Sangh has few options to milk temple issue

Kalyani Shankar

[dropcap]N[/dropcap]ow that the Supreme Court has made it clear that the Ayodhya title suit is not its priority and even the hearing date will be decided next January, the saffron parties are getting agitated about the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya. “We have other priorities,” a Bench, led by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, had said last week.

Building the Ram temple in Ayodhya has long been a promise of the Sangh Parivar. The RSS believes the temple must be constructed at the birthplace of Lord Rama and the site should be given to the Ram Janambhoomi Nyas, but this has, so far, not been possible due to legal complications. Pressure has grown from Sangh affiliates after RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, in his Vijaya Dashami address, demanded, “The government should promulgate an Ordinance and build the Ayodhya Ram Mandir. No more politics over it now. It’s not a controversy of religions.” Added to that, the Allahabad Kumbh Mela from January 15 to March 4 will create the right atmosphere for the ‘Build Ram Mandir’ chorus.

The question is whether the government should take the Ordinance route for construction of the Mandir when the apex court is reviewing it. There are some who feel that faith should not overrule the law. The Sabarimala controversy has added to this view. On the other hand, the saffron brigade feels that the legal review has gone on for far too long and it must be brought to a close soon. For bringing a law does the government have a majority in the Upper House? Can this be pushed through in a joint sitting of Parliament? The Modi government is in a Catch 22 situation as the matter is sub judice. Except the Shiv Sena, almost all other allies believe this move will create an atmosphere of distrust in the minority community just ahead of the crucial Assembly and Lok Sabha polls.

Interestingly, on January 7, 1993, a month after the Babri Masjid was demolished, the PV Narasimha Rao government acquired 66.7 acres in Ayodhya, including 2.77 acres on which the demolished structure had stood through an Ordinance, which was subsequently replaced by the Acquisition of Certain Areas at Ayodhya Act, 1993. When it was challenged, the apex court upheld its constitutionality in 1994. The dispute, according to the court’s interpretation, is the title issue.

The BJP’s 2014 manifesto said, “BJP reiterates its stand to explore all possibilities within the framework of the Constitution to facilitate the construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.” Party chief Amit Shah declared recently that “the party is firm on the Ram temple issue… efforts will be made to ensure that the Ram temple is constructed under constitutional provisions”. Within the party, there is an overpowering opinion that the decision should be expedited. The VHP has urged the government to bring legislation in the ensuing winter session of Parliament. The temple movement gathered further momentum on Sunday, with 3,000 seers, including Baba Ramdev, passing a resolution asking the government to either bring an Ordinance, or enact a law for the construction of the temple in Ayodhya. Such senior BJP leaders as UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath and Union minister Uma Bharti have called for an amendment to the Constitution for the construction of the Ram temple.

The Opposition, of course, would not like to give any electoral advantage to the BJP as they feel the BJP has milked the Ram temple issue all through. According to Congress leader P Chidambaram, “The Congress’s stated position is that the matter is before the Supreme Court and everyone should wait until the Supreme Court decides… We shouldn’t jump the gun.” The Left parties and others are waiting for the government’s move. A section of the BJP feels the Ordinance route could force the Congress to take a stand on the temple issue when it is projecting a soft Hindutva line. All-India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen president Asaduddin Owaisi has challenged the BJP to promulgate an Ordinance.

Ultimately, it is a political call, although the party argues that it is a question of faith. The question is whether Rama has given electoral benefits to the BJP. Although the party benefited initially in the early-90s, but it was not for long. It formed the government in 1993 for a brief period, but, since 1996, ceased to be the largest single party in the state until 2017. Even in Ayodhya, although the BJP candidate always did well, the margin had been steadily declining. But, no doubt, the Ram temple issue will divert attention from other pressing issues, such as healthcare, jobs, education, sanitation, hunger index and so on. While there is much debate in the media and elsewhere, there is simply no movement in the government circles. Rightly, the government is cautious on taking any hasty measure that may damage the government’s image internationally. Even a slight move can be only after the outcome of the Assembly poll in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh on December 11.

(The author is a political commentator)