For some, especially those who are part of the Hindutva forces, L.K. Advani was the ‘hero' of the Ram temple movement he launched with his now famous — or infamous — ‘rath yatra' from the Somnath temple in Gujarat to Ayodhya on September 25, 1990.

Now, exactly 20 years later, the very same Hindutva forces have completely sidelined the man as the country braces itself for a judicial verdict on the 61-year old Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid dispute.

It was on December 22/23, 1949 that an idol of Ram Lalla was placed surreptitiously at dead of night under the central dome of the 16{+t}{+h} century Babri Masjid, demolished by the Hindutva forces led by Mr. Advani and a horde of others on December 6, 1992. And for nearly a decade from 1989 to 1998, when the Bharatiya Janata Party was in power, the Ram temple was the centrepiece of its “nationalist ideology.”

Ironically, Mr. Advani was deliberately kept out of key strategy meetings on Ayodhya held over two days earlier this month at the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh headquarters in Jhandewalan. He was not present even at the core group meeting convened by BJP president Nitin Gadkari on September 24, when a resolution was adopted blaming “judicial delays over 61 years” for the “failure” to construct a Ram temple at Ayodhya — as if it was the judiciary's job to fulfil the party's election manifesto promise of mandir wahin banayenge.

A senior party leader told The Hindu just a few days ago that the RSS — the BJP's mother organisation — had got the party “to admit it was a mistake to politicise the Ram temple issue, as the BJP did,” a mistake, which was not to be repeated this time when the verdict is expected, that is, if the Supreme Court were to lift the stay on delivery of the pronouncement by the Allahabad High Court's Special Bench in Lucknow.

Though Mr. Advani rushed to the Somnath temple on Saturday to mark the anniversary of his ‘rath yatra', as he has been going every year, no party leader of any importance went with him. He was accompanied by his family members and Uma Bharti, who he, as BJP president, had expelled from the party.

Ashok Singhal, the other ‘star' of the temple agitation — from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad stables – has said publicly “those who had politicised the issue [meaning Advani]” should “repent” for this sin. Apparently, he has told the RSS that Mr. Advani must be kept at arm's length from anything that has to do with the Ayodhya dispute and the Ram temple.

The ‘sants' mentored by the VHP — who are now to lead from the front on this issue — have made it plain they will not tolerate another bid to play politics with the Ram temple, although it is clear that this group is itself not above playing politics. Vasudevanand Saraswati of Jyotishpeeth, who chaired a high-power committee meeting here on Friday, said if the government failed to deal with the law and order problem that might arise following the verdict, it should go and make way for another government.

Why was the ‘hero' — or the ‘villain' or the ‘anti-hero' — of the temple agitation sidelined?

An RSS member, close to the leadership, agreed that the BJP did gain enormously from Mr. Advani's 1990 ‘rath yatra' but, he added, the “cause of the Ram temple suffered as the issue became thoroughly politicised.”

Then there are others in the sangh parivar who refuse to link the big electoral jump in the BJP's fortunes in 1991 to just the ‘yatra' and Mr. Advani's temple politics. The BJP's tally in the Lok Sabha jumped from 2 in 1984 to 85 in 1989 “before the ‘yatra',” they point out. The big leap in 1989 was the direct result of the party's seat-sharing arrangement with the Janata Dal that had forged ahead on the Bofors card and its supporting the 1989 V.P. Singh government from outside.

In the 1991 Lok Sabha election, held post-‘yatra' and after it was halted and Mr. Advani arrested by the then Bihar Chief Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav at Samastipur on October 23, 1990, the BJP gained just under 40 seats more to reach the figure of about 120. It was more the direct fallout of upper castes running to the party in a reaction to V.P. Singh's Mandal politics than the result of Mr. Advani's temple plank. The Ram temple as an issue simply buttressed the benefits that accrued to the BJP from Singh's backward caste politics, but was not the sole reason for its electoral gain that year.

As for the BJP rule at the Centre from 1998 to 2004, the story is well known. “Compulsions” of coalition politics led it to abandon the temple cause, leading to heartburns in the other self-styled Ram bhakts who hated the stark fact that Mr. Advani rose to power and fame riding on his Ram chariot but abandoned the Lord once he was installed as number two in the Cabinet.

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