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Published in the 1-15 May 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Ayodhya still core issue for BJP
By P M Damodaran

Lucknow: Ayodhya Ram Mandir construction issue is very much in the agenda of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party for the coming Lok Sabha elections. The fact that the Ayodhya issue had found mention in both the BJP’s vision document and in the election manifesto of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is a clear enough indication that it is an electoral tool for the saffron party. Though Ram Temple was a pet theme of the BJP for the past one decade and a half, the manifestoes of the ruling coalition had steered clear of the issue during the Lok Sabha elections in 1998 and 1999.

The NDA agenda had apparently reflected the BJP’s dominance. Making a departure from the earlier elections, the NDA manifesto this time had mentioned that an early and amicable solution of the Ayodhya issue would strengthen the ‘national integration”. Earlier in its vision document, the BJP had spoken of a solution to the vexed issue through court verdict or through a negotiated settlement. Thus the formulation of the NDA agenda echoes the BJP’s vision document on the subject.

The reference of the Ayodhya issue in the manifesto, which the coalition partners were objecting till now, completes the abject surrender of the NDA allies to the whims of the BJP. The alliance partners had meekly allowed the issue to be mentioned in the manifesto. This had amply proved that the allies had no power to determine the issues they want to raise. In fact, the manifesto was drafted entirely by the BJP leadership and it was just shown to the NDA convener, George Fernandes. Mr. Fernandes, on his part, had read out the relevant part of the manifesto to the representatives of other allies. He claimed that the allies did not object to the inclusion of the Ayodhya issue in the manifesto because it merely said “an early and amicable solution of the issue would strengthen the national integration”. The allies were consulted while the manifestoes were being drawn up during the last two Lok Sabha elections. Accordingly, as per their wishes, the controversial issues were not included in the manifestoes then. It was not the case this time.

On the day the manifesto was released, some allies like the Telugu Desam Party, the Trinamool Congress and the Biju Janata Dal feigned ignorance regarding the mentioning of the Ayodhya issue in the manifesto. They also admitted that they were not consulted before including the issue in the manifesto. The TDP leader and the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, Chandrababu Naidu, even went to the extent of saying that such controversial issues should not have been found place in the manifesto. In fact, some of the leaders of the allies had condemned the statement of the Prime Minister, A.B. Vajpayee, in New York and New Delhi in 2000 that the Ram Temple agitation was a ‘national movement’. They had also taken strong exception to the Prime Minister’s vow on the temple construction that he made while participating in the funeral of the temple movement leader, Ramchandra Paramhans in Ayodhya last year. The NDA allies, who claim to be secular, are now obviously more concerned about their chairs than their ideologies. Apparently, they are not perturbed at the loss of the support of the minority community due to their ‘saffronisation’.

Mr. Vajpayee justified the inclusion of the Ayodhya dispute in the manifesto on the ground that it was a ‘public and national issue’. He pointed out that the party had just mentioned it by suggesting that the dispute should be resolved through court verdict or through negotiations. He stressed that there was nothing wrong in it. He, however, asserted that the NDA would not make it an electoral issue.

But contrary to the statement made by the Prime Minister, his deputy, L.K. Advani, was adamant on making it an electoral plank to improve his party’s fortunes in the polls. At a meeting in Ayodhya during his Bharat Uday Yatra, Mr. Advani announced that the construction of the Ram Temple would begin at the disputed site “soon after Mr. Vajpayee returned to power at the centre as prime minister after the Lok Sabha elections. If he was so assured of the success of the talks then why he and his government did not try to resolve it earlier? The BJP had five years to do so. In a speech, which is more suited to a Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader than to the stature of a deputy prime minister of the biggest democracy in the world, Mr. Advani claimed that the Ayodhya movement had united the Hindus all over the country!

The Deputy Prime Minister also claimed at a press conference in Ayodhya that talks were in the last stages ‘with those who mattered’ to resolve the issue through negotiations. But his refusal to divulge the details of the talks apparently makes one to believe that his statement was an electoral gimmick. In fact, a litigant in the title suits, Mohammad Hashim Ansari, had made it clear recently that nobody had contacted him to discuss the matter. He pointed out that the case could not be resolved without his involvement as he was the lone surviving litigant in the suits. Mr. Advani had also no hesitation in admitting, as he often did earlier, that the BJP had certainly gained by the Ayodhya issue.

There are several contradictions in the BJP’s stand on Ayodhya issue as reflected in its vision document and in the NDA’s manifesto. The manifesto mentioned that an early and amicable solution of the dispute would strengthen the ‘national integration’. It did not say whether it was favourable for talks or court verdict to resolve the dispute. The vision document, on the other hand, sought solution of the issue through court verdict or through negotiations. On the other hand, the Deputy Prime Minister asserted that the temple should be built at the disputed site ‘at any cost’ after successful talks. How this could be accomplished he did not say. Negotiations meant that there must be give and take but Mr. Advani was ready to take only but was not ready to give anything as he wanted the temple at any cost.

The Prime Minister and the NDA leaders claimed that there was nothing significant in the inclusion of the issue in the manifesto because it only said that the dispute would be amicably settled through talks. But the pertinent question is: what was the need of mentioning it in the first place. It was a common knowledge that every one wanted controversies to be resolved through talks amicably. They did not include the issue in the earlier manifestoes of the coalition on the ground that it was a contentious subject. Now what led them to change their stand and include it in the manifesto now? Whether it was not a controversial subject now? The Prime Minister stated that it would not be included in its poll plank. Then why the issue was included in the vision document and in the manifesto meant for the elections?

The NDA manifesto claims that the amicable solution to the issue would strengthen ‘national integration’. If it is so, then the demolition of the Babri Masjid structure had menaced the ‘national integration’! Whether the allies will agree to this contention?

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