After the not-so-gleeful results of the Haryana and Maharashtra assembly elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party is keeping a hawk-eyed watch on the big Ayodhya verdict expected before 17 November. But it is unlikely that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah are losing much sleep over the long-awaited ruling. The politics of it will go their way regardless.
Whatever be the judgment, the fallout is likely to help the BJP – a party which, under its current leadership, is Machiavellian enough to turn any situation in its favour and manipulate issues to its full advantage. Amit Shah is organised enough to have strategised for either outcome.
It is the Ram Janmabhoomi movement that provided the platform for the BJP’s rise in the early 1990s under L.K. Advani, firmly establishing the party in India’s national politics.
Now, the verdict by the five-judge Supreme Court can give Modi’s BJP just the right amount of Hindutva spring that it needs amid a struggling economy, rampant joblessness and simmering rural discomfort. A favourable ruling would mean taking credit and sounding the victory bugle; a not-so-favourable one would mean a plum chance to whip up communal sentiments all over again – something the BJP anyway excels at. Either way, politics is the winner.
To make it even better for the ruling party, Ayodhya and Ram Mandir are issues that can very easily box the opposition into a corner, numbing it into silence.
A favourable verdict
A ruling in favour of the Hindu side will be just what the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the BJP and the entire Hindutva ecosystem will tom-tom as an unprecedented victory, hoping the wave generated from it would see the BJP through in the next few elections.
The BJP speaks directly to its core constituency using Hindutva and a majoritarian brand of politics expanding its electoral base. Everything else – nationalism, India-Pakistan border, NRC, Citizenship Amendment Bill, Article 370, welfare schemes – merely build on that rock-solid base.
Just look at what the past few months since the BJP came back to power on 23 May have been like. The final outcome of the exercise to update the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam may not have been what it hoped for, but that has hardly stopped the BJP from upping the ante on the issue, threatening to implement it in other parts of India and unapologetically drawing the distinction between Hindu refugees who deserve respect and the Muslim refugees who are ‘infiltrators/termites’ and should be ‘thrown out’. For Hindus, of course, the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill is the ever-available tool.
Modi’s government pushed the Triple Talaq Bill through in Parliament, becoming the ‘good’ Hindus who eradicate the ‘evil’ in the Muslim community. Scrapping Jammu and Kashmir’s special status through Article 370 and attempting to herald a new political era in the former state by relegating the Abdullahs and the Muftis to the periphery played right into the narrative of its akhand (undivided) Bharat, majority-driven ideology.
Given how the hearings in the Supreme Court went, legal experts are of the view that the verdict, in all likelihood, will be in the favour of Ram Lalla Virajman, one of the three parties in the case. If that happens, PM Modi, Amit Shah and the BJP company will go to town taking credit for delivering on a long-held promise, making sure it is repeated ad nauseam and drilled into the minds of the party’s target voters. And the fact that with a full majority, the Modi government chose to wait patiently for the verdict also shores up the PM’s image as a leader who plays by the rules. After all, leaders like Subramanian Swamy have been asking the government to acquire the disputed land and start the construction anyway.
The other possibility
Any other decision that doesn’t involve dedicating the entire disputed site at Ayodhya to Ram would be seen as undesirable by the Hindu side. One might assume this would put the BJP on the backfoot. But even a not-so-pleasing verdict gives Modi-Shah the chance to go shrill on the Hindutva front, generate communal frenzy, appeal to the majoritarian sentiment and divert attention from all other issues. This gives the BJP a chance to keep the Ayodhya issue alive and burning, just like it did with the NRC issue.
The BJP has become shriller on the NRC after the Assam list didn’t turn out as per its expectations. The BJP is intrinsically a communal force, and all its top leaders – Atal Bihari Vajpayee with the incendiary Nellie speech, L.K. Advani with the entire Ram Janmabhoomi movement, Modi with the 2002 Gujarat riots, and Shah with his constant communal rhetoric – have carried that legacy forward.
Any ruling, one even slightly falling short of Hindu litigants’ expectations, would mean an unabashed, dangerous high pitch by the BJP and its ecosystem, at work 24X7, to widen an already prominent wedge between the majority and minority communities and sway voters.
This case also has the potential to open the flood gates of litigation by Hindu parties against Muslim structures near Kashi Vishwanath and more – another factor that can be enabling for Modi-Shah’s politics.
The opposition, meanwhile, can do precious little. Given the Congress’ recent history of flirting with ‘soft Hindutva’ and parading its janeudhaari (one who wears the sacred thread) leader, it is going to do a tightrope walk, irrespective of how the BJP plays it.
The Ayodhya verdict, whichever way it goes, can potentially be a win-win for Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, and a severe test for the opposition.