25 years since Babri Masjid demolition: BJP, Congress give Ayodhya issue new political twist before Gujarat polls
It has now been quarter of a century since the demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya and the coming-up of a de facto makeshift Ramlala (childhood image of Lord Ram) temple
It was only incidental that the day enthusiastic "Pandit Rahul Gandhi" posters were put up — obviously taking a cue from media department chief Randeep Singh Surjewala's claim that Congress president in-waiting was "not just a Hindu but a 'Janeu Dhari' (holder of sacred thread) Hindu", senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal appearing on behalf of the Sunni Wakq Board argued in the Supreme Court that the hearing on Ramjanabhoomi-Babri Mosque dispute should be deferred to after the 2019 Lok Sabha election. His rationale was that the verdict will have strong political implications on the upcoming polls.
It has now been quarter of a century since the demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya and the coming-up of a de facto makeshift Ramlala (childhood image of Lord Ram) temple. The charioteer of the early 1990s Ram temple movement in Ayodhya, Lal Krishna Advani has slipped into the background of the party he built. Advani is once again facing a demolition conspiracy charge and isn't even campaigning for his party in the constituency or the state that he represents in Parliament.
But it is also true that on the 25th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Masjid — or 'disputed structure' as the BJP described it, the Ram Mandir issue after all these years has returned to the foreground. A majority BJP government at the Centre and in the state of Uttar Pradesh aren't pushing for the temple on record, but have been making their intentions very clear by picking up issues around Ayodhya and indulging in other symbolism around Ram to keep the pot boiling. Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath is unapologetic when it comes to talking about Ayodhya and Ram. He has, in fact, visited Ayodhya on numerous occasions and done everything possible to keep the hopes of BJP sympathisers and Ram Mandir supporters alive and as the common refrain among them goes “Centre me Modi and UP me Yogi mandir ab nahi banega toh kab banega ( with Modi at the centre and Yogi in UP, if the temple built now, will it ever be built).
What has changed on this landmark anniversary of the demolition in Ayodhya is the simple fact that until now, the Opposition used to be on the offensive every 6 December, disrupting Parliament (which used to be in Winter Session on this date) and the BJP would defend its case, matters of faith and so on. But this time around, it is the BJP that has gone on the offensive, seeking categorical answers from the Congress and other Opposition parties.
The opportunity for which the BJP had been waiting to reignite this emotive issue and launch a full-scale political debate was provided by Sibal’s argument in the Supreme Court. He used all sorts of pleas to get the matter deferred indefinitely, but the most operative and politically contentious part — the bit about not have a hearing or coming to a decision until after the 2019 polls — was picked up by BJP president Amit Shah to corner Rahul and the Congress. It was a matter of chance that the Supreme Court had decided to hear this case on 5 December — a day ahead of the 6 December anniversary ritual that "secularist" parties and groups had been following for two-and-a-half decades.
What made Sibal’s argument even more politically contentious was the fact that electioneering (between the BJP and Congress) is at its peak in Gujarat and that the Congress — after the Rahul "non-Hindu" goof-up at Somnath Temple — is portraying the president-elect as a devout Hindu Pandit to send a message across that he is not anti-Hindu and pro-Muslim. The big issue being debated in Gujarat is whether the Congress will succeed in making the state return to vote on lines of caste after three decades, or if the BJP’s Hindutava theme will continue to prevail in majoritarian Hindu voters' minds.
Due to cyclonic conditions in parts of the state, Shah’s public rallies were cancelled on Tuesday, so he arrived at the BJP's brand new media office — that has been put together for the elections — at GG Road in Ahmedabad and hurriedly called the media for "a bite", demanding that Rahul make his position clear on the Ram Temple vis-à-vis Sibal’s statement on issue. Later, Shah tweeted:
जहां एक तरफ कांग्रेस के होने वाले अध्यक्ष राहुल गांधी गुजरात में मंदिर-मंदिर जाकर अपनी श्रद्धा व्यक्त कर रहे हैं वहीं दूसरी ओर उनके नेता कपिल सिबल, राम मंदिर के निर्माण के निर्णय में देरी करवा कर श्री राम मंदिर के निर्माण में बाधा डाल रहें हैं।
— Amit Shah (@AmitShah) December 5, 2017
Roughly, this translates to "When Rahul Gandhi is visiting one temple after another in Gujarat, his party leader Kapil Sibal is using delaying tactics to obstruct the construction of the Ram Temple". In another tweet, Shah said:
मैं कांग्रेस पार्टी से मांग करता हूँ कि देश की जनता के सामने अपने दोहरे रवैये को स्पष्ट कर यह बताए कि राम मंदिर निर्माण का 2019 लोकसभा चुनाव से क्या लेना देना है और कांग्रेस जल्दी से जल्दी राम मंदिर का निर्माण चाहती है या नहीं चाहती? — Amit Shah (@AmitShah) December 5, 2017
This translates loosely to "I demand that the Congress clarify its dual standards and say what the Ram Temple has to do with 2019 elections. It should also state whether or not it wants early construction of the temple."
Shah stayed at the party office till late, meeting party leaders and strategising the next course of action on the election campaign. The BJP would have loved to see Rahul using the same secular-communal (justice for Godhra victims or Sohrabuddin Sheikh-Kausar Bi alleged encounter) narrative it used in 2002, 2007 and 2012, but this time around Rahul is not using those words. Instead, he is flaunting his tilak-on-forehead Hindu credentials. Thanks to Manoj Tyagi, Surjewala, Mani Shankar Aiyar and Sibal, BJP sees an opening to pounce on Rahul and the Congress and bring the game back to the turf on which the BJP is best suited to play.
Proceedings in the Supreme Court and Sibal appearing for Sunni Wakq Board to oppose the construction of the Ram Temple may have its bearing on sections of voters' minds in Gujarat. One must not forget that 15 years ago on 27 February, 2002 almost all of 59 persons who were killed due to burning of coaches of the Sabarmati Express were kar sevaks returning from Ayodhya after offering their prayers for the proposed Shiladan for the construction of the Ram Temple.
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