The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) may have heaved a sigh of relief when Vishva Hindu Parishad announced that it will put on hold its planned agitation on the issue of Ram temple until Lok Sabha elections are concluded. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's offshoot had been holding several programmes across the country, turning up the heat on the BJP government to pass a legislation — overriding the Supreme Court's stay — to facilitate the construction of a grand temple in Ayodhya.
However, suddenly on Tuesday, VHP announced that it would hold off the agitation till a new government is elected into office because it did not want the pious and crucial issue being dragged into electoral politics.
"The VHP has decided to suspend its campaign for constructing the Ram Temple at Lord Ram's birthplace in Ayodhya till the General Election process gets over, as the organisation does not want it to become an election issue," said VHP's international joint general secretary Surendra Jain. "Otherwise the Opposition will accuse us of constructing the temple for electoral gains," he told The Tribune.
This comes just days after a religious congregation called by the VHP in Allahabad, on the sidelines of the Kumbh, adopted a resolution saying Hindus will not rest and also not leave others in peace until a grand temple is built at the birthplace of Lord Ram in Ayodhya. The general elections are expected to be held in April-May.
One would be a political simpleton to take VHP's announcement at face value though. At the root of this sudden announcement was the fountainhead of both BJP and VHP, the RSS and a couple of considerations the organisation may have.
Until the VHP announced its decision, the BJP was under pressure going into the elections — many of its supporters assumed that because the saffron party got an absolute majority, now was the time their dream of a grand temple would be fulfilled. Chants of abhi nahi to kabhi nahi (now or never), and Mandir vahi banaenge (We will build the temple right in Ayodhya) were popular at Hindu congregations and prime minister's rallies.
However, once in office, larger political sensibilities suggested that the Narendra Modi-led government had no option but to take the position that it will not function outside the framework of law, inviting much criticism for the party leadership.
Why did VHP and other Sangh outfits drop the offensive?
Behind the RSS stopping VHP from jeopardising the BJP — which gained popularity because it vociferously took up Hindutva issues including Ram Mandir right from its inception — over the Ayodhya issue is the desire to install a friendly government at the Centre after the next election.
Ram temple is an issue that is still too emotive for the majority Hindu community, which means there might be massive political repercussions in case any party tries to undermine the 'will of the majority'. For other goals, including RSS' elaborate vision of a Hindu Rashtra, the organisation may find it easy with BJP at the helm.
Another reason why RSS is ready to hold back on its agitation for Ram temple is the limits imposed by India’s political, constitutional and legal framework, argues the Hindustan Times. From forming its own minority wing to redefining the meaning of Hindu Rashtra, RSS has worked hard over the years to come across as a nationalistic, philanthropic organisation rather than a hard-line communal one.
By professing that it will have the Ram Mandir at the disputed site, notwithstanding what the Supreme Court has to say in the sub-judice matter, it would have rid itself of all these image-building efforts undertaken through the years.
However, the sudden rollback of the agitation wasn't easy.
When an influential Hindu priest, Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati set the government a deadline of 21 February to start building the Ram temple in Ayodhya, fear rose that any change in status quo can raise religious tensions in an election year, and in turn jeopardise BJP's chances in politically important states. In November 2018, the VHP too had mobilised a mob of more than 2,00000 Hindu activists and monks in the town of Ayodhya for demanding the government to start the constriction of a temple. Now that the base had been mobilised, something had to be done. The Sangh too was hard pressed for taking a public stance on the issue.
It was then that the government opted for a middle path to pacify agitated Hindu groups. The government filed a petition, seeking the Supreme Court’s permission to return the excess undisputed land to the original owners. The government has argued before the court that out of a huge tract of land, frozen under Supreme Court orders, only 0.333 acres is disputed. Hence, the court should allow it to restore the remaining 67 acres of "undisputed" land to original owners, which is the VHP-backed Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas.
"A large part of the remaining superfluous land comprises properties of which the title is not even in dispute," the government said seeking the apex court's nod to allow the land transfer. After the 1992 destruction of the Babri mosque that triggered Hindu-Muslim riots across India which killed at least 2,000 people, the Supreme Court ordered a freeze on activity at the disputed site and surrounding areas.
The handover to the trust was “the least that can be done in the face of inordinate delays in the Supreme Court”, said BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav, .
Now the move serves a double purpose: That of giving the VHP and RSS a face-saver in front of their massive Hindu support base as they abruptly halt all agitation, and trumping the Congress in the race for wooing the Hindu community.
Interestingly, the land that the BJP has sought to "return" was acquired by PV Narasimha Rao's Congress government. In January 1993, it was the Congress government that had brought an ordinance for the Ram Temple, and back then BJP had opposed it.
The ordinance was brought only a month after the Babri Masjid was brought down by kar sevaks participating in a movement led by the VHP and aided by the BJP. The Congress government planned to build "a Ram temple, a mosque, amenities for pilgrims, a library, museum and other suitable facilities" in Ayodhya.
But, the Ayodhya Act failed to pave way for a Ram Mandir as the BJP vehemently opposed the move. The then BJP vice-president SS Bhandari called it "partisan, petty and perverse", India Today reported. Since Muslim bodies and a Hindu party both opposed it, the minority government of Rao developed cold feet and took the matter to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the court is yet to give its views on the government's petition but the concrete outcomes of political posturing seldom matter more than the move itself. Since the court has denied to regularly hear the Ayodhya matter, it is more likely that a definitive judgment, if at all will come after the elections are conducted. The task of this move is to only achieve short-term gains.
With inputs from agencies
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Updated Date: Feb 07, 2019 14:43:04 IST