Ayodhya: How a religious issue became a political hot potato

Given its potential for communal polarisation, it could not ever be detached from politics

Updated - November 28, 2021 12:26 pm IST

Published - November 10, 2019 12:02 am IST

A peace rally in  Mumbai on the eve of the Allahabad High Court verdict, in 2010.

A peace rally in Mumbai on the eve of the Allahabad High Court verdict, in 2010.

A significant fallout of the protracted legal dispute over the structure at Ayodhya has been the extent to which it was exploited for political gains and had its reverberations across the country.

Even though the first litigation dates back to 1885, it was only after the idols of Ram Lalla, the infant deity, were planted under the mosque’s central dome in December 1949 that there was a litigation spree. And then began the process of altering the very nature of the structure began.

‘Political, from the start’

“Until that night, Ram chabutara — an elevated platform of 17x21x6 feet, located about 100 paces from the Babri Masjid inside its outer courtyard — was treated as the birthplace of Lord Ram. All attempts by naga vairagis to build a temple over Ramchabutara had failed because the British government had imposed a restraint on any construction work in the Babri Masjid campus,” writes author Dhirendra Jha. The matter was “obviously political from the beginning,” Mr. Jha, who has written several books on the Ayodhya issue, told The Hindu .

After the initial commotion over the planting of the idols, the issue remained dormant till the 1980s, when it was revived and spearheaded by the RSS-VHP-BJP combine.

Mr. Jha says the issue could not gain political momentum in the early years after Independence because Jawaharlal Nehru had pushed the communal discourse to the margins and the Hindu Mahasabha, which was leading the movement, had also been politically marginalised.

 

The issue received a major thrust after the locks of the mosque were opened for Hindu worshippers in 1986 under the Congress government. But it was the BJP that seized the initiative.

The Ram Janmabhoomi movement is directly linked to the political rise of the BJP — from a mere two Lok Sabha seats in 1984, the party climbed to 85 in 1989, before jumping to 182 seats in 1999; and eventually winning 303 seats in 2019 under Narendra Modi.

The BJP gains

Since the temple issue, in varying degrees and terms, has featured as one of the keenly watched agendas of the BJP in every election, and given its potential for communal polarisation, it could not ever be detached from politics. Given that the majority’s sentiments were attached to it, even non-BJP parties that rely heavily on the Muslim vote, could not openly oppose the idea of the construction of a Ram Mandir. At best, they only criticised the BJP for not fulfilling its promise while in power or politicising the issue while in the Opposition.

In a charged political environment and amid communal divisions, the chances of a cordial resolution always remained slim.

Despite these factors, the BJP continued to garner local support. Since 1991, barring an upset in 2012, Ayodhya has voted for a BJP MLA. In eight Lok Sabha elections during the same period, the BJP won five times, with both its MPs, Vinay Katiyar and Lallu Singh, being charged with conspiracy in the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

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