Pitch for Ram Temple in India gets shrill as 2019 polls approach

Simran Sodhi
Simran Sodhi - Special to Al Arabiya English
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If there was any doubt in anyone’s mind about where the Ram Temple Babri Masjid issue stood vis-à-vis the upcoming 2019 general elections in India, the mega gathering November 24-25 in the northern city of Ayodhya brought clarity. It also brought worry and apprehension about the future course of action.

The dispute is currently pending before the Supreme Court of India, which is likely to start hearings in January 2019. But it seems patience is running out for many of the extreme right outfits in India who are now demanding an ordinance.

The Parliament is scheduled to meet later this month and the plan seems to be to push and bring enough attention to the issue, in an electoral fashion, so that the government is forced to pass an ordinance, which will result in the beginning of the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.

The site is of course where the Babri Masjid stands even today, though damaged by the rioters of 1992 who in a brazen attempt to rewrite history tried bringing down the Babri mosque then.

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The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has also announced that it will start a 10-day ‘Sankalp Rath Yatra’ (Chariot Pilgrimage) in Delhi from December 1. Their demand is that the Central government bring in an ordinance for the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.

The Shiv Sena, another extreme right wing outfit based mainly in the state of Maharashtra, last week capitalized on the issue. Its leader, Uddhav Thackery, accompanied by his wife and son reached Ayodhya on November 24 and performed prayers for the temple construction.

It is estimated that around 3,000 Shiv Sena workers travelled from Maharashtra to Ayodhya to lend their support.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a political commentator and the author of the book, Narendra Modi: The Man, The Times said: “We are heading into a very grave situation.” He pointed to the Sabrimala temple case where the people’s court has overturned the ruling of the Supreme Court of India.

“There are two strategies that might be pursued with regard to the building of the temple in Ayodhya. One: they can try and introduce a Bill in Parliament which parties in the Opposition will not allow to be passed. Second, they could decide that this first strategy is too fraught with risks and India has an international reputation it needs to protect. So they could just initiate some kind of symbolic construction in the temple area, like what they did in 1992,” says Mukhopadhyay.

Whichever strategy one sees going forward, Mukhopadhyay feels that “Competitive Hindutva” and the various shades of it, like the Congress variety, the Shiv Sena variety or others will define the 2019 polls in India.

Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray arrives to attend an event in Ayodhya on November 24, 2018. (AFP)
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray arrives to attend an event in Ayodhya on November 24, 2018. (AFP)

For the BJP, the pitch will be Hindutva Plus, in other words Hindutuva plus schemes like demonetization, GST and the anti-corruption drive which the party will take to the people as polls come closer.

The Shiv Sena chief played politics over the event when without naming Modi’s Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), which is in power in Delhi, he lamented as to why there was a delay in starting the temple construction.

The VHP had organized a two-day Dharam Sabha (religious gathering) in Ayodhya on November 24-25, which saw lakhs of saints and seers descend on the city, which Hindus believe to be the birth place of Lord Ram.

Tight security and proper police arrangements by the state government ensured that there was no violence but Muslims of Ayodhya sat on the edge, as did many in the country.

People’s court

Kavita Srivastava, National Secretary of the People’s Union of Civil Liberties (PUCL) points out that calling it “people’s court” is wrong and one should look at it as the “RSS decision” and they are letting the crowds then do their job.

“The Sangh Parivar doesn’t believe in the Constitution, or the Parliament and they are questioning every institution. So, they are also not bothered with the Supreme Court and its rulings,” she said.

Srivastava feels that the right wing will force a bill in the coming session of Parliament and with the “Congress party playing soft Hindutva shamelessly” they feel confident of pushing it through.

This demand for an ordinance coming from many quarters of the extreme Right Hindu outfits in the country shows a dangerous line of thinking. It seems to be an attempt to scuttle or simply bypass the judicial system.

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The Indian judiciary is one of the few institutions that has stood the test of time and its judgements are respected by all, though always open to debate. It also doesn’t help matters when Union Ministers like Giriraj Singh make statements that Hindus are running out of patience with reference to the building of a Ram Temple in Ayodhaya.

These statements sound like ominous warnings to the judiciary and to those who oppose any non-judicial approach to the case. It is also a sad statement on the state of affairs in India that major Opposition parties – especially the Congress, which has peddled the “secular” formula for 50 plus years – have decided to play dumb.

With several state assembly elections lined up and the 2019 general elections staring in the face, the political stakes are high. Hence, no political party has come out in the open and strongly criticized this politicization of a religious issue.

This issue is also likely to sharpen the Hindu-Muslim lines as also the majority vs minority debate in India and should worry all. Sadly, it is not worrying too many.

(Members of extreme right wing organizations refused to comment on the issue).

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