Ram the saviour: why BJP and SP are stepping up Ayodhya push
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's speech at Lucknow's Aishbagh Ramleela on Dussehra culminated with energetic slogans of 'Jai Shri Ram', bringing the Hindu god back on the centre stage of politics in Uttar Pradesh.
As if on cue, BJP's Rajya Sabha Subramanian Swamy said during his recent visit to Allahabad that he will soon move an application in the Supreme Court for a day-to-day hearing of the Babri Masjid case. He expected that the fast-tracking of the case would lead to an early construction of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya.
Then, Union Minister for Culture and Tourism Mahesh Sharma went to Ayodhya on Tuesday, scouting for 25 acres of land, ostensibly to develop tourism in the holy city.
And suddenly, Ram and Ayodhya pushed the issues of caste and development, so critical to this backward state, into the background.
Ram as saviour
The real reason for Sharma's visit, however, was to ensure that the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh's agenda of building a Ram Temple at the disputed site becomes a poll issue in the state.
Prof Ramesh Dixit, former head of the political science department at Lucknow University, sees the BJP's motive clearly, and the reason why it is hell-bent on reviving the Ayodhya issue.
"The BJP realises that having failed to deliver on the development front, and with Amit Shah's social engineering formula also not working to its advantage, Ram is its only saviour. Even causing defections in the Bahujan Samaj Party has not brightened the party's poll prospects. So the party will use the 'Jai Shri Ram' slogan to create an anti-Muslim psyche before the elections," Dixit said.
"By using Ram, it will be able to consolidate Hindus, irrespective of caste."
The caste barrier was broken in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, when the BSP failed to win a single seat and the SP's victory was confined to the Mulayam Singh Yadav's five family members.
While repeating its 2014 performance is a near impossibility, the BJP and the RSS are now relooking at religion as a rallying point in this politically important state.
In Dixit's opinion only the Sangh Parivar can exploit this sensitive issue, and the Samajwadi Party's proposed theme park in Ayodhya will not help Akhilesh Yadav politically.
Congress and BSP stance
The state Congress media in-charge, Satyadeo Tripathi, is certain that the communal card is the only plank the RSS and the BJP have.
Tripathi describes SP and BJP as two sides of the same coin, with both pandering to communal elements for their political gains.
"Ram being made a poll issue is typical of the BJP's character, while Akhilesh's theme park idea is soft Hindutva, so that the party can say later that it was not anti-Ram," Tripathi said.
Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati recently attacked the BJP and the SP for remembering Ram when the elections were around the corner.
"The BJP has been in power at the Centre for two-and-a-half years, and the Akhilesh government is about to complete its full term. Why didn't they think of Ram and Ayodhya earlier?" Mayawati asked, raising pointed questions about the intentions of the two parties.
Neglect despite promises
The temple issue has been hanging fire since the demolition of the Babri Mosque on 6 December 1992, but BJP's efforts to play on people's religious sentiments for votes have not worked for the party since 2002.
Even in 2001, when Rajnath Singh was the Chief Minister of the state, the then-Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee talked of the unfinished task of building the Ram Temple in Ayodhya in his 'Musings from Kumarakom'.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad had also threatened in 2001 that the temple could be built during that year's Kumbh Mela, if the Dharma Sansad so desired.
The wary electorate did not fall for the bait, and the BJP did not return to power after that.
Slogans and posturing apart, the party has done little to make Ayodhya a truly attractive place for tourists. The SP government also neglected the holy city.
Only Mayawati allocated Rs 20 crore for the beautification of 'Ram Ki Pairi' on the lines of Hardwar's Har ki Pairi. But the site is perhaps Ayodhya's dirtiest spot.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma