Ayodhya toh bas jhanki hai, Kashi-Mathura baaki hai.’ This BJP-VHP slogan from the 1990s is being chanted once again after the Ram Mandir bhoomi pujan in Ayodhya on 5 August. But the biggest challenge of the coming campaign for Mathura’s Krishna Janmabhoomi will be for the cow-belt’s secular heroes – the House of Yadavs in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. After all, Yadavs consider themselves the direct descendants of Krishna.
Leaders such as Lalu Yadav, Tejashwi Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav will find it more difficult to oppose the Mathura campaign, the way they did with the Ram Mandir movement in Ayodhya. This time, though, their strident secular politics will be tested like never before.
And with them, India’s resolve and religiosity will be tested as well.
Ayodhya’s Ram to Mathura’s Krishna
It was much easier with Ram. Lalu Yadav stopped Lal Krishna Advani’s Rath Yatra in Samastipur and had him arrested. Lalu thundered at Advani: “Agar aap danga yatra nikaliyega toh hum chhodenge nahin, aaiye Bihar mein batata hoon (If you take out your riot tour, I won’t spare you. Come to Bihar and I will show you that I mean it).” Mulayam Singh Yadav, on the other hand, had ordered firing on Hindutva kar sevaks in 1990, earning the deprecatory tag of being ‘Mullah Mulayam’. It helped both leaders form formidable M-Y social coalitions in UP and Bihar, and win elections in the name of saving the Indian Constitution and secularism.
But, once the bhoomi pujan was over in Ayodhya, the Yadav leaders were rejoicing too, side-stepping nearly three decades of their anti-Mandir and anti-BJP electoral politics.
Now, the next temple beckons in Uttar Pradesh. And Hindus on social media, who are still in a celebratory mode over Ram Mandir, with laughing emojis and victory signs littering their posts, are now sharing photos of Amit Shah with Lord Krishna. Some, though, are just relieved that decades-old dispute has finally come to an end, and are hoping that the discourse will now move away from Mandir-Masjid politics.
But on Facebook groups such as ‘I support Narendra Modi’, Hindu enthusiasts are calling the Ayodhya bhoomi pujan merely the beginning of a movement to “reclaim” thousands of temples across India.
BJP leader Vinay Katiyar has made it clear that constructing temples in Kashi and Mathura are next on the party’s agenda. In June this year, a Hindu outfit in UP filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking changes in the ‘Place of Worship Act, 1991’, which prohibits changing the religious structure. But any amendment in the 1991 Act could facilitate Hindus’ takeover of the Gyanvapi Mosque in Kashi and Shahi Idgah in Mathura. Jamiat-Ulema-e-Hind, a Muslim outfit, has asked the Supreme Court not to entertain the petition.
In the meantime, Hindus have seemingly started the movement. A Krishna Janmabhoomi Trust in Mathura has been set up. Acharya Devmurari, the head of the Trust, said: “We are going to launch a nationwide movement.”
Yadavs’ secularism test
All this means that the Krishna Janmabhoomi movement will be an agni-pariksha for the Yadav leaders. Perhaps that’s why the Samajwadi Party has started pandering to the politics that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has shaped since 2014. Not only did SP leader Akhilesh Yadav tweet ‘Jai Siya Ram’ on the day of the bhoomi pujan, he even wants to install a gigantic, 108-foot-high statue of Parashuram now.
As the BJP works overtime to break the OBC vote bank, the Krishna Janmabhoomi can deepen the Yadav dilemma. On the other hand, all the parties are racing to pick up a piece of the kamandal today. A member of the Samajwadi Party told me, ‘If the BJP promises a Krishna temple, we will build a bigger temple.”
Krishna, the ‘Yadav icon’
The reason Krishna puts the 1990s’ ‘secular heroes’ of UP in a bind is that the Hindu god is believed to hail from the Yadu dynasty. Mathura was his city. Both Mathura and Braj have a sizeable Yadav population.
But where Krishna truly becomes the ‘Yadav icon’ is in the ‘pride’ he instils among the community members for being the source of Bhagavad Gita, the Hindu scripture that is part of the epic Mahabharata and holds cultural and religious significance of Bhagavad Gita among Hindus. British anthropologist Lucia Michelutti, wrote in her 2002 PhD thesis Sons of Krishna: the politics of Yadav community formation in a North Indian town that “the Bhagavad Gita is portrayed as ‘the book of the Yadavs’.”
Quoting an SP activist Pralad Yadav, she wrote: “The Bhagavad Gita is the essence of all scriptures. It is the sign of Indian tradition, civilisation and culture…The Gita knowledge originates from the mouth of Krishna, and hence from the mouth of a Yadav.”
In 1999, Lalu Prasad Yadav described Krishna as “a person who was determined to fight injustice. Lord Krishna fought for the cause of the Backward Classes, the farmers, the cowherders and the economically weaker sections of the society. Lord Krishna was the person who was born in jail and who fought against social odds,” according to Michelutti’s thesis. His elder son Tej Pratap Yadav occasionally dresses himself as a flute-playing, romantic Krishna. He often shares his pictures with cows on Instagram.
Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha election, there were reports that Akhilesh Yadav had been secretly working for a 50-foot-high Krishna’s Statue in his hometown Saifai after Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath announced a 100-metre-tall statue of Ram in Ayodhya.
In the end, how Yadav politics changes in Mathura’s Krishna Janmabhoomi campaign will not only alter UP’s politics, but also redraw the old Indian secularism for a new era. If the traditional political parties forsake the interest of Muslims in safeguarding Shahi Idgah and Gyanvapi mosques, there is no telling who will fill their place. Politics, like nature, abhors vacuum.
Views are personal.