January is the month BJP will turn

Aditya Aamir

[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n the matter of triple talaq, BJP president Amit Shah offers the standard argument, heard a thousand times before from all sorts of people, which is that there are 20+ Islamic countries which have done away with instant talaq, so why should India not follow suit? The counter-question then boils down to: if Islamic countries have taken that decision, why should a Hindutva regime, which the Modi government cannot escape comparison from, ape Islamic nations? Triple talaq is now a bill in Parliament and these days a bill doesn’t necessarily end in law, they are introduced more to reveal which party stands where on which issue.

Muslim leaders are by and large against government interference in personal laws and they are routinely supported by political parties at political rallies and in television talk shows. But when an issue pops up in Parliament in the form of a bill, like in the case of triple talaq, the same political parties shy away from taking a stand because India is an amalgamation of people of different faiths and the better part of valour is to not reveal the card. The surge in Hindu sentiments has made it difficult for major political parties to be seen as Muslim-appeasing, which has taken on the hue of a sin!

Shah says the BJP has to stand with the 9 crore Muslim women of the country; that’s why the ordinance on triple talaq and the fight to the finish on the issue; that there is no going back. He terms instant talaq not as a religious issue but as a social problem like Sati was, rightly eradicated from the face of the earth. But ask Shah of the Ram Mandir issue and he’s no different from Farooq Abdullah on the triple talaq issue i.e., leave it to the sentiments of the faith concerned. No, he doesn’t say that outright but more or less as in default.

Posed with that question at a media summit as to what the BJP is going to do about the demand for Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, Shah said it depends on the decision taken by the Supreme Court “in January”; that if the court takes up the case and does day-to-day hearings, the matter “will be resolved in 10 days.” But what if the court tarries and doesn’t take up the case? His reply: “Then we’ll see!” So, whether Ram Mandir becomes an issue in general elections 2019 or not depends on whether the Supreme Court takes up the case “in January” or not and it gets clear that either way, Ram Mandir will be an issue in general election 2019 even if its impact will be limited to the Hindi heartland the real heart Uttar Pradesh, not Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.

Election 2014 was different. The PM candidate of the NDA at that time was at the core of the electioneering. The media arraignment of him in the Gujarat 2002 context had already given him name and face recognition. Bringing Ram to his aide would have made it complicated, a comparison between ‘Ravan’ and ‘Ram’ and it wouldn’t have been difficult to identify who ‘Ravan’ was! Election 2019 is in the horizon and Narendra Modi is cast in a different shade today, that of a ‘Vikas Purush.’ But in the transformation, he has been saddled with “failed in the delivery of jobs” he promised in 2014. And his record on providing succour to farmers is not heart-warming.

The 5-state elections underscored that the BJP took a hit in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan on its poor performance on the jobs and farmers fronts. The BJP failed to put its best forward on these two issues because it did not have the best footage on either of them to flaunt. The idea of mahagathbandhan, which the few times it came into play in by-elections, proved that the BJP stands no chance on bread and butter issues. The UP assembly election results were overwhelmingly for the BJP not because of the Ram Mandir issue but the choice of chief minister was an indication that the man was put in the chair for a purpose.

Only with a consolidation of Hindu votes can the BJP repeat its 2014 performance in Uttar Pradesh. This time Narendra Modi cannot take the party to another similar victory on his own. And Modi carries the baggage of ‘Vikas’ on his shoulders, a ‘vikas’ that is disputed by large sections of the electorate. Also, he personally has very little leeway to move away from ‘vikas’ to another issue.

Willy-nilly the BJP is saddled with a pair of fait accompli: One, a two-party alliance is enough to beat the BJP in UP in 2019. Akhilesh Yadav may dither on that but not Mayawati. She is sure of victory and Amit Shah knows it. The BJP will have to have ‘Ram’ on its side this time, that is the second fait accompli, if it wants to avoid the first fait accompli a BJP rout in Uttar Pradesh. A bill in Parliament will help, the Parivar knows! An ordinance the BJP will settle for on the eve of elections 2019 if CJI Ranjan Gogoi doesn’t oblige. Clearly, January is the month the BJP will turn.

(The author is a political commentator)