To build a Ram Temple in Ayodhya may give the BJP a boost; but is that a realistic possibility given the Supreme Court is seized of the matter?
Now that the Supreme Court has made it clear that the Ayodhya title suit is not its priority and even the hearing date will be decided in January 2019, the saffron parties are getting agitated about the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya. “We have other priorities,” a Bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had said last week. Building the Ram temple in Ayodhya has long been a promise of the Sangh Parivar. The RSS is of the view that temple must be constructed at the birthplace of Lord Ram and the site should be given to Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, but this had not been possible due to legal complications thus far.
The pressure has grown from Sangh affiliates after the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat in his Vijaya Dashami address demanded: "The Government should bring an ordinance and build the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. No more politics over it now. It's not a controversy between religions.” In addition, the Kumbh Mela from January 15 to March 4 in Allahabad/Prayagraj will create the right atmosphere for the ‘Build Ram Mandir’ chorus. The question is whether the Government should take the ordinance route for construction of a temple when the apex court is reviewing the title suit. There are some who feel that faith should not overrule the law. The Sabarimala controversy has added to this view. On the other hand, the saffron brigade feels that the legal review has gone on too long and it must be brought to closure soon. Does the Government have a majority in the Upper House to bring in a law? Can a Bill be pushed through in a joint sitting of Parliament? The Narendra Modi Government is in a catch 22-situation, as the matter is technically sub-judice. Except the Shiv Sena almost all other allies of the BJP believe that such a move will create an atmosphere of distrust in the minority community. Interestingly, on January 7, 1993, a month after the Babari Masjid was demolished, the Narasimha Rao Government acquired 66.7 acres of land in Ayodhya, including the 2.77 acres on which the demolished structure had stood, through an ordinance, which was subsequently replaced by the Acquisition of Certain Areas at Ayodhya Act, 1993. When it was challenged, the Apex Court upheld its constitutionality in 1994. The dispute now, as per the court's interpretation, is the title issue.
The BJP’s 2014 manifesto said: “BJP reiterates its stand to explore all possibilities within the framework of the Constitution to facilitate the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.” Party chief Amit Shah had declared recently that “the BJP is firm on the Ram Temple issue... efforts will be made to ensure that the mandir is constructed under Constitutional provisions.” Within the party, there is an overwhelming opinion that a decision should be expedited. The VHP has urged the Government to bring in legislation in the ensuing Winter Session of Parliament. The temple movement gathered further momentum on Sunday with 3,000 seers, including Baba Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, passing a resolution asking the Government to either bring an Ordinance or enact a law for the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. Senior BJP leaders like Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Union minister Uma Bharti have called for an amendment to the Constitution if required for the construction of a grand Ram Temple.
The Opposition, of course, would not like to give any electoral advantage to the BJP as they feel that the BJP has milked the Ram issue for years. According to Congress leader P Chidambaram: “The Congress’ stated position is that the matter is before the Supreme Court and everyone should wait until the Supreme Court decides... We should not jump the gun.” The Left parties and others are waiting for the Government’s move. A section of the BJP feels the ordinance route could force the Congress to take a stand on the temple at a time when it is projecting a soft Hindutva line. All AIMM president Asaduddin Owaisi has challenged the BJP to bring an ordinance. Ultimately, it is a political call though the party argues that it is a question of faith. Has raising the Ram Temple issue provided electoral benefits for the BJP? Though the party benefitted initially, especially in the early 1990s, it was not for long. It formed the Government in Uttar Pradesh for a brief period but ever since 1996 ceased to be the single largest party in the State until the 2017 landslide. Even in Ayodhya, though the BJP candidate always did well, the margin has been steadily declining. But no doubt raising Ayodhya will divert attention from the issues the Opposition wants to focus on. While there is much debate in the media and elsewhere, there is simply no movement in Government circles. Rightly, the Government is cautious and does not want to take any hasty step that might damage the Government’s image internationally. Any move on the Ram Temple will only be initiated after the outcome of the Assembly polls in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Telangana is known on December 11.
(The writer is a senior political commentator)