With elections to five state assemblies and subsequently to the Lok Sabha approaching, the shrillness of the Hindutva brigade’s clamour for a Ram temple in Ayodhya at the disputed site where the so-called Babri masjid stood and was demolished is all too manifest. A new-found aggressiveness is to the fore unmistakably, a typical reminder that elections are round the corner where emotive issues would be exploited to the fullest extent by both the contending sides.
At the customary Vijayadashmi address at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur on Thursday, RSS sarsanchalak Mohan Bhagwat re-focussed attention on the Ayodhya issue urging the Narendra Modi government to bring in a law for the construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site which is under litigation for long.
Clearly, the implication was that the NDA government must think beyond the Supreme Court verdict which is due shortly on the status of the demand for a temple and supersede it with a law providing for a temple.
While Bhagwat was waxing eloquent on the issue, the irrepressible Hindutva protagonist, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray was declaring his intention to visit Ayodhya in November with the agenda of belittling the BJP for not honouring its electoral promise to build a temple in Ayodhya.
Uddhav said he would demand answers from Prime Minister Modi and reprimand him for not visiting Ayodhya in the last four years that he has been in power.
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The BJP on its part is preparing to raise the bar on the Ayodhya issue while the Congress which was earlier sold out on appeasing the Muslims whole hog is circumspect this time around, playing as it is the soft Hindutva card which involves projecting its president Rahul Gandhi as a liberal Hindu and not as an avowed secularist.
How this change of attitude would pan out with the Muslims who are accustomed to the Congress pampering them is a big question mark. One wonders whether Rahul is destined to fall between two stools in his attempt to balance the two principal communities. But with the BJP being anathema to the Muslims, does the community have any option especially in states where a third force is either virtually non-existent or too weak to pose a challenge to the BJP?
What would also be interesting to see is if the BJP would succumb to the hardliners or take a line that is Hindu-oriented but not completely so, leaving scope for the upwardly-mobile middle class that
is essentially secular-minded.
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What Bhagwat indicated in his Vijayadashmi address was nothing surprising in spirit. But it reflected a new line of going over the head of the apex court to reach out to the Hindus regardless of what the court may rule. One wonders whether it reflects an apprehension that the verdict may not be as palatable to the Hindutva brigade as it would like it to be.
That the parliamentary path that Bhagwat is proposing would have its own roadblocks does not seem to bother the firebrand RSS leader who wants the temple to be constructed at all costs on the disputed site.
The absence of a majority in the Rajya Sabha for the NDA is no mean roadblock. The Modi government would have various things to consider which is too much for Bhagwat to comprehend.
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As for Uddhav Thackeray, he is unconcerned about what those other than his own constituency of hardcore Hindus would think. He is constantly striving to be one up on the BJP and enjoys it when he embarrasses the Modi government. At his long meeting with BJP president Amit Shah a couple of months ago, some sops were held out to him which he is undecided about spurning or accepting.
Evidently, the countdown to the upcoming elections has begun. What line the BJP takes in the run-up to the polls would be watched with interest. This is indeed no time for a botched strategy for any party, least of all the BJP which is fighting to remain in the saddle in New Delhi.