Police arrest Praveen Togadia in Ayodhya on Sunday. Picture by Naeem Ansari
Aug. 25: BJP president Rajnath Singh today said Ayodhya was a “cultural” and not an “election” issue, reflecting the party’s conflicting compulsions of associating with and yet keeping away from the “communal” plank in the build-up to next year’s general election.
“It was wrong to ban the yatra. Adequate security should have been provided for the yatra,” Rajnath said in Delhi, referring to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s planned march for a Ram temple that the security forces foiled today.
Senior party leader Kalraj Mishra termed the Samajwadi Party government’s ban on the 84 koshi parikrama as an attack on “the Constitution and democracy”.
The BJP believes that the temple movement has passed its sell-by date as an election issue and is therefore not too keen to be directly associated with the VHP programme. It believes that any such association might put off the youth, whom it regards as a strong vote bank.
Rajnath has repeatedly said that the UPA government’s failures and not the temple would be the BJP’s main plank in the Lok Sabha polls.
Yet, Hindutva being the party’s mainstay, it cannot disown the parikrama entirely. The party wants the programme to generate mild ripples without soiling its hands.
“Times have changed; we have to move beyond the Ram temple, but we must not abandon the issue and turn our face away from it,” a senior BJP leader remarked. He said the party would continue to back the VHP’s yatra from a “safe distance”.
The BJP is likely to raise the blocking of the parikrama in Parliament tomorrow but is unlikely to stall the House. Lok Sabha leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj had yesterday said it was the sadhus’ and VHP leaders’ “fundamental right” to organise the yatra.
“The controversy is due not to the yatra but the statements being made by political leaders,” Swaraj had said, denying allegations that the BJP was trying to polarise voters in the heartland state.
It is widely believed that the controversy would help the Samajwadis consolidate the Muslim votes. It is also likely to nudge the state’s devout Hindus towards the BJP.
Congress leader Digvijaya Singh hinted at an understanding between the Samajwadis and the VHP. “Match fixing in Ayodhya?” he tweeted.
Other Congress leaders were more direct. “The Samajwadis and the BJP have hatched this conspiracy to polarise the electorate,” steel minister Beni Prasad Verma said.
A communal polarisation in Uttar Pradesh would hurt the Congress by transferring Muslim votes in bulk towards Mulayam Singh Yadav.
The mood was despondent at the VHP’s Karsevakpuram headquarters in Ayodhya, where many questioned the wisdom of tying a traditional ritual to the demand for a Ram temple.
“These parikramas (circumambulations) are so routine — devotees perform them at many other holy sites too —that a ban was always unlikely to ignite strong sentiments,” an 80-year-old sadhu said.
Others queried the timing -— in an off season after the traditional annual parikrama had already been held in April-May — to blame the BJP. The programme was announced soon after a visit to Uttar Pradesh by Narendra Modi aide Amit Shah.
“The BJP hopes to regain some votes by raising the temple issue but the real question is: will such programmes actually help us build the temple?” a veteran VHP worker said.
“We were always divided on whether the VHP should toe the BJP line to achieve the temple. My fears that such a policy would not do us any good are proving true.”