With the Samajwadi Party-led Uttar Pradesh government descending on VHP supporters in full force, the group's hyped Chaurasi Kosi Parikrama failed to take off. True to its word, the UP government made sure that people fail to gather at one place and hence kick-start the parikarama.
However, the government refused to use brute force - which was once the hallmark of Mulayam Singh Yadav's Samajwadi Party - on the VHP supporters. The abundant deployment of security personnel all over Ayodha made sure that most people didn't venture out and the ones who did, in small numbers, were easily pushed back. Also, there seemed to be a general unwillingness on the VHP's part to fight the government hence no major showdown occurred.
Beyond paying lip service to intermittent protests, the VHP and Sangh Parivar leaders probably didn't mind being stopped before their ambitois yatra could take off. For one, the Akhilesh Yadav government's move to ban the yatra in itself gave them enough fodder to further its political course in future. What is probably the most interesting part of the fracas is the fact that the VHP and the SP stand to gain from it, almost equally.
For one, the leadership of the ruling Samajwadi Party and the Sangh Parivar knew well that a serious confrontation might lead to social and political consequences that might become difficult to bring under control. So the Sangh resorted to low-key drama like its leaders courting arrest. Pravin Togadia and Ramvilas Vedanti were put on house arrest and Ashok Singhal was sent back to Delhi from Lucknow airport. The Section 144 placed on Uttar Pradesh was adhered to strictly.
Though the BJP had not officially lent its support and name to the party, it must have placed its hopes on the yatra to rake up emotions in an electorate which had deserted it 15 years back. So just a few BJP leaders were heard batting for the 'democratic rights' of the rally enthusiasts who were detained. The party knows that the Ram Mandir issue cannot be revived in a way it could benefit the BJP greatly. So it is happy to settle for just a mild churning of emotions - enough to last a news channel debate or two.
From the high of 58 seats in 1996 and 1998, the BJP touched a low of 10 seats in UP in 2009, the last Lok Sabha elections. The party's political misfortune in the state has coerced it to maintain a public distance from the VHP sponsored programme, as it cannot afford to lose anymore voter of any social group. According to sources, the BJP came to this decision in a meeting organised by the RSS chief where senior party members and VHP leaders were present.
History has taught Mulayam Singh Yadav that a bit of stir by either the BJP or the Hindutva forces, accusing his government of being pro-minorities, has never hurt him. In fact, he always gained from such opposition by strengthening is connect with UP's sizable Muslim population. By using mild and lawful techniques well within the definitions of democracy, the UP government has also managed to soften the blow on its Hindu voters. In fact, by resisting the yatra as peacefully possible, the SP has sent out a message to the Hindus in the state that the party's actions are only in favour of communal harmony in the state, not against any religious community. If this gamble pays off, SP could be the most sought after party in the 2014 general elections with UP accounting for one-seventh of the Lok Sabha seats.
However, the party that did lose out on the hype around the yatra is the Congress. It didn't respond to the situation in a way it could gain from it. Apart from Digvijaya Singh's weak suggestion that its a case of political match fixing, there was no concrete reaction from the Congress.
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. A major shift in the voting pattern in the six districts that fall on the rally's route – Faizabad, Basti, Barabanki, Gonda, Bahraich and Ambedkar Nagar through which the Chaurasi Kos Parikrama is supposed to pass – had made for the surprise upswing in the Congress' fortunes in 2009 Lok Sabha polls.
A BJP leader told Firstpost: “It is true that not much action took place on the ground. In fact the intention wasn't that either. This was a religious yatra where seers were supposed to participate. The Samajwadi Party was completely wrong in clamping down upon it. However, we shouldn't undermine the symbolism of the exercise. The opposition to the yatra will mobilise the Hindu voters and bolster support for Modi here and everywhere else.”
The Congress' sudden rise of electoral fortune in 2009 was due the shift of substantive numbers of traditional BJP votes to Congress. Also, several Muslim voters were disenchanted by Mulayam Singh Yadav's refusal to cold shoulder Kalyan Singh, a know Hindutva hardliner whose role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid is still extensively debated in the political circles.
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 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?