Why BJP has Gone from Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas to Mandir Politics

Politics

Why BJP has Gone from Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas to Mandir Politics

Illustration: Akshita Monga

Four years ago, in the wake of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP unhesitatingly put the word Ayodhya in their manifesto. It was a risk, according to even conservative minds, because it is one thing to offer hyperbole as part of routine electoral seduction, it is another to etch it in ink, where it can be found and deconstructed with ease. That the BJP threw their weight so unreservedly behind a communally divisive issue with a particularly turbulent history, only cemented a fact in India’s politics – that no matter how many “vikas” and “desh badal raha hai” planks the BJP decided to stand on, it would centre back to the one that defined its ideology and vision of India best.  

Even Murli Manohar Joshi, the head of the party’s draft committee at the time, had said, with aplomb “whatever is there is there”, pointing to the kind of confidence that, in retrospect, not only feels justified but prophetic. But Ayodhya’s efficacy, its relevance lies in its incompleteness, in remaining the unfulfilled symbol of a perfect Hindu nation. There is more to be gained from the vocal grind of a victimised mandir that stokes the imagination, than there is from one that registers to the eye. With Ayodhya, the journey will always remain more important than the destination.

The last couple of days have seen the Vishwa Hindu Parishad organise “Dharma Sabhas” in Ayodhya that have attracted relatively few participants apart from its own cadre. While RSS is trying to ramp up the noise, amid tepid response from some, regional parties like the Shiv Sena have seen this as an opportunity to pitch themselves for the national stage.

It feels like a dart back through time to 1992 when sabhas, kar sevaks, and political armoury set up base under the tents in Ayodhya. The VHP, an RSS by-product has, since 1984, championed the cause of building the Ram Mandir, and were one of the chief architects of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement that propelled the BJP onto the national stage and in public limelight as a truly national party. But incredibly, despite having had a decade put together, of its own government at the centre since the demolition of the Babri Masjid, the VHP has been unable to draw anything constructive on the mandir, other than ensure sentimentally charged Hindu votes for its party.

But in hindsight that perhaps was the extent to which Ayodhya was going to be stretched. Because it is the kind of harvest best reserved for the leanest, most desperate of political seasons. Like now.  

This air of dissatisfaction notwithstanding, though, Ayodhya still carries enough cache, enough gun powder for politicians to charge their political pistols with.

Only that this time the air in Ayodhya feels a little self-aware, even indignant. Reports have emerged that two of the three leading akharas of the resident sadhus of Ayodhya have boycotted the VHP’s calls for a Dharma Sabha in the saying it was “drama” and “nothing more than politics in the time of elections”.

The bait, it seems, has become stale and even those personally invested in the pursuit of the mandir can see past the delusion, the daze that having been spun around your toes too often leaves behind. The implications of such a boycott cannot be understated. They impugn the idea that towers of Babel and over-promised fantasies can run interminably.

Most sadhus who boycotted the recent Dharma Sabha have voiced the need for a constitutional resolution of the issue, sans the residue of political mileage. Even the BJP’s own allies, including the visiting Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray has called for the dizzying wait for a solution to end.

This air of dissatisfaction notwithstanding, though, Ayodhya still carries enough cache, enough gun powder for politicians to charge their political pistols with. That a gathering of right-wing fundamentalists, at the scale that the VHP has claimed (3 lakh) has been allowed, let alone at a place that has already seen bloodshed is concerning. It points to the indignant nature of the state and central governments who seem more interesting in chewing on the residual benefits from these all-too-predictably staged gatherings over ensuring that they don’t spiral and take us back in time. As a result, hundreds of Muslim families have had to relocate in fear. Yes, the police have been deployed in large numbers, but their presence is hardly reassuring on account of their historic invisibility during the events of 1992.

There is no doubt that the BJP wishes to engineer a cautiously controlled encore of 1992. Ayodhya 2.0, they wish, will echo the benefits the Sangh and the party enjoyed in the aftermath of the first demolition – a few burnt hands but a lot more face and hardened reputations. A model, that the likes of the Shiv Sena, no stranger to hard politics, wouldn’t mind emulating. As for the Congress, its silence so far, is further evidence of the demise of its long-held ideas of secularism.   

The probability of a mandir comes with greater rewards than the presence of one. It is saddening that electoral politics in India still runs the risk of being debased, befouled by the arrogance of those who light such fires, and the ignorance of those who help spread it. Though there have been signs that Ayodhya 2.0 will take a lot more than the hideous furnaces of the BJP and the Sangh’s brains to light there is no telling that if ignited, India’s people won’t again throw the Constitutional fabric of the country into the shredder of the deluding, yet elusive big fat Indian election of 2019.

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