UP Elections: BJP & Ayodhya!

With RSS reportedly keen on Ayodhya being a key issue during the campaign for the UP assembly elections, the BJP cannot afford to abandon it. At the same time, to a degree, the party has accepted that it cannot depend on Ayodhya-card exclusively. This is suggested by BJP’s campaign including focus on issues linked with national interest, development and so forth. Clearly, saffron brigade activists are likely to ensure that the Ayodhya-issue remains an important issue during the UP campaign. Little else is suggested by this party’s plan to build a Ram museum in Ayodhya.

Now, can BJP really gain politically by banking on this issue? Yes, history stands witness to the fact that the Ram Mandir campaign helped BJP rise from the ranks of an almost insignificant party to that of an important national party. The BJP was represented by only two members in eighth Lok Sabha, elected in 1984. And as the party’s Ayodhya movement started gaining momentum, its representation jumped in the Lok Sabha. It increased to 85 members in the 10th Lok Sabha (1989), 120 in 1991, 161 in 1996, 182 in 1998 and also in 1999. Subsequently, till 2014, this strength showed a reverse trend, decreasing to 138 in 2004 and 116 in 2009. Political wisdom as well as caution probably prompted BJP not to bank upon its Ayodhya as well as Hindutva cards during its campaign for 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

Usage of the “secular-card” whether just ostensibly, deliberately as a façade or not, did help BJP win 282 seats in 16th Lok Sabha elections in 2014. Certainly, the preceding point may be countered by stating that probably voters’ disillusionment with the two consecutive terms of a Congress-led government at the Centre contributed to BJP’s victory. There is definitely some merit in this point but with limitation. Briefly, it may be recalled that BJP’s return to power in 2004 was restricted primarily by Gujarat-carnage (2002). Had Gujarat-carnage not taken place, there may not have been substantial ground for the Indian voter to turn against the BJP in 2004.

Politically wiser, because of Gujarat-carnage’s impact on its defeat in 2004, the BJP was apparently cautious enough in 2014 not to indulge in aggressive and open communal campaigning. Also, more than a decade had passed since the Gujarat-carnage and more than two since the demolition of Babri Masjid at Ayodhya. The time period was enough for the new generations of the first-time voters to join the electoral race and decide the fate of Indian politicians. For them, memories of those dark chapters in Indian history were fairly distant, faint and hardly as shattering as they were for those who had lived through those phases. They had little reason to question and even doubt the secular mask donned by Narendra Modi during his campaign for 2014 parliamentary polls. Also, in 2014 Modi was a new entrant on the national political stage. Till then, his prominence was limited to Sangh Parivar and the state of Gujarat. A change at the centre was what the first-time voters were apparently quite eager for.   '

Against this backdrop, to what degree can Ayodhya-issue help BJP in the forthcoming UP assembly elections? Its political appeal faded considerably after the demolition of the Babri Masjid and nation-wide communal riots which took place during that period as a result. This strong reality has apparently still not been fully accepted and digested by most BJP leaders and their saffron brigade associates. If it were, BJP would not have at all, at present, banked upon using the Ayodhya-card during its campaign for UP elections.

The BJP is apparently aware of the limited appeal that its secular card is likely to have in UP. India has certainly not been witness to nation-wide riots for around two decades. Yet, the secular and democratic fibre of the Indian nationalism has frequently been thrashed openly through communal incidents such as targeting Muslims over their alleged use of cow meat. If such incidents had not dotted the political scenario, with elements associated with saffron brigade primarily responsible for such communal arson, BJP may not have been compelled to fall back on the Ayodhya-card. The party is well aware that the usage of the secular card and other factors to attract votes of non-communal Indians and Muslims are least likely to succeed in the current environment engineered by the Sangh foot-soldiers. Perhaps, the party seems to have no option but that of giving in to the demands of extremist elements allied with BJP.

Statistically, the active participants in the demolition and communal incidents represented not even a percentage of the country’s Hindu population. And yet that phase has been viewed as one that was swept by wave of Hindutva or Hindu fundamentalism. The hollowness of this impression was exposed by the failure of the Ayodhya-card to increase the political acceptance of the BJP. Despite voters having repeatedly shattered this illusion, the saffron brigade appears to be convinced that it can speak for the entire Hindu community. Thus, the BJP still remains caught in an illusion that binds (rather blinds) it to try its political luck in UP by playing on the worn-out Ayodhya card!   

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 November 2016 on page no. 11

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