Modi on Mandir: All in the game

Prime Minister Modi’s declaration in the course of his TV interview that the government will wait for the Supreme Court verdict on the Ram Janmabhoomi dispute before doing anything, including the ordinance route, has given fresh ammunition to the saffron outfits to queer the pitch for early construction of the Ram Temple. When it comes to brag stags it is doubtful that the PM would take a stand that is in conflict with the views of the RSS or VHP; so this may not be seen as anything other than grandstanding, thereby encouraging the hard-line outfits to mount further pressure on the government. 

Following the PM interview, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has already come out with the stand that the Hindu society cannot be expected to wait till eternity for the court’s decision and that the way forward is to enact a legislation clearing the way for the construction of the temple. VHP has sought an appointment with the PM on this issue and is planning to organise a Dharm Sansad in Prayagraj this month as part of the build-up. Also, that the Supreme Court is set to take up the case on January 4 cannot be lost sight of and the timing of the demand acquires a special significance of its own. 

Modi did not lose an opportunity to blame the Congress for delaying a judicial decision on the all-important issue in the interview, saying that the Congress lawyers are creating hurdles. His reference is to the demand made by Congressman Kapil Sibal before the court that the case be deferred until the 2019 elections are over, which the then CJI Dipak Mishra-led bench had turned down. With a new CJI in office, a new bench will be hearing the case and then it has to decide on the timeframe. So, it is most uncertain whether a decision can come as fast as the saffron outfits are demanding, unless the Supreme Court itself decides to treat the issue with the urgency demanded by various quarters. Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi is known to stick more to routine than anything else in these matters. 

Either way Ram Mandir is expected to remain central to the BJP narrative for the 2019 elections. As RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has been insisting, Hindus have patiently waited for the court’s decision for the last 30 years and this could be a good line to emote as a campaign plank, especially since there is a dearth of appealing catchphrases. With nearly a dismal record to show, the development card no longer cuts ice with the people and, therefore, BJP desperately needs something more striking. Ram Mandir could perhaps fill this void, at least in the Hindi heartland states, where the BJP is facing its biggest challenge in Modi’s quest for a second term.