It is a pattern with bullies that they back off when challenged. Ground reports from Ayodhya and neighbouring areas suggest that the Vishwa Hindu Parishad exhibited this typical trait on day one of its fortnight-long “84-kosi parikrama,” now renamed a “yatra.” With the principal dramatis personae rounded up and placed under house arrest, the inauguration of the yatra fizzled out, though it is difficult to say whether the peace will hold. Just why the right-wing Hindu organisation renamed its programme is a story in itself. It turns out that seers attached to Ayodhya’s different akharas (religious traditions) had ritually performed the parikrama three months ago, in accordance with the Hindu calendar period of Chaitra Purnima extending up to Baisakh Navami (April-May, 2013). Not surprisingly, as our field report recounts, there is anger among the Ayodhya priests over the VHP misinterpreting the Hindu ritual with political dividends in mind. Last heard, they were busy organising a “siddhi-buddhi yagna,” praying for the VHP to gain wisdom. That the yatra has been intended with electoral calculations ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha election is apparent from its suddenness. Indeed, relative calm had prevailed coinciding with the chief ministership of Mayawati, who, notwithstanding her other faults, kept a hawk-like watch on law and order in Uttar Pradesh.
The reason for the renewed tensions has been attributed to the Samajwadi Party’s interest in occupying the opposite side of the communal divide. A noticeable escalation in sectarian incidents has marked the tenure of Akhilesh Yadav. And yet, the Chief Minister deserves praise for acting firmly in this instance. The tight measures, including detention of the VHP’s top-order, were required because there was enough in the build-up to the yatra to suggest it could turn violent. Unlike the April-May parikrama that concluded peacefully largely because it stuck to the traditional route, the VHP’s yatra was deliberately designed to go through communally sensitive areas. Against this backdrop, it was incumbent on the Bharatiya Janata Party to rein in its troublesome affiliate, establishing thereby that it had left behind its divisive past and evolved into a mature political party capable of acting impartially when required. Unfortunately, the BJP has not only lent full support to the VHP, arguing that the yatra was a fundamental right, on Monday it disrupted Parliament over the issue. This overt support to the VHP does not square with the BJP’s stated claim that it will contest the next general election on the platform of good governance and development. When there is ample ammunition at hand to deploy against the Congress on the corruption front, why the BJP would choose to rake up a divisive, communal issue is anybody’s guess.