For whom do the Ram temple bells toll?

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The rising clamour around the Ram Janmabhoomi issue indicates a growing awareness within the RSS that the time of reckoning is here.

“The RSS has validated the government’s policies and work and the leadership throughout the BJP’s four-year term, but finds that the government’s inability to move forward on the Ram Temple issue is being laid at its door.” | PTI

Over a quarter of a century after the Babri Masjid was demolished, the spectre of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya has started to rise over the Indian electoral calendar. The Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and its chief Mohan Bhagwat have, in no uncertain terms, demanded a special law that would enable the construction of a Ram Temple in Ayodhya.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), recovering from a fratricidal coup d’état, the removal of its long-time International Working President Pravin Togadia, has been chipping in with suitable deadlines for mass mobilisation.

The adjournment of the case till January has added a piquancy to the whole affair.

The raising of the issue in the last year of the current government may be a combination of many factors and is certainly instructive of the Sangh Parivar’s inner world.

Between Authority and Accountability

The Ram Janmabhoomi movement can fairly be said to have helped turn the Bharatiya Janata Party into the political powerhouse it is today. In the previous governments headed by the party, coalition compulsions had prevented a ratcheting up of the issue and provided a plausible alibi for the BJP to not force the issue of temple construction.

That is not the case now, with the BJP running majority governments at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh. There should be, aver Sangh affiliates, no reason for postponing the bringing of a bill that would allow for a Ram Temple in Ayodhya. Behind the belligerence of the RSS is, therefore, a growing feeling that there is a tussle between itself and the BJP on authority versus accountability.

 

 

For the RSS, which largely wants a BJP government while simultaneously being obliged to keep the faithful invested in the political project of the Sangh, the time for alibis is running out.

 

The RSS, as the ideological mothership of the BJP being accountable to its affiliates and cadres for delivering a Ram Temple, is dealing with lack of authority given that its political wing, the BJP, is the one with the numerical authority in Parliament and State legislature of Uttar Pradesh.

The RSS had deployed its cadre, for electoral purposes, in the BJP. But it cannot force the issue on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The RSS has validated the government’s policies, work and leadership throughout the BJP’s four-year term, but finds that the government’s inability to move forward on the Ram Temple issue is being laid at its door. The popularity of the government, never usually high for any in its fourth year in power, is not what it was even two years ago. For the RSS, which largely wants a BJP government while simultaneously being obliged to keep the faithful invested in the political project of the Sangh, the time for alibis is running out.

A Post-Togadia VHP

The VHP was the organisation that had spearheaded the Ram Temple movement, with the BJP officially joining in only in 1989 at the party’s national executive in Palampur. For years, the organisation had been led by the fiery Pravin Togadia, a cardiologist by training with a huge following in Sangh circles. Over the years, his equation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi deteriorated into a barely-concealed animosity, with Mr. Togadia blaming him for a crackdown on the VHP in Gujarat over various cases and making it more or less politically redundant there.

In arbitrating Mr. Togadia’s embittered relationship with Mr. Modi, the larger Sangh Parivar got behind the latter. This year, after a first-of-its-kind organisational poll in the VHP, Mr. Togadia was defeated, and a new team took over. To assert that Mr. Togadia was removed for reasons other than his personal views on senior leaders, the VHP has to own up to its biggest triumph, the mass mobilisation on the issue of the Ram Temple.

The Private Member’s Bill gambit

The demand for a Bill allowing for the construction of a Ram Temple in Ayodhya got a new twist with BJP Rajya Sabha MP Rakesh Sinha resolving to move a private member’s bill. For Sangh Parivar affiliates, however, this doesn’t wash. When the BJP does not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha, and the government remains mum on the question of a Bill moved by itself, Mr. Sinha’s move appears typical of the nudge-nudge wink-wink approach towards the Ram Temple issue.

The Perfect Storm of the Election Year

Election year is always the year of reckoning for governments and political parties, and the ideological cohorts of the incumbent government. The sudden shrillness around the demand for a Ram Temple, after years of stating that a court verdict on the issue would be awaited, shows that there is an awareness in the RSS that the time of reckoning is here.

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