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Narendra Modi's Ram Mandir comments dent major Congress talking point, shore up his base ahead of 2019

Prime Minister Narendra Modi couldn’t have been more candid during his interview with news agency ANI when he said the legislative route on construction of Ram temple could be considered by his government only after a Supreme Court verdict. By saying so, Modi made clear five things: First, he was conscious of popular expectations — on him and his government — from BJP supporters, and the various constituents of Sangh Parivar and was thus open to taking the legislative route, a bill or an ordinance.

Second, while Modi was not shirking those expectations and ideological moorings as a BJP leader, however, as prime minister, Modi has to care for other constitutional and practical matters. The timeline — the Winter Session being last session of 16th Lok Sabha (there would be no Budget Session and “interim budget” would be technically presented in continuation of Winter Session when it reopens in January end after going into recess on 8 January — and the Modi government's remaining term before parliamentary elections are announced either at the end of February of the first week of march leaves only a 15-day window  (after Winter/Budget Session ends mid-February) before elections are announced and the Model Code of Conduct comes into effect. Even if the Modi government works at lightning speed and brings an ordinance, it would be a moot point: it can't be presented because the Lok Sabha's term would have expired.

 Narendra Modis Ram Mandir comments dent major Congress talking point, shore up his base ahead of 2019

Representational image. Image courtesy/Siddhant Mohan

Third, towards end of his term, Modi would not like to give the impression that he is confronting the Supreme Court. The Ram janmabhoomi case will come up for hearing in the apex court on 4 January.

Fourth, Modi has also sent the RSS a message: let me handle issues of governance. While the RSS may continue to agitate on Ram temple, and put pressure on a friendly government to resolve the issue through legislation, the government would weigh other factors while taking the final call. On various occasions, BJP chief Amit Shah said he and his colleagues were in dialogue with the Sangh and that they would try and convince them of the difficulties of the situation and articulate the thought process of political leadership. Shah also hinted that a bill or an ordinance was not possible till the apex court delivered its verdict. By clearly articulating the government's position, Modi has merely taken that a step forward.

Fifth, Modi has made clear that he wants to fight the next parliamentary elections on development, and not the emotive Ram temple issue, as his critics and rivals so often accuse him of wanting to do. His positioning has taken away a major plank of the secular parties — Congress and its prospective allies in the Mahagathbandhan — that the Modi government had no achievements to tout and were thus, through the BJP and RSS, trying to revive the temple issue. The other Opposition charge: that the Modi government was being remote-controlled by RSS brass in Nagpur now appears to be completely devoid of merit.

Interestingly, Modi brought up the triple talaq ordinance and said he hoped the BJP's core constituents would take a rational view. “Triple talaq Ordinance was brought after the Supreme Court verdict. We said in our BJP manifesto that a solution would be found to this issue under the Constitution. Nobody can deny that those sitting in the government or the past 70 years tried their best to stall. Even today, the matter is before the Supreme Court. In a way, it has reached its final stage... let the judicial process end. After that, whatever be our responsibility as government, we are ready to make all efforts,” Modi said. He also blasted the Congress (referring to Kapil Sibal’s argument in Supreme Court) for 'creating obstacles' in the apex court.

By saying so, Modi addressed the concerns of both his core constituency (Hindutva elements within the Sangh Parivar) and those outside it. After all, even as many saw Modi as the walking embodiment of Hindutva, he never overtly took any such position. The RSS’ endorsement of Modi’s statement must warm the BJP's heart. After the interview, the organisation's general secretary Dattatreya Hosabale said: “We feel the statement by prime minister is a positive step in the direction of temple construction. The prime minister reiterating the resolve to construct a grand Sri Ram Temple in Ayodhya in his interview is in tune with the resolution passed by BJP at Palampur in 1989. In this resolution the BJP had stated that they would try to construct the grand Sri Ram Temple at Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya through mutual dialogue between the two communities or by enabling required legislation. Even in the 2014 Election Manifesto prepared under the leadership of Narendra Modi, the BJP promised to explore all possibilities within the framework of the Constitution to facilitate the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. The people of Bharat have reposed complete confidence and gave BJP the full mandate. The people of Bharat expect this government to fulfil the same promise during this tenure.”

A finer reading of RSS’ statement gives a sense that it has smartly maintained its balance with the Modi government, not embarrassed it, even taking a positive note of Modi’s words, but at the same time held its position that it wants Modi government to bring in legislation over the Ram temple. The latter part, it seems, is for the optics (to its cadre).

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Updated Date: Jan 03, 2019 08:06:26 IST

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