The BJP doesn’t know what to make of Ayodhya. Will Advani make his move?

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Clueless The BJP leadership is yet to formulate a plan to tackle the Ayodhya issue

THE BJP’s prime ministerial candidate LK Advani, who rode the Hindutva wave 20 years ago on the promise of building a temple in Ayodhya, recently advised party MPs to exercise caution while making statements on the subject. On the record, each BJP leader has said the party is waiting for the judgement.

Yet, after a meeting with young leaders, he was heard recounting wistfully about the glory of his rath yatra and the mass support generated by the Ayodhya movement. Privately, the BJP is anticipating the verdict — imagining the political opportunities it may release. But nobody can tell who will seize the day, should it present itself. What if Advani decides this is his ticket back? Does the old fox still have it in him?

He has always had the ability to surprise. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee was against the rath yatra, Advani covered some ground and created communal tensions that led to bloody riots. When people were expecting him to stake a claim for the top job in 1996, he up and named Vajpayee instead. Then, after six years as deputy prime minister and 15 years as the face of Hindutva, he went to Karachi and called Jinnah secular in 2005. For some time now, Advani has been asking his close aides to woo Muslim communities to gain wider acceptability for the party.

He has mentored most of the BJP’s top leaders of today who are known for mutual distrust. Insiders wonder why he lets them bicker and weaken the party. He embodies the word gamechanger.

He will be the man to watch when the Allahabad High Court’s Lucknow Bench delivers its verdict on the Babri Masjid- Ram Janmabhoomi dispute. Now at its lowest in two decades, the BJP has no political plan for the that issue propelled its eventual rise to power in 1998. It is expected that the legal battle will shift to the Supreme Court. So the drama, if there is any, will be down to the characters.

When the BJP was in power at the Centre, it did nothing to build a Ram temple. Hindutva supporters consider it too big a betrayal’

Party president Nitin Gadkari is away, touring Russia to study the controversial Water Freedom Revolution. Recently, there was a recent of the party’s Uttar Pradesh MPS to discuss the upcoming verdict at his house. Only Yogi Adityanath of Gorakhpur sought the party to take up the issue again. Everybody else had one word in mind and some actually mentioned it: credibility. It is a big word in the BJP today. For the Sangh Parivar, the party has not lived down the six years it was in power at the Centre, from 1998 to 2004, when it did nothing to build a Ram temple in Ayodhya. Hindutva supporters consider it too big a betrayal for any spontaneity.

Ashok Singhal of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) said last week in Lucknow that the BJP should do penance for making political capital of the Ayodhya movement. VHP spokesman Surendra Jain has been stressing that they want the temple built with support of all political parties. Insiders say the VHP is even ready to give up its claim to build the temple, via the Ram Janmabhoomi Nyas, and instead let it be built by the Ramanand sect, the legal claimant to the land title. The sect itself is divided among at least four mahants who will vie for the right to build the temple.

The VHP’s three-month mobilisation campaign, the Hanumat Shakti Jagran, is not evoking the response it would have liked. The outfit’s reach is limited, and without the BJP’s help it cannot hope to gather mass support. Besides, its organisational network is in disrepair. The old guard is either very old — both Singhal and Giriraj Kishore are unwell these days — or dead. The VHP’s rise in the early 1980s through campaigns like the Ekatmata Yatra relied on the organisational skills of people such as Moropant Pingle and Bhaiyaji Kasture, both now dead.

Holy war  The Sangh Parivar claims that it is not a legal issue but a matter of  faith

This leaves Praveen Togadia, who has been marginalised because of his longstanding rivalry with Narendra Modi in Gujarat, and for running afoul of Singhal, the man closest to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in the VHP. This leaves the organisation to S Vedantam, Champat Rai and Dinesh Agarwal, the man RSS has leant VHP. None of them have the clout of the old guard within the Parivar.

Besides, sections of the RSS are concerned about the energy and manpower the Ayodhya movement took away from its basic agenda of social interventions for Hindutva. The decision within the Parivar is to leave the Ayodhya campaign to the VHP. At a meeting in Delhi on 2 September of top RSS leaders with BJP’s Gadkari, Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, the Sangh’s concerns were communicated. No VHP leader was present.

The Parivar is repeatedly citing the example of the Somnath temple built in 1951 on the initiative of Congress leader Vallabhbhai Patel, with Mahatma Gandhi’s consent. This is to widen the appeal to build the temple.

Everybody knows the appeal is an ineffective one. Somnath was never this controversial an issue, and the remains of the demolished temple were there. The Congress, moreover, has other worries. It fears that any feeling of insecurity among the Muslim population of UP will lead to them running towards Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) for protection. This, the party believes, is a recipe for riots. For any commotion on the matter in UP will work in favour of polar opposites: SP and BJP. The Congress and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party, in power at the Centre and in the state respectively, stand to lose the most if communal clashes break out.

This may answer a question the VHP has been asking repeatedly: why is security being beefed up in Muslim areas of UP? The Congress and Mayawati want the Muslims to feel secure. This is why police intelligence in UP is drawing lists of hundreds of history-sheeters in each district, and warning them they will do time in the clink at the slightest hint of communal disturbance.

The question, then, is who will want to stoke the issue? Muslim religious leadership, in the All India Babri Masjid Action Committee (AIBMAC) and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, has said it will stand by the legal process. Which means they will appeal the HC verdict in the Supreme Court if it is unfavourable. And accept what the apex court rules.

The Parivar, though, points to the Supreme Court’s response to the Presidential Reference of the matter in 1994. The court called it “superfluous and unnecessary”, declining to answer it.

All the present leaders are discredited on the Ayodhya issue. Only Modi and Varun may have any credibility on Hindutva

ALL PARTIES are quiet until the decision is out. The court could grant the land to either of the parties or refer it to the Supreme Court, given the complexity of the matter and its muddled history. Regardless of the verdict, there is speculation on political possibilities opening up after the judgement. If the land goes to the temple, who gets the bragging rights? If the verdict is unfavourable, who will stand up for Hindutva? “BJP workers are a dispirited lot, they see the ship is sinking,” says a party source. An entire class of OBC leaders that emerged before and after the Ayodhya movement — Uma Bharati, Kalyan Singh, Vinay Katiyar — is now invisible.

ALL THE present leaders are discredited on this issue, say BJP leaders, with only Modi and Varun Gandhi having credibility on Hindutva. Varun is too young and not trusted yet because he is not from the RSS nursery; Modi has been working hard for the past five years to build a pro-development image, which leaves him neither here nor there.

If the party needs to go soft on the issue, it could be the cue for Swaraj, who has worked hard to cultivate a moderate image in the party as the inheritor of Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s legacy. Jaitley was never in favour of making Ayodhya a major issue, and Venkaiah Naidu and Ananth Kumar are not major players right now.

That leaves Rajnath Singh, an uppercaste leader from UP who has served as party president. His equation with the RSS is well known; he has maintained his relations with the RSS cadre in UP. While Rajnath’s successor Gadkari has RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s blessings, the RSS believes in supporting all its flock as long as they do not step out of line seriously.

Already, Kalyan Singh has thrown his hat in the ring, announcing a movement for the temple. The expelled leader is known to have smashed a television set in rage when he was told about the demolition of the Babri mosque. The Congress has already made a move to attract Hindus by cancelling the Loharinag-Pala dam on the Bhagirathi. The question is: will the BJP stay off? And for how long?

Photo : Shailendra Pandey

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