The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ayodhya agenda for BJP soulsearch

New Delhi, July 7: The rejection of the Kanchi Sankaracharya’s Ayodhya proposal by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board has come as a setback for the BJP in more ways than one.

The fallout, therefore, is expected to dominate discussions at the party’s national executive, which will meet in Raipur on July 19 and 20.

The BJP, which views the outcome not just as a face-loss for the seer or Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee or his deputy L.K. Advani — both are believed to have “blessed” the effort — has begun to take stock of the losses and gains, the latter with a a lot of salt.

Sources said the BJP during its recent chintan baithak had decided to play it safe and asked Swami Jayendra Saraswati to pilot the Ayodhya initiative and also bring the RSS and the VHP around.

This, the sources pointed out, was a “deliberate” strategy that the party had hoped to “benefit” from. If it worked, the government could claim credit, even if partial. Vajpayee’s presence at a function last month which the seer had presided over and where he had spilled the beans on the Ayodhya proposal was indication enough that the government was in the know and had given the go-ahead.

If it failed, the party could distance itself saying the proposal was the seer’s brainchild.

Vajpayee has also missed the bus to claim a place in history, the sources said. Had he resolved the decade-long Ayodhya tangle, he would have joined the Indira-Rajiv legion of having signed significant accords and agreements. The party could have offered this as its most stellar achievement in the next Lok Sabha elections from a platter that is virtually empty now.

BJP spin doctors continued to harp on a “feel-good factor” pervading the country after four years of NDA rule, but pragmatists were honest enough to say that on the ground, the government’s economic policies had more negative than positive spin-offs. Ayodhya, they said, would have recompensed for all this.

Ruling out any scope for renewed negotiations, a senior leader said the immediate problem was to explain to the cadre why the BJP’s relations with the VHP, and to an extent the RSS, had soured.

“The RSS and the VHP may not guarantee victory for us (in elections) but they can defeat us. If the VHP keeps on saying there is no difference between us and the Congress, it is bad news,” he said.

The BJP’s immediate response to the fallout was to put the blame on the Congress. “The Muslim board’s decision was influenced by the Congress because had the temple construction started, we would have gained and they would have lost electorally,” claimed parliamentary party spokesperson V.K. Malhotra.

The BJP is wary that the VHP might raise the pitch on a central law. Sources admitted that unlike laws banning religious conversions or cow slaughter, which were tested as private members’ resolutions in Parliament, the party could not take a risk on Ayodhya. “If the legislation was rejected, the Opposition would start clamouring for removing even the makeshift Ram temple,” a source said.

At the moment, the BJP’s only face-saver is this temple with the Ram Lalla deity where puja can be performed. “But any misadventure in Parliament would endanger the existence of the makeshift temple,” a source said.

The party’s other apprehension is that an Ayodhya overkill may jeopardise the NDA alliance. Sources said the chintan baithak had also taken this aspect into account and concluded that if the BJP was to act as a pressure group, it should sit in the Opposition and take up Ayodhya.

If the party was serious about coming back to power, it would have to retain its allies and that meant sticking to the NDA agenda. This also implied that the BJP had no choice but to project Vajpayee as its leader despite the VHP making him its favourite whipping boy.

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