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Mainstream, VOL 62 No 4 January 27, 2024

Post-Ram temple inauguration politics | P S Jayaramu

Saturday 27 January 2024

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With the consecration of the Lord Ram Lalla in the Ayodhya temple, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the RSS have realised one of their long-held belief and the BJP has fulfilled it’s election pledge. Prime Minister Modi has also kept his promise reportedly made years ago that he will return to Ayodhya only when the Ram temple comes up there. He even apologised to Lord Ram for the inordinate delay in bringing him back to his original place. Now that the hysteria surrounding the inauguration of the temple is behind us, it is time to discuss a few issues dispassionately.

First things first. Was it necessary for Narendra Modii to have gone to the temple premises to do the consecration ceremony as Head of the Government of a country which is a constitutionally declared Secular State? Clearly, he should not have, as his attendance amounted to mixing religion with politics. Whichever interpretation of the term Secularism one takes, that of respecting all religions equally or being ‘indfferent’ to religion, declining to officially participate in the consecration ceremony should have been the right choice. Modi should have declined the invitation. If Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, he would have perhaps done so. However, in keeping with his belief in Lord Ram, Modi could have attended the function in his personal capacity. Instead, Modi utilised the opportunity to give a party flavour to the consecration ceremony.

Modi’s official participation in the grand Ayodhya event should lead us to disect his political and electoral objectives. One can see multiple reasons in Modi’s decision. Firstly, he wanted to go down in history as the leader who wants to be remembered for having played a historic role in the inauguration of the Ram temple, perhaps a notch higher than L.K. Advani, Dr. Murali Manohar Joshi and Ms. Uma Bharati who played the lead role in the the Ram temple movement. Second comes the electoral calculations, that is, the lurking fear that he had to do something like this to cover up the failures of his government in addressing successfully the sufferings of the ordinary citizens on account of unemployment, price rise /inflation and the broader failures on the economic front. Balakot provided him an opportunity in 2019 to return to power. As a shrewd politician with his eyes and ears grounded to reality, he must have thought that the inauguration of the Ram temple by himself would offset the failures ofhis government and turn the electorate around towards him as the redeemer of their Hindu faith and the Hindutva politics that goes with the BJP. That such a calculation must have worked in Modi’s mind can be understood by the fact that the temple inauguration was not fixed for the otherwise auspicious Ramnavami festival which would be in the second half of April, by which time the poll process would be on to elect a new Lok Sabah. Also, Modi and the BJP did not want to wait for the construction of the entire Ram temple complex, which will take an year and more easily. Thus, the politics behind the fixing of the time for the consecration of Ram Lalla is as clear as broad daylight.

The next issue that should engage our attention revolves round the larger issue of BJP’s goal of changing the nature of the Indian State. With the temple inauguration over, the Party is emboldened in the pursuit of it’s larger goal of projecting the Hindu rastra concept as the new normal in Indian Politics. Since the process of a formal change over to such a State requires a Constitutional amendment with an elaborate process linked to it, the BJP is trying Politically and emotionally to usher in the change. If one goes by the mood of the ordinary Hindu in the country, specially in the Hindi heartland, it is in favour of the BJP/RSS’s avowed goal of a dominant Hindu ationalism If the Modi government returns to power riding on the wave of Hindu nationalism, it might possibly declare Hinduism as the State religion, with a caveat that it would allow the practice of other religions too by the citizens. That would mean a non-constitutional way of achieving it’s goal. Modi hinted at it in his speech after the Ram temple consecration by saying that there is need for understanding Indian Secularism in a new light. He said nothing to assure the minorities of their secure status as citizens.

It is the possibility of such a scenario being strongly put forward by the ruling BJP that the Opposition Parties in India, specially the INDIA alliance should close ranks and craft their strategies to deal with the BJP which is armed with a host of pluses on it’s side, like the Modi charisma, Mandir, (Party) mechinery, money and media. Clearly, the opposition alliance is lacking in many things like a unifying charismatic leader, preferably from the Hindi heartland, who can match Modi’s oratorial skills and charisma. More than anything else, the opposition-alliance has to come up with a narrative outlining it’s vision for the nation (Modi always projects a vision for the future) to deal with the problems affecting the voters in the fields of economy, inflation and employment generation. Equally importantly, the alliance faces the ticklish task of projecting Secularism and Constitutional Values, while at the same time, not offending the sentiments of the larger Hindu electorate who are increasingly veering round to the BJP’’s brand of nationalism. The challenges to deal with a post-Ayodhya Modi-led BJP are truly formidable. Not only strategies are critical but the INDIA alliance. It should handle successfully the perception battle too which is largely weighed in favour of the BJP at this point in time.

(Author: P. S. Jayaramu is former Professor of Political Science, Bangalore University and former Senior Fellow, ICSSR, New Delhi)

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