The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) today is troubled by the possibility of Ayodhya once again taking centre-stage after tomorrow's verdict by the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court. Its commitment to the issue is in doubt after it publicly abandoned it during the six years it was in power at the Centre. This discredited it with the people it had mobilised for the Ram temple agitation as also with members of the sangh parivar within the “family” of organisations headed by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).
Unlike in the 1980s and 1990s, it is wary of repeating the intimidating “mandir wahin banayenge” slogan that gave the party its political identity 20 years ago. It is equally shy of taking the constitutional position it should — that a court verdict is binding on all and it will humbly accept the court's Ayodhya pronouncement no matter which way it goes.
The dilemma that it faces is this: the older face of the BJP and the face of its Ram temple movement L.K. Advani stands discredited on this issue; others like Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti are out of its fold. As for the new generation of leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, they are conscious of their “constitutional positions” as leaders of opposition and have not been associated with the Ayodhya agitation earlier. They may not have the taste or the stomach for sharing a platform with an assorted group of ‘sants' and the extremist fringe in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal.
Then there are other notables — BJP president Nitin Gadkari and former presidents Rajnath Singh and Murli Manohar Joshi — who continue to flaunt their “commitment” to building a Ram temple at the disputed site but are unsure how the issue will now play out at the ground level. Moreover, the RSS has already issued a virtual gag order on the BJP asking it to keep mum on the subject and not let it be politicised once again. In keeping with this order, BJP statements on what was once its pet subject are few and far between and surprisingly restrained.
‘Some gain cannot be ruled out'
Yet, it would be wrong to say the BJP is not looking at the verdict as a possible opportunity that may help it once again rebuild the base it once had in the country's most populous State Uttar Pradesh. As of today the ground situation does not favour the BJP resurrecting its image on the basis of the Ram temple card, but we will wait and watch to see how the situation develops. Some gain for the BJP in U.P. as a result of the Ayodhya verdict cannot be ruled out, was the opinion of a member of the party's national executive committee.
In 1992 when top party leaders descended on Ayodhya to lead a crowd that brought down the 16th Century Babri Mosque, the party did not think it would ever occupy the seat of power in Delhi. In 2010, having been in power for six years from 1998 to 2004 (not counting 13 days in 1996), the BJP sees itself as a party of governance that could be voted back to power. It can ill afford to be seen acting totally unconstitutionally or making the claim it did earlier, that the Ayodhya issue is just a matter of faith, not a subject for the courts to decide. If it were to once again adopt that stance, new India would surely see it as taking an illegal, unconstitutional and thoroughly irresponsible position.
The cleverly worded resolution adopted by the party's core committee on September 24 throws some light on its dilemma: “The BJP is of the considered opinion that judicial delays over the last 61 years have contributed to the failure of the resolution of the issue of construction of Ram temple at Ayodhya. We hope that the resolution of this issue is not delayed any further.” It did not say it will or it will not accept the verdict, but pointed to a resolution of the issue that would end with the building of a Ram temple in Ayodhya. It glossed over the fact that the conflict arose because the demand was for building a temple at the disputed site where the Babri Masjid was brought down, and not anywhere in Ayodhya. Finally, it quite directly blamed judicial delays as “contributing” to the “failure” to build a Ram temple, as if it was the business of the judiciary to ensure that a temple comes up at a disputed site and the claims of the other party do not matter at all.