With the call of 'Jai Shri Ram' in his Dusshera speech, Narendra Modi had launched his party's campaign in Uttar Pradesh and signalled in a new kind of politics. One that would seek Hindu votes by reviving the Mandir issue. And now, the party has just taken the first concrete step in that direction.
On Tuesday, the Union Culture Minister, Mahesh Sharma, is going to earmark land for a Ramayan museum in Ayodhya. About 15 km away from the disputed Ram Mandir site, BJP has selected 25 acres of land to raise a museum on 'Ramayana'.
According to party sources, the museum will highlight the story of Ramayana, with paintings depicting scenes from the epic, portraits and the life of Valmiki. The museum will also host a sound and light show.
But when asked whether the museum would highlight the role of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders during the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation (in which they demolished the Babri Masjid), party sources did not deny it.
However, what the sources did say was that the Ramayana museum is going to be the start of a long series of events that BJP has planned in and around Ayodhya.
Modi's 'Jai Shri Ram' message has gone right down to the ground workers of the party. Right from the party leaders in the state, down to the district block workers, everyone is greeting callers on the phone with a 'Jai Shri Ram'.
Workers are going to the public with the message about the Sangh's 'contribution' in the Ram Janmabhoomi movement, although not very loudly at the moment.
So is the rest of the party just blindly aping an offhanded reference made by Modi, or is it all part and parcel of a clearly thought out plan?
What was clear from Modi's 'Jai Shri Ram' call was that the party had launched another front, another poll issue, to attract voters. But this call was neither impetuous nor impulsive.
What Modi said at Aishbagh Maidan in Lucknow, is a part of the party's clearly thought out long-term poll strategy.
It's all long-term
One party leader said a whole series of programs have been planned around Ayodhya, but did not give any specifics. But the party doesn't want to associate itself vigorously with the Ram Mandir issue either. Rather, it want to it keep on a slow burner.
For instance, by repeatedly demanding more land for the Ram Mandir from SP-ruled Uttar Pradesh government, which the BJP-led Centre has been doing, the party is looking to gain political mileage and polarise voters, without being blamed for igniting communal flares.
The Ram Mandir issue complements every other election issue that the party has raked up, or is planning to rake up in Uttar Pradesh - Kairana, surgical strikes, Dadri, triple talaq, uniform civil code and so on.
"Poll strategies are not made by impulsively, on the spot. The actual planning begins a year before you decide, broadly speaking, what your issue will be. And six to eight months before we decide on the actual issues that the worker will take to the people. 'Jai Shri Ram' and 'triple talaq' etc are in the same vein. This is part of one coherent message and strategy with which we're approaching these polls," said a senior party leader.
He said in Biha the party deviated on a lot of issues and finally "lost our grip over the actual campaign". "The last two months of our time we spent in dilly-dallying about what to tell people and we lost the whole communication. We're not going to repeat the same mistakes here," the party leader added.
Ayodhya is also one of the stopovers for BJP party leaders in their 55-day Parivartan Yatra, which starts from 5 November and ends on 25 December. The yatra will go through Faizabad, said a party source, and that is when the the party is likely to raise the issue of Ram Mandir again.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen