A magnificent Ram temple in Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Ram as described in Hindu scriptures, has long been the promise of the saffron outfits, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Of course, the sadhus began the movement to reclaim the land where they can worship the seventh avatar of Lord Vishnu at the spot where a 16th-century mosque stood. But the issue became political when the BJP jumped into the fray.
In 1986, the fledgling BJP adopted the Ram temple demand as part of its political plank in what is known as the ‘Palampur resolution’. Party’s patriarch LK Advani became the architect of the political movement. In October 1990, when Mulayam Singh Yadav, the then chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, ordered firing on ‘karsevaks’ gathered in Ayodhya on the call given by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the BJP, the issue took off at the right speed. Between then and December 1992, when the mosque was demolition by Hindu zealots, including some of the top leaders of the three outfits mentioned earlier, it gave the BJP the necessary shift in state and national politics.
Some of the big leaders of the party are products of the temple movement. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi was by the side of Advani during the Rath Yatra, which the former deputy PM took out from Somnath in Gujarat to Ayodhya but was stopped in the tracks in Bihar by then CM Lalu Prasad Yadav.
Mulayam in UP and Lalu Prasad in Bihar were the beneficiaries of the Mandal Commission report that gave the other backward classes (OBCs) reservation and didn’t want the Hindutva movement to eclipse that.
That BJP came to power in 1992 in UP on the back of the Ayodhya firing, that it catapulted itself into a national party that could prove an alternative to the Congress at the Centre, that it sprung a Modi, is all part of India’s political history.
The 2002 Gujarat riots that gave Modi the moniker of ‘Hindu hriday samrat’ was a result of the Ayodhya movement. The riots followed the fire in Sabarmati Express in which Hindu devotees from Ayodhya were burnt alive in sleeper coaches. Modi became Modi because of the way he handled Gujarat post-Godhra. For loss of 59 lives in Sabarmati Express, there were officially the loss of 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus.
For many years, Modi bore the brunt of the Gujarat riots as he was blamed for orchestrating the riots and killing Muslims. But for the Hindus, his image as someone who could teach the Muslims a lesson only became stronger with every passing year.
A BJP leader in Rajasthan had once said that the Ayodhya temple movement began from Rajasthan when during an RSS meeting, a sadhu told the pracharaks that blaming the Congress for minority appeasement will not take them far; they should instead focus on the Hindu and try to consolidate them through a common thread so that the castes become insignificant and they stand behind the BJP like one block.
The BJP’s Hindutva agenda – removing Article 370 that gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir, constructing Ram temple in Ayodhya and implementing a common civil code in the country – was thus born. The Ram temple movement has travelled through the years and on the back of several leaders, but because all of them are in political exile, the Modi government will get the credit for it. The Supreme Court has essentially handed over the land to the Central government in the sense that a trust made by the Centre will manage the site.
For abrogation of Article 370, Modi alone gets the credit because the previous leaders did nothing much substantial toward meeting that end. With two boxes on the Hindu agenda ticked, the time now is for the uniform civil code; and the question is: can Modi deliver on this, too?
In 2019, when Modi returned to power, he rode on nationalism, pushing the religion card to the background. For the country, the Balakot air strikes, codenamed Operation Bandar, taught the rougue Pakistan a befitting lesson for the Uri attack on Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) troopers. They voted him back to power—and with a bigger mandate.
The Supreme Court verdict on Ayodhya title suits had cleared the way for construction of Ram temple. The Central government will soon complete formalities for a trust that will decide on the temple and its management. Concurrently, ministry of home affairs under the helms of Amit Shah is working on the uniform civil code. If the Congress believed in appeasing the minorities, the BJP wants to be seen as appeasing the majority, which by definition is a much bigger block. Even if some castes chip off this block, the party can safely sail through elections to get power.
BJP’s performance in Haryana and Maharashtra doesn’t seem to be going against Modi as people say these were state elections and were fought on state issues, not on Modi. For now, Modi seems strong as the national leader. By delivering on two long-pending demands, Modi has kindled optimism among the Hindus; if he can fulfill the third agenda, too, he may well be invincible for many more years. But 2024 is a long time and in politics, election mood changes in a week’s time.