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January 3, 1998


Rajiv Shukla

The forgotten issue

It seems that Ayodhya is no longer an issue for any political party. Bal Thackeray has changed his stand, the BJP isn't interested anymore, and the so-called secular forces -- the United Front and Congress -- has better things to crib about.

Thackeray, if I remember right, was the first one to run up and down crying "I did it, I did it!" No sooner had the structure been pulled down, he was out and about, busy taking credit for the fiasco -- wasn't it an awfully clever thing to do?

"This is where Ram mandir stood," he said, "And we will build another one here."

But now the tiger has changed his spots. "No need to build a mosque or temple," he says, "Why don't we construct a national monument instead?"

In the BJP, except for Atal Bihari Vajpayee, all others had wanted to play up Ayodhya in the approaching campaign. Now, however, they have decided to the contrary. The communal card, even the firebrand youngsters admit, won't really work. Let's drop it. So dropped it has been from the BJP's poll agenda.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, for its part, had tried to revive the issue by threatening to launch an agitation about Kashi and Mathura. But the campaign fell flat on its face as neither the public nor the BJP leadership thought much of the idea.

Another gentleman who was deeply moved by the issue earlier, but has now decided it is not really worth bothering is Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh. Immediately after assuming office he stated he would keep the Ayodhya flame 'burning'. Now he has stopped mentioning the subject altogether!

The general public, too, has had enough of it. In fact, we can safely assume that no one is going to cast his vote on its basis. They have had so much of it that the majority would be quite content if they never ever heard the words 'mandir' and 'mosque' again!

Even the people of Ayodhya has stopped bothering. And this is evident from the fact that Vinay Katiyar, the chief of Bajrang Dal and one of the pillars of the Ayodhya movement, is all ready to lose the Lok Sabha election unless a miracle saves him.

And what of the Congress and UF? For them too, Ayodhya is dead-dead. Unlike the previous election when they waved it around in everyone's face, this time they are doing without it. There is no mention of the seven-letter word in their speeches. (The BJP, luckily enough, has got a fantastic repertoire of attackable-weaknesses. Like the one the Congress and the UF have picked up this year: promoting criminals in politics and encouraging defection to grab power.)

The only politician who still goes around with the 1991 ghost is Mulayam Singh Yadav. But he only mentions it in Muslim-dominated gatherings. In his public meetings he avoids it completely, minding the sentiments of common Hindus. He knows it well that if he keep harping on it, it would boomerang.

The other potent issue which can make good polling for the BJP is Mathura and Kashi. The party is doing a sensible thing by not including it -- the last thing India needs is another communal clash. They are in a position to come to power on the basis of being an alternative to Congress. They don't need religious feelings to garner votes. After all, hadn't they been winning in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Himachal sans any such issue?

Another remarkable trend is the Muslims's newfound love for the BJP. I mean the recent statements of the Shahi Imam Bukhari and the Naib Imam. This is the first time the Imam of the capital's Jama Masjid has said that Muslims will not fall prey to the threat that the BJP would come to power.

In Jaipur, Imam Bukhari praised the BJP. Bukhari's statement is almost an appeal to the Muslims to vote for the BJP as this is the only party which has provided them protection in Maharashtra and Rajasthan. The way Muslim leaders are joining BJP is enough indication that they wouldn't vote against it as vehemently as they did last time. And where will that leave the secular parties?

Rajiv Shukla

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