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BJP in two minds over Ayodhya
By PM Damodaran

Lucknow: The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is in a predicament on dealing with the vexed Ayodhya issue during the Assembly elections in the politically important state of Uttar Pradesh and three other states, which are scheduled to be held some time in February next year. There are doubts in the BJP leadership over the efficacy of the Ayodhya issue, as it believes that it may not help the party in the polls. It was, however, a difficult decision for the BJP to completely ignore the Ayodhya issue which had given it rich dividends in the elections in the past.

In U.P., the state unit of the BJP has preferred terrorism, POTO and the ban on the Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) as its main electoral planks instead of Ayodhya issue in the polls. This was apparently decided at a meeting of the state executive of the BJP held in Lucknow recently to chalk out the party's election strategy. In a resolution adopted at the meeting, no mention was made on the Ram Temple issue. Apparently the BJP felt that the Ayodhya issue had lost its value in the caste-based politics in the state. There is also an apprehension in the BJP leadership that a stand off on the Ayodhya issue may come in the way of striking a proper understanding between the party and its allies during the elections. So the BJP has preferred not to raise the Ayodhya issue in the polls. 

Going by the statement of the state Chief Minister, Mr. Rajnath Singh, he wants the elections in U.P. to be held much before the tug of war on Ayodhya issue begins between the VHP and the central government in March next year. Mr. Singh has already announced that his government wanted the elections to be held some time in the middle of February. Apparently he does not want the elections to be held in March (the Assembly has to be constituted only by March 26) apprehending negative fallout of the threat by the VHP to start the temple construction by March 12 and related developments. 

In fact over the past few years the Hindus, barring fundamentalists and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal activists, had not shown any serious interest in the construction of the Ram Temple in the disputed area in Ayodhya. Even the Vijay Diwas and Shaurya Diwas, observed by the Sangh Parivar outfits to commemorate the demolition of the Mosque structure in December 1992, had been getting lukewarm response during the past couple of years. In the previous years, the VHP leaders were forefront in celebrating the Vijay Diwas in Ayodhya. But this year, none of the senior VHP leaders were present in Ayodhya to celebrate the day. There is thus a feeling that Ayodhya issue has lost its value and may not bring votes for the BJP. 

It is true that the Prime Minister, Mr. A.B. Vajpayee, and the Union Home Minister, Mr. L.K. Advani, swear by the Ayodhya movement. While the Prime Minister had described the Ayodhya movement as an "expression of national sentiment", his Home Minister had dubbed it as one of the three great movements to strengthen the cultural nationalism. But their main concern now seems to be on dealing with the VHP's threat of starting the construction of the Ram Temple from March 12 next year. 

But as the things stand now, the Prime Minister will not be in a position to resolve the Ayodhya imbroglio before March 12 next year either through dialogue or through court verdict and boost the BJP's prospects in the Assembly elections in U.P. and other states. There is no progress in the discussions or in the judicial process to expect a solution to the vexed issue during the next three months. 

Both the ruling BJP and the central government will have problems if the VHP forcibly begin the construction of the Temple flouting the court orders. Besides, the problems of coalition politics may come in the way of the National Democratic Alliance government and any soft attitude shown by the BJP and the government towards the VHP may not be taken lightly by some of the ruling alliance partners. Considering these aspects, both the Prime Minister and the Home Minister have said that the government would maintain status quo in Ayodhya till a solution is found through talks or judicial verdict. They cannot, of course, take a different stand. 

By the same token even the action of the VHP leaders, including Mr. Ashok Singhal, in barging into the sanctum sanctorum of the makeshift Ram Lalla Temple in Ayodhya on October 17 did not find favour with Mr. Vajpayee and Mr. Advani. The government, however, shied away from taking action against the senior VHP leaders apprehending trouble to the government from the hardcore Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) elements. The BJP also cannot afford to displease the Sangh as the party has sought the help of the latter in successfully running the election machinery in U.P. On their part, the VHP leaders are, however, desperately trying to enlist the support of maximum number of BJP leaders to their temple construction plan. Senior VHP leaders had separately met the BJP ministers and MPs but it was said that the response from them had been lukewarm as they do not want to create any trouble for their government. 

In fact, both the BJP and the VHP are in a fix over the deadline set by the latter to begin the construction of the Temple from March 12 next. But going by the previous experience, the VHP is likely to yield by giving another deadline. During the past few years, the VHP had a few times backtracked from its announced programmes to suit its political interests.

Meanwhile, the VHP has received the strong support of the RSS in its temple construction plan. A top functionary of the RSS, Mr. M.G. Vaidya, has said that Ram Temple construction is top item of the Sangh agenda. He asserted that the Sangh was not concerned about the stability of the government at the centre and was ready to sacrifice it for the temple!

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