If elections come in India, some peddlers of religion cannot be far behind. That perhaps explains why the Vishwa Hindu Parishad thought it was time to revive its stir for a ‘Ram temple’ at Ayodhya. Clearly, its aim was to try and rouse Hindu religious sentiments ahead of the next Lok Sabha elections. What it did not realize was that the country, and even Ayodhya, had long learnt to see through the VHP’s game. The complete failure of the outfit’s attempt to rally people at Ayodhya and from other parts of the country in favour of its spurious call is evidence of the changed public mood. The people at Ayodhya, as in other parts of the country, have more pressing issues to think about. Yet, the failure of the VHP’s so-called Ayodhya yatra should be no cause for complacence. Those who seek to abuse the people’s religious sentiments could try other means to achieve their dubious ends. Recent incidents of communal clashes in Uttar Pradesh are a grim reminder that things could go wrong if the administration and the people let their guard down. The chief minister, Akhilesh Yadav, has done well to tackle the VHP’s challenge firmly. But he needs to be as determined in warding off other challenges to communal harmony in the run-up to the elections.
However, it is the political class that must show greater responsibility in avoiding being drawn into the communal rhetoric. The Bharatiya Janata Party will be mistaken in thinking that a return to the issue of building a Ram temple at Ayodhya can help its electoral prospects in UP or elsewhere in the country. The way the party disrupted the proceedings in Parliament on the VHP’s Ayodhya rally suggests that it still hopes to make political capital out of the temple issue. Such a strategy would be far removed from the party’s professed emphasis on governance and development in its election campaign. If the BJP has Narendra Modi as its prime ministerial face for the next polls, that is because of the so-called Gujarat model of development. The development campaign should have little to do with a religious card. For a party that hopes to wrest power from the Congress at the Centre, communal harmony should be a major concern. But the Congress, too, should be careful not to let the communal note vitiate the political debate. Faced with serious economic issues, India cannot afford to walk into the communal trap once again.