The outgoing Chief Justice of India would probably deliver his last and momentous judgment on the Ayodhya issue before he demits office on 17 November. But whatever be the verdict, the ground realities have changed.
Ayodhya is no longer an issue that can yield political dividends for any party, regardless of whether it opposes or supports the Ram Mandir movement. While the Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid dispute remains an emotive issue, it has outlived its utility as an electoral issue. To borrow a phrase used by a late BJP leader, it is a “cheque that cannot be encashed twice”.
And this explains the disinterest of both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress with the Ayodhya issue.
Ayodhya movement & BJP’s rise
During the 1996 Lok Sabha elections – the first big election after the demolition of Babri Masjid in December 1992 – the BJP in its manifesto affirmed its “commitment to facilitate the construction of a magnificent” Ram Mandir at the Ram Janmabhoomi in Ayodhya.
The party firmed up its claim over the issue by taking an ideological stand – the manifesto said that the dream of a temple “moves millions” and “the concept of Ram lies at the core of their consciousness”.
In 1996 elections, the BJP won an impressive 161 seats in the Lok Sabha and emerged as the single-largest party, although its government, led by RSS swayamsevak Atal Bihari Vajpayee, was short-lived.
The tottering government that followed collapsed just a week before the fifth anniversary of the Babri demolition in Ayodhya.
By now, it was clear to the BJP that the party had to be serious about building the Ram Mandir. There was also considerable pressure from the Hindu organisations, which had played a crucial role in generating support from the ground for the BJP, thereby ensuring its victory in 1996.
During the run-up to the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP manifesto reiterated its commitment to the construction of a Ram Mandir but added the words “where a makeshift temple already exists”, thereby suggesting that the temple was already considered a fait-accompli.
Ram Mandir-Babri Masjid became a salient feature of the 1998 election campaign, with all major parties referring to it in some way or the other.
For the first time, the BJP promised to “explore all consensual, legal and constitutional means to facilitate the construction of Shri Ram Mandir at Ayodhya”.
The BJP romped home with 182 seats in the 1998 Lok Sabha elections. To date, many in the BJP-RSS credit the party’s spectacular victory to Vajpayee’s charisma and the grassroots support engineered by L.K. Advani’s Rath Yatra in 1990.
The BJP-led NDA government, however, lasted 13 months; it was pulled down by the AIADMK’s mercurial leader J. Jayalalithaa.
Ram Mandir takes a back seat
As India stepped into a new century, Ayodhya as a political issue no longer swayed election outcomes.
Ram Mandir found a mention in the BJP manifesto, but the elections of 2004, 2009, 2014 and 2019 were fought on other issues. It was ‘India Shining’ versus aam aadmi campaign in 2004, the India-US nuclear deal in 2009, the ‘policy paralysis’ in 2014 and sabka saath sabka vikas sabka vishwas in 2019.
Ram Mandir slowly took a back seat, not because it was no longer an emotive issue but because an overwhelming Hindu majority was now convinced that no one could stop the construction of a grand Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. It was only a matter of time.
And, that time seems to be around the corner now. Ayodhya could wear a festive look this 6 December.
The author is a member of the National Executive Committee of the BJP and former editor of Organiser. Views are personal.