With Ram Mandir unattainable, Yogi Adityanath's Ayodhya visit showcased Ram statue as an 'alternate project'

And the main roads of Ayodhya
Were scattered with flowers
And the perfume of incense
By the rejoicing citizens;
And massive trees, tall as torches,
Turned night into day;
And there was noisy joy
At the crossroads
And the city of Ayodhya, teeming with

I was reminded of the above lines, discovered in an internet-less world almost a quarter of a century ago from a translation of Valmiki's Ramayana, and used as the quote to begin a chapter titled 'Ayodhyakand' of my book The Demolition: India At The Crossroads.

The lines were used by the sagely poet to depict imagined scenes in the mythological city on the day Lord Ram and his retinue, including Sita, triumphantly returned home after having vanquished Ravana. On Wednesday, a new version of the Ramlila was enacted, replete with a new and unprecedented mix of mythology and politics.

Unparalleled because this was the first time that a Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh so unabashedly used state infrastructure to display personal religiosity. Even the previous BJP chief minister, Rajnath Singh, who ruled the state a decade and a half ago, did not demonstrate such gumption.

With Ram Mandir unattainable, Yogi Adityanaths Ayodhya visit showcased Ram statue as an alternate project

Yogi Adityanath celebrated Diwali in Ayodhya a day ahead of Diwali. PTI

But Yogi Adityanath did not test legal injunctions, and official functions were way away from the disputed site. His visit to the shrine too was deemed personal, demonstrating that the entire event was little but a calibrated strategy aimed to convey a sense of make-belief.

For the moment, Adityanath had brought back the Ram Temple debate into the nation's spotlight without attracting censure from the courts.

Wednesday's scenes were extraordinary because the record-breaking event was mounted a day prior to the mythical return of the prince of Ayodhya, scheduled so because Adityanath had a date with divinity and followers on Diwali day at his Gorakhpur mutt.

Wednesday's celebrations were also laced with irony because the bar which was bettered was previously set by the now-fallen Gurmeet Ram Rahim. In a theatre that is largely based on the fertile imaginations of writers down the ages, this fact opens up myriad ways to script the next episode.

There, however, is no denying that Adityanath stole the unexpressed imagination of people to light lakhs of diyas. He knew that images of the lamps, set against the banks of the river, with temples as a backdrop, were emotive enough to shower religious blessings on him and secure political support.

Wednesday's event, and the excitement which spilled over into Thursday, coupled with the project to erect a gigantic statue of Lord Ram, will be sufficient to deflect attention from the seemingly impossible task of beginning construction of a Ram Temple at the disputed site in the near future.

From the yet unattainable temple in Ayodhya, the faithful can now be rallied with a new battle cry: Pseudo-secularists have a problem with Diwali celebrations in Ayodhya and erecting a state of Lord Ram there. A new goal has been raised most skillfully.

Without going into details, suffice to state that legal complications and a multitude of parties from both sides will not make the path to build a temple easy. An inability to make progress on the temple would have discredited BJP and Adityanath. The statue is thus this "alternate project", while celebrating Diwali a day before Diwali is showcased as an "achievement".

Significantly, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister's presence in the temple town underscores the duality of the BJP, more specifically the Narendra Modi-Yogi Adityanath combine. While the prime minister stuck to his routine of visiting defence outposts and spending time with soldiers — his "family" — on icy heights, the chief minister stuck to the basics, his as well as his party's. For him, his helicopter ride is limited to the pushpak viman to cart Ram Lila artistes to Ayodhya.

Despite the impression gaining ground that Adityanath's heart is not really into the back-bending governance schedule, and though he's being seen as someone who frequently goes incognito, to tend to his priestly duties at the Gorakhpur mutt, Adityanath is showcased as a "Hindutva icon" in other states. The Sangh Parivar has advertised Adityanath in Kerala and Gujarat. In Kerala, his principle objective was to sharpen inter-community polarisation, while in Gujarat he was tasked with raking up the images that the original 'Hindu Hriday Samrat' once used to.

It suggests that till the time BJP believes that Modi's 'Vikas Purush' countenance will fetch dividends, the previous facade shall be donned by Adityanath.

After Adityanath became the surprise pick to head the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh, the supposition was that he would have two avenues to choose from: He could either be the Hindutva hardliner ready to take over the mantle from Modi at some point in time when it is necessary; or he could model himself on Modi, leave his rabid hardliner image behind, and reinvent himself as a messiah of development, a path that Modi himself promised to show the electorate during the campaign. With the successful event in Ayodhya, Adityanath has settled the matter: His government will focus little on development matters, and instead stick to the cultural nationalist agenda.

The task in the temple-town is not really about development or improving the lot of the people, but it's all about creating infrastructure to promote religious tourism. This remains the primary objective, though Adityanath has been distributing acceptance letters to applicants for grants under the PM Awaas Yojana, and handing out letters providing free electricity connections under the recently launched Saubhagya scheme. These programmes were organised just to justify Adityanath's trip to Ayodhya as official.

The Diwali bash in Ayodhya has cemented Adityanath's position in the pantheon of BJP leaders, but only as rabble-rouser. Evidence of this is the recognition of his "skills" by the Sivakasi cracker industry movers. A picture from Allahabad has been doing the rounds, and has various brands reflecting the mood of the times like every year. 'GST Kaala Saanp', 'Notebandi phus phus anars', 'Akhilesh bomb' with the tagline 'Dikh Raha Hain Dum', 'Chamakta sitara anar' with a photograph of Rahul Gandhi, 'Dharam se gire Modi rocket', 'Sabke man ko bhaye Priyanka fuljhari' — these are some of the latest firecrackers in shops this year. But it's the one with Adityanath's picture that is indicative of the Uttar Pradesh chief minister's prowess: 'Yogi chetavni chatai', it says. Indeed, Adityanath's entire political message seems to be just one word: Warning!

But because he has refused to become politically ambidextrous like Modi did with Hindutva and the development narrative, Adityanath's acceptability in a wider constituency will be always in question. At the moment, however, he is being seen as a fall-back option by the leadership.

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Updated Date: Oct 20, 2017 08:37:28 IST

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