Debating India

ELECTIONS

Back to Ayodhya

Purnima S. TRIPATHI

Friday 27 February 2004, by TRIPATHI*Purnima S.

IT was Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani who first brought the Ayodhya issue to the forefront of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s strategy to achieve the heights of power. The issue was subsequently dropped by the wayside, only to be brought back at the time of elections. This time, though, it is Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP’s moderate face, who has hoisted the issue to the top of the party’s priority list, along with the issues of development and stability.

"We have come to you to seek another term of five years. There are many unfinished tasks... among them is the task of building a magnificent Ram temple on the site of Ram’s birth in Ayodhya. There are only two ways in which this can happen: a court verdict in favour of the temple or a consensus based on mutual goodwill and cooperation. Efforts are on to solve the problem, but more time is needed. The government needs another term for solving the issue," the Prime Minister told a rally in Ayodhya on February 7.

He said he was not trying to make political capital out of the issue but felt that it was high time the issue was resolved through "sahyog, samajhdari and sadbhavana" (cooperation, understanding and goodwill). With this appeal to give him another term to solve the Ayodhya issue, the Prime Minister has clearly outlined his party’s priorities. This change gives away the BJP’s plan - that of having its way with its partners in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) on the Ayodhya issue once it wins a majority of its own. The allies, however, are smug in the belief that even if the BJP got a majority of its own, it would continue to abide by the NDA agenda. Although the allies are aware that the BJP could try to rake up the issue to gain political mileage, they concede their helplessness in doing much about it for reasons of "political expediency".

"If they get a majority on their own, what can we do? In the last Lok Sabha it was dependent on our support, so we could put pressure on it to stick to the NDA agenda, but who knows what will happen tomorrow," said a senior Telugu Desam Party (TDP) leader. He said though the party would try to convince the minorities that it would do its best to protect their interests, it would be too much for anyone to expect them to confront the BJP on this issue.

Senior TDP leaders admitted that being with the BJP was a political compulsion for them and it would guide their strategy. "We are being pushed into the company of the BJP by the alliance of the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the Congress(I) and other regional parties," the leader admitted.

The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) considers it a welcome sign that the Prime Minister has taken the nation into confidence about his intentions. "He has been very honest and transparent with the people. He has not tried to hide the fact that the Ram temple issue has always been on the BJP’s agenda and will always remain on it until the temple was built," said RSS functionary and Panchajanya Editor Tarun Vijay. According to him, there was nothing unusual about what Vajpayee had said because "he has been consistently saying it time and again".

In his opinion, the Prime Minister has only said what the people want him to say. "He understands the spirit of the nation, that material development goes along with development of civilisational icons. The BJP is only doing what it is expected to do. It is the media which need to be educated," he said, denying that the RSS had to exert pressure on the party to bring it back to Ayodhya. "Pressure is required when there is no willingness. This was not the case here," he said.

While the allies and the Sangh have reacted on predictable lines, the surprise package in the whole matter was former Chief Minister Kalyan Singh. Kalyan Singh, who had said in an interview to Frontline recently that the Ayodhya issue was "dead" and that unless "politics was taken out of it, the issue cannot be resolved", has changed his tune since his "homecoming". He declared that the issue was very much " alive" and that the people’s desire for the Ram temple would deliver to the BJP 58 seats in Uttar Pradesh. Coining a slogan, "Atal ka naam, sarkar ka kaam aur sabse upar Ram", he said this would ensure victory for the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections.

The BJP is back to square one - seeking votes in the name of Ram.

See online : http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/...

P.S.

Frontline, volume 21 - Issue 04, February 14 - 27, 2004.

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