that the ban on the parikrama is a purely administrative decision, nobody is going to believe that. A parikrama of the similar nature had after all passed off quietly without any hype and without any trouble only six months ago.
The move of Mulayam and Akhilesh Yadav is being called a brilliant political action to polarize the Muslim votes in their favour or not to let members of Muslim community think of the Congress as an alternate when Narendra Modi is BJP’s undeclared prime ministerial candidate. For the record, the Samajwadi Party leaders deny that.
SP national secretary Rajesh Dikshit told Firstpost: "The Lucknow High court order rejecting the plea to lift a ban on the yatra vindicates our chief minister’s decision to deny permission. This is in no way a religious programme and is guided by communal politics of Narendra Modi to enflame popular passions ahead of elections. These people are in fact anti-Ram who are not allowing the Lord to rest in a season that is known for his leisure. This is the season, post-Sawan, when rivers overflow, and gods and goddesses wish to take rest for a while. The Cahurasi Kos Parikrama is traditionally held in Chait, (April), not now."
The timing of the programme has been strongly defended by VHP chief Ashok Singhal and Swami Chinmayanand. "A parikrama of a teerthsthan in the country can be undertaken at any time of the year as any time is a good time for such a purpose," Singhal said. The programme to give fresh spurt to Ramjanambhoomi movement was decided during two-day meeting of Kendraya Margdarshak Mandal of sants between June 11 and June 12 in Hardwar. The VHP leaders knew that there couln’t be a mass mobilization on Ram Mandir issue in 2013, so it had shrewdly kept the schedule in such a way that parikrama was to be led by a small group of sats. That way the seers would not tire.
Though the BJP has kept away from the VHP-sponsored programme, there is definitely an understanding between the VHP and BJP leaders. The issue had earlier figured in the meeting held by the RSS chief where BJP and VHP leaders were present. The BJP’s task is to engage with the political opponents, defend the parikrama and keep the atmosphere charged within and outside of Parliament, as the need may be. It should thus be noted even as the BJP calls it a religious yatra and comes down hard on Samajwadi Party for banning it, the party’s UP leaders keep on talking about role of Azam Khan clamping the ban on movement of sadhu-sants.
The VHP had lately not been generating waves and Ram Mandir issue for many in the BJP was a dead political issue, until of course, the Samajwadi Party decided to act tough against them. All eyes are now set on possible confrontation between the VHP and Samajwadi government. Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is personally monitoring the situation. Will he follow his father’s path?