His master's voice: is Swamy RSS' new frontman for Ram Mandir enterprise?
For a long time after the Babri Masjid was razed, Ashok Singhal was the face of the Ram Mandir movement. Now, after the VHP leader's death, the baton seems to have been handed to Subramanian Swamy.
We should have seen it coming. In October 2015, addressing his last press meet on the issue, Singhal urged the NDA regime to help build the temple. Guess who was accompanying him? Swamy.
On 12 January, Swamy was at another press conference in Delhi. This time he was the chief speaker. What did he have to say? That Muslims must give up claim to three mosques so that temples could be built there - the Babri in Ayodhya, one in Mathura and another in Varanasi.
He said he has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, offering his "legal expertise" to fight the Ram Mandir case in the Supreme Court.
The press meet came just days after Swamy addressed a seminar in Delhi University on Ram Mandir. He is now planning to take "this debate" to other campuses, including the Left bastion of Jawaharlal Nehru University.
"Despite protests by some Left groups, the seminar in DU was a big success. If only for fun, it's worth doing one in JNU," Swamy said, adding, "We have received invitations from Tamil Nadu and Gujarat as well and we will do it there."
The rest of the event was largely spent repeating old tropes. The DNA of Hindus and Muslims, Swamy said, "is the same". "Thus Muslims must accept that their ancestors are Hindus".
"Ram Mandir case must be heard in the court on a daily basis," he continued. "Even Mulayam Singh Yadav will agree to building the Mandir because he is a Hanuman Bhakt".
But more than what Swamy said, it's the events he has been involved with lately that raise the crucial question: is he the new face of the Ram Mandir movement for the Sangh Parivar?
Swamy is a mask, a frontman to keep the Ram Mandir issue alive for the Sangh Parivar without them being answerable and accountable for it.
Even Mulayam Singh Yadav will agree to building Ram Mandir because he's a Hanuman Bhakt: @Swamy39
Just before the event began, it was being whispered that VHP general secretary Champat Rai would join Swamy. He didn't
So, it appears, the movement is all Swamy's to lead. He hasn't disappointed so far, doing enough to put Ram Mandir back into headlines. He's only going to get noisier, given that the issue is being revived to polarise Uttar Pradesh ahead of the assembly election next year.
Through Swamy, the Sangh is trying to address the anxieties of traditional BJP supporters in UP who support the building of a Ram temple in Ayodhya. It's a strategy to keep such supporters engaged until they go to the polling booths next year and vote BJP.
But could it not be that the Sangh, and even the Narendra Modi regime, are actually serious about building a Ram Mandir? No, they aren't. The reasons aren't hard to find.
First, Swamy is not what you would call a "serious and sincere" face of the ruling BJP. He isn't close to the RSS or the VHP either. "Had he been so he would have got a cabinet berth. He has been minister before. Also, he is a self-guided man. Its not easy to walk with him," says an party leader.
Second, the party doesn't seem to have any reason to change its line on the issue. The line goes something like this: "The matter is in court. We can't do anything. To make a law for building the temple, we need numbers in both Houses, which we don't have. So, give us the numbers in the Rajya Sabha by helping us win state polls. We will do it then."
Then why put Swamy at the vanguard?
Any election, not least in Uttar Pradesh, makes it imperative for the Sangh Parivar to keep the issue in circulation. Singhal used to do it well. But now that he is gone, a new face was needed.
But bringing in a "credible" face from the BJP would have meant being answerable to supporters who want to see progress on Ram Mandir. The party and the larger Sangh can't afford this since they can't be seen to be failing.
Putting an outsider, with only tangential ties to the party, in charge ensures the party and the government can claim credit for any "success", yet maintain deniability for "failure". This makes the whole enterprise a personal rather than a collective responsibility. Swamy essentially provides the Sangh a shoulder to shoot from.
Right on time, too. With the UP election drawing near, the Sangh has ramped up "preparations" for building the Ram Mandir. Stones from Rajasthan have started arriving in Ayodhya.
On the Hindu new year's day, on 7 April, Ram worship events will be held and pledges made to build the temple at over 1.25 lakh places. This will be followed by processions during the festival months, from July to October.
On 7 April, Ram worship events will be held at 1.25 lakh places. Preparing the ground for UP polls?
By the Sangh's reckoning, the more people talk about it, the more it'll polarise the voters, which is advantage BJP.
And there's no better person to keep the issue in the news than the loudmouth Swamy.