Monday, 27 June, 2022
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As Modi loses faith in his own development agenda for 2019, Hindutva reigns supreme

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PM will visit Ram Lalla temple in Ayodhya end of the year and may contest 2019 from Puri, one of four pilgrimage centres for Hindus.

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Ram Lalla temple in Ayodhya after the assembly elections in four states in November-December, BJP leaders familiar with deliberations in the party have told ThePrint, signalling the ruling party’s plan to switch from its development plank to Hindutva ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

They also confirmed that the party was looking at Puri in Odisha as the second Lok Sabha seat for the Prime Minister to contest in 2019. Modi had successfully contested from Varanasi and Vadodara in 2014 and vacated the seat in his home state later.

The BJP expects to build on the momentum generated by Modi’s candidature from Puri to try to increase its tally significantly in a state where the party won only one of the 25 Lok Sabha seats in the last elections. The decision to field Modi from Puri, one of the four dhams (pilgrimage centres for the Hindus), is aimed at sending out a message outside the state, too.

Development takes a back seat?

These deliberations in the ruling party are taking place at a time the NDA government seems to be losing confidence in the electoral potency of development as its central plank. The past few months have witnessed a series of communally polarising remarks by top BJP leaders, an indication of the saffron party’s gradual and consistent reversion to its original Hindutva plank.

“Hindutva is what keeps our core voters and workers motivated. Modiji has done a lot for the people but nobody should have any ambiguity about our core ideology,” said a ruling party MP.

Modi’s campaign in 2014 did have Hindutva undertones but it was largely centred on his development agenda and the then UPA government’s failures. The same held true for subsequent assembly elections, which saw references to “shamshan-versus-kabristan” (cremation ground-versus-burial ground), triple talaq and Tipu Sultan, among others, in poll speeches but development or the lack of it under non-BJP regimes remained the dominant theme.

Change in BJP’s approach

There has been a distinct change in the approach of Modi and senior BJP leaders in recent times. Union minister Giriraj Singh’s jails visit to meet Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and Bajrang Dal activists, accused of inciting communal passion, and his ministerial colleague Jayant Sinha’s act of garlanding the lynching accused in Jharkhand would have invited customary disapproval from the party leadership, as was the wont in the past. But there was not a murmur against it in the ruling party this time.

Instead, the Prime Minister, otherwise known to be skeptical about media reports, latched on to a newspaper report about Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s purported remarks at a meeting with Muslim intellectuals  to slam the party for being a Muslim party.

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman quoted the same media report, denied by the Congress, to say: “You can’t be janeu-dhari (a Hindu, someone who wears a sacred thread) and Muslim-dhari at the same time.” Coming from the defence minister, the remark drew outrage from several quarters.

Last week, BJP president Amit Shah told party workers in Telangana that the construction of a grand Ram temple at Ayodhya would start before the 2019 elections. At a press briefing in Hyderabad, the party’s national executive member Perala Sekharjee quoted Shah as saying that steps would be taken to clear the decks for the construction of the temple before the next general elections.

The BJP president’s comment left many confused as the Supreme Court is seized of the matter. The BJP later denied that Shah had made any such comment.

This contrasts with the BJP’s 2014 manifesto, in which it was non-committal on the construction of the temple at the controversial site in Ayodhya: “BJP reiterates its stand to explore all possibilities within the framework of the Constitution to facilitate the construction of Ram temple in Ayodhya.”

Ram temple part of BJP’s core agenda

An influential BJP functionary claimed the party manifesto in 2019 would be “categorical and absolutely unambiguous” about the temple, although he refused to elaborate on it.

Modi has drawn flak from his detractors among Hindu fringe groups for not visiting the Ram Lalla temple in Ayodhya, but the Prime Minister has taken several steps to convey how much he cares about the birthplace of Lord Rama. Last year, he flagged off a weekly train between Ayodhya and Rameshwaram — two place linked with Lord Rama. He was in Nepal in May to inaugurate the direct bus service between Janakpur, the birthplace of Sita, and Ayodhya.

Modi’s planned visit to Ayodhya is sure to re-set the political discourse and alignments in the run-up to the next Lok Sabha elections.

Read in Hindi: 2019 के लिए हिन्दुत्व शासन को प्रधानता, जबकि विकास का एजेंडा दरकिनार

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