ardon me for yawning, but why does the latest round of hyperactivity over the Ayodhya temple leave me cynical, if not downright sleepy?
Could it be because experience tells me that the issue is being revived with an eye on the latest round of state elections, and will be mothballed till the next round of elections due later this year. Only to be put again on the backburner, to be pulled out just in time for the general election due in 2004.
Pardon me for yawning, but that's how it has been with an issue that really should not hog the headlines in a country that has no real dearth of bread and butter issues. How come they don't come to the fore with such alarming regularity?
Since the late 1980s, when the Bharatiya Janata Party and its associates discovered the electoral potential of, first, targeting the Babri Masjid and next, swearing by a Ram temple on the exact spot, it was clear that there could be no clear solution. For however just, a resolution does not work in the interests of those who are spearheading the agitation.
Take the masjid itself, for instance. It retained its electoral value for the BJP only so long as it stood, when it could be targeted as a symbol of Hindu oppression. Pulling it down dealt the biggest blow for the BJP's electoral fortunes, which is one reason perhaps its saner leaders have been so apologetic about December 6, 1992.
Since then as the courts became involved and it appeared that the pro-temple lobby had little say in which way the verdict will go, the BJP's electoral fortunes have not been so bright. The Vishwa Hindu Parishad, really the BJP's cat's paw even as it once in a while shows off its independence of thought and action, has anyway debunked the possibility of the court verdict being acceptable to all, and this line of thinking becomes shriller when elections are around the corner.
This time, things are a little different. The BJP has been buttressed by the Gujarat verdict of December --and this is the first time the Ram temple has been raked up after Narendra Modi showed what aggressive Hindutva could do to conventional electoral calculations. As the head of the coalition that governs India, the BJP has its hands tied. Not so the VHP, which can go all out in its fresh campaign that will kick off a day after the Supreme Court announces its verdict on the fate of the undisputed land in Ayodhya.
Thanks to Modi, there will be a slight alteration in the usual off-again on-again tempo. From now till the general election, the Ram temple issue will be kept alive in one form or the other, by a series of actions on the part of the various arms of the Sangh Parivar.
While the BJP will cloak the demand with a moderate face, driven more by the fact of it being in government and heading a coalition at that, its associates like the VHP and the Bajrang Dal will have no such qualms. Thus, while the BJP will heed whatever the courts will dictate, the rabble-rousing will be done by the other outfits.
Modi has demonstrated that there is no need to be apologetic about Hindutva, and this is the line that will be heard more often during the next few months. But again, the point remains, the Ayodhya issue retains its potency only so long as it is kept alive, not if it is solved. Its hitherto diminishing returns could be a thing of the past, with someone like Modi stoking it to the right degree.
Ho-hum, does it mean that the issue will drag on till infinity, or till collective boredom sets in and one side throws up its hands in weary resignation? Not necessarily. The issue has been unsolved more out of political machinations than any other reason. As and when the political establishment decides to settle the matter, a solution will be hammered out and put out.
Perhaps anticipating just such an outcome, a search seems to be on to locate similar contentious sites. The Kashi and Mathura sites are always there to fall back upon. Anyway, given the vastness of the country and the vicissitudes of it history, there can be no dearth of disputed places of worship. In fact, even as I write this, I am sure the agitationists have a list of such conflicts, ready to be propelled to the headlines as and when the need arises. The Bhojshala in Dhar, Madhya Pradesh, is only the latest such conflict.
Saying the above does not mean that there is no room for a temple in India. There is room for as many temples in India as there are people, that is not the issue. The issue is, how far will we go back in time to right a historical wrong.